MBA: Is an Entrepreneurial Mindset the New Norm?

by mba

Paving the way forward

Paul Coyle promotes the entrepreneurial mindset in individual, organisational, and societal change. His vision is that everybody can benefit from having an entrepreneurial mindset. He completed a pioneering executive education course in Entrepreneurial University Leadership at Oxford Said Business School (UK). He also holds a BSc in Physics from Aston University (UK) and an MSc in Microcomputer Systems from the University of Bradford (UK).

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Is corporate intrapreneurship the key to survival in times of crisis, such as the latest one caused by the Covid-19 pandemic?

Perhaps the greatest challenge caused by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has been the uncertainty about when things might be able to return to normal. As the situation dragged on, businesses had no choice but to try to adapt to the new circumstances. For example, digital tools were increasingly used to connect to customers and to enable employees to work from home.

Companies who were able to adopt an intrapreneurial response had the advantage. Corporate intrapreneurship meant that employees had the resilience to cope with uncertainty, the creativity to find new solutions, and the self-initiative to transition to the “new normal”.

How can senior managers, as MBA students aspire to be, identify and empower intrapreneurs in their teams to boost corporate success?

It is not true that only some people can be intrapreneurs. Any employee can learn to develop and employ intrapreneurial behaviours, e.g. taking the initiative. First of all, companies need to be explicit about which behaviours are both intrapreneurial and at the same time aligned with the company’s strategy and key performance targets. Intrapreneurs can obviously be encouraged by signals of support from top leaders.

However, this has to be more than just words. Leaders often talk about wanting more risk-taking but, in reality, most businesses are risk averse. A company culture in which conformity is rewarded and failure is punished will not empower employees to behave more intrapreneurially. Therefore, the greatest encouragement will come when employees observe senior managers role-modelling intrapreneurial behaviours, i.e. taking risks themselves.

How should MBA students, aspiring to intrapreneurship, equip themselves for the workplace in 2021 and beyond?

MBA: Is an Entrepreneurial Mindset the New Norm?There are two main ways that students can make maximum use of the opportunities provided by their MBA. The first concerns the lectures, reference materials, and case studies to be examined. These materials need to be looked into from the point of view not of how the world used to be before the pandemic, but of their relevance to how companies will need to operate in the future. How will companies create future business models that are robust yet agile enough to flex with changing circumstances?

Secondly, students will need to build up a bank of evidence of the skills that they have developed during their MBA, e.g. through practical projects, work experience, and internships. Much needed intrapreneurial skills are resilience, creativity, risk-taking, and the ability to take the initiative.

Have you observed a surge in social entrepreneurship and what has its impact been in 2020? What are the prospects for social entrepreneurs in the next couple of years?

The consequences of Covid-19 have been dramatic at many levels – individual, family, business, local community, country, and the world. The challenges are wide-ranging and manifest themselves in economic, social, and cultural impacts. Some sections of society, particularly those already disadvantaged, are more negatively affected. This has caused some re-evaluation of the underpinning core values, e.g. how can we live well and work well? This is not to say that business and society have to be at odds with each other. Rather, it means that more consideration can be given to how the two align and can be mutually supportive. This scenario creates opportunities for social entrepreneurs but it also means companies should be making commitments to generate social as well as economic benefits for society.

How does the social entrepreneurship skill set differ from the intrapreneurial one?

There is an argument that the skill set is the same for social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. They differ in the
way they are conducted and in their intended outcomes.

Social entrepreneurs may work in startups, perhaps a not-for-profit organisation, where the strategy is to create social value on behalf of a range of stakeholders. Nevertheless, social enterprises need to be run in as rigorous a manner as any other business with, for example, strong financial planning and management.

Intrapreneurs work within a corporate context, where the strategy is to increase the financial health of the company on behalf of shareholders. Both social entrepreneurs and corporate intrapreneurs need the skills necessary to meet the needs of their customers, to lead transformative change and to create value.

Have entrepreneurial companies been more successful during the challenging times of the Covid-19 pandemic?

MBA: Is an Entrepreneurial Mindset the New Norm?It is probably too early to say which companies will be successful but there are some early indicators. One startling discovery has been the fragility of the majority of business models. Even major companies have had to turn to governments for bailouts. Therefore the companies that will survive are the ones that can continue generating income, managing their costs, paying their staff, and generating profit.

In May 2020, McKinsey outlined four key steps companies need to take in moving from surviving to thriving, including the need to rapidly recover revenue. To achieve financial sustainability, entrepreneurial companies will be working to understand how the needs of their customers have changed, prototyping innovative ways to meet those needs and daring to pivot away from their existing business models.

“Never waste a good crisis” is a familiar phrase, but how to ensure business ethics and responsible leadership during times of high levels of uncertainty?

We can take it to mean that, despite all the negative consequences of the crisis, we have to find a way forward. Like an entrepreneur, we have to see the opportunities despite the difficult circumstances, take the initiative, create innovative solutions, and lead the way towards the “new normal”.

At the same time, we need to always commit to ethical business practices. Some of the solutions to the crisis are going to inevitably include reorganisations, redeployment of staff, changes of contracts, and even redundancies. Leaders will need to be responsible, intrapreneurial, and ethical as they steer their companies towards a safer and stronger future.

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