The Entrepreneurial Mystique

What is the entrepreneurial mystique? It’s not magic, it’s not mysterious, and it has nothing to do with the genes. It’s a discipline. And, like any discipline, it can be learned.” Peter Drucker, 1985

Recently I attended a Boston College CEO luncheon event which had John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, presenting his vision for the future of Cisco. John did an excellent job and presented several great takeaways from this event.

At the core of the presentation, however, John exemplified the management discipline of an entrepreneur. As a general practice, all large organizations are slow in their speed to adapt to market change. Not Cisco. Cisco has maintained an incredible ability to be in the forefront of product innovation and revenue growth. In my opinion, John has masterfully achieved this growth at Cisco by nurturing the entrepreneurial discipline throughout Cisco’s many thousand employees and business partners.

The Entrepreneurial Discipline

So what is the discipline of an entrepreneur? And how do I deploy it in my organization? At the forefront it is accepting the fact that customer buying habits change constantly and predicting this change will reap great financial rewards. Hence, staying close to your markets is critical to minimizing risk. Blink and you will miss it, capture it and you’re the winner. Second, and just as important, is the process used by an organization to adapt to this change. It has to be simple, measurable, and easily executable throughout the organization.

The key for any organization is to define this discipline into a simple, executable process to maximize immediate success. At Cisco, they’ve adapted every area of their organization to respond to market change. They’ve created a diffused management structure that can focus on multiple segments at once, they’ve adopted a process that allows them to ramp up a new product innovation plan in two weeks with an established track for quick board approval (a process that used to take a year and a half), and they’ve aggressively attacked multiple markets at once, even ones they have historically been weaker in. The result, as John Chambers conveyed, is that last year they innovated in 30 areas and gained market share in all of them. Previously with a more centralized management structure, he himself could only do about two major thrusts per year.

The key to success in today’s economy for any company is establishing a robust entrepreneurial discipline. That makes the difference between maximizing an opportunity and wishful thinking. In our work with clients (many of whom are more at a mid-market level), we separate it into two areas: a front-end discipline and a back-end discipline.

The Front-End Discipline

The “front-end” discipline should typically include:

  • Systems for market perception
  • Disciplined approaches for business opportunity recognition
  • Structures for incentivizing and incubating winning ideas
  • Market assessment and honing of value proposition
  • Competitive analysis
  • Leadership empowerment
  • Speedy and effective decision making

Examples: For example, an early stage South Korean company perceived an opportunity to expand into the United States market but that its leaders had limited experience on how to go to market correctly. OneAccord created a comprehensive “front-end” decision-making process to analyze and then create the optimum Go-To-Market strategy which resulted in a successful launch. In another case, a private equity firm perceived a good potential acquisition of a target company. OneAccord provided a “front-end” sales and operational due diligence approach prior to making the decision to proceed (which turned out successfully). Both examples show how market foresight and discipline to the front-end process paved the way for the correct call in a major decision.

The Back-End Discipline

The “back-end process covers what it takes to then implement the decisions to proceed. This entrepreneurial discipline (which OneAccord calls its Revenue Review™) generally assesses and addresses areas pertaining to the initiative and essential for revenue growth and building value such as:

  • People & culture
  • Customer base
  • Strategy & business model
  • Products
  • Sales and marketing
  • Tools
  • Processes

Examples: The result of such a review should create several executable outcomes producing immediate revenue growth. For example, when OneAccord worked with one Fortune 500 mining company it was determined that a new sales process and training needed to be implemented to their worldwide sales force resulting in multiple gains in revenue. In another case, as a result of a “back-end” revenue review, a private equity firm determined that a new CEO was needed in one of its portfolio companies to lead the organization to new growth. The results in both cases enabled the organizations to produce organic growth at multiple levels.

Conclusion: The Greatest Challenge

Near the end of John Chamber’s presentation, he made a point that struck home with me. To paraphrase, he said that Cisco’s greatest threat to its growth will come by the entrepreneur outside the organization who has the innovation and discipline to beat them to an opportunity. I encourage you not only to embrace a great idea to innovate in your offering, but to embrace the entrepreneurial discipline needed to make your vision and goals reality.

“Carpe Diem” – Seize the moment!