There is a lot of talk of entrepreneur culture and disruption these days.  Examples abound — Uber to Snapchat to WhatsApp.  And in the wealth management industry, firms like Wealthfront and Betterment are making headlines as “Roboadvisors.”  But while some people will rush out and start their own company, most will still work a “real” job, and the odds are fairly good that whatever company they work for will at least pay lip service to providing an “entrepreneurial environment.”

So, what does this mean and why has it captured our imagination?

Creating a true entrepreneurial environment is a critical part of the recipe for a firm that aspires to greatness.

I contend that means that the culture, the management structure, and the fundamental DNA of the firm must subscribe to what I call E3, or Every Employee an Entrepreneur.  Here are six key elements of entrepreneurial behavior, and how they can be inculcated in your culture.

  1. Entrepreneurs make decisions — and quickly.  Prospering in today’s fast-moving marketplace requires a company to be nimble, and that requires rapid decision-making.  To achieve this, leaders must actively, explicitly push decision-making down the chain as far as possible, and commit to rapid decision-making for decisions that must be escalated to the top.  I tell everyone on my team that I will evaluate them on the judgment they use in figuring out what decisions and issues I need to know about, and which ones they can handle without me.  I don’t expect to know everything that’s going on, and in fact celebrate when “stuff gets done” the right way without my involvement.  That’s a win.

    In too many big companies however, decision-making requires multiple meetings, PowerPoint decks, and kabuki theatre where key executives procrastinate on important decisions to avoid any potential consequences of those decisions, which brings me to…
  2. Entrepreneurs respect, tolerate, and learn from mistakes.  Did you or a team member make a bad decision?  Okay.  Was the decision maker sincerely acting in the company’s best interest and trying to “do the right thing?”  If yes, pause briefly to understand and learn from the experience.  Share that learning.  Then move on.  Only in this type of environment can the best ideas emerge, because…
  3. Entrepreneurs celebrate crazy ideas.  Jim Rutt, the former CEO of Network Solutions and one of my most valuable mentors, once told me he had at least 100 crazy ideas a day, and the key to success was figuring out which 99 were the stupid ones.  I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  If leaders don’t create an environment where crazy ideas are celebrated, probed, folded, kneaded, and just maybe baked into a cake, then they’ll be missing out on the best ideas to drive their business.  And by the way, those best ideas usually come from the front lines, not the ivory tower.

    At too many companies, employees sit in meetings docile and deferential, silently rolling their eyes while waiting for wisdom and direction from above.
  4. Entrepreneurs do what the company needs.  This one sounds so simple, and it is.  If every employee is focused on understanding their role in driving overall success, and worked to determine what they need to do to support the overall purpose and drive continuous improvement, then the combined efforts of all employees doing this will be self-fulfilling.  This requires the company to provide a crystal clear purpose, strategy, and strategic plan and help everyone understand their role.  But when this alignment is achieved, and employees know they have the expectation and flexibility to work this way, magic happens.

    Ritz Carlton builds their success on guest experience “wow.” So, every single one of their employees is empowered to spend up to $2,000, on the spot, no questions asked to make any guest happy.   If your employees are spending their time trying to navigate political contests and turf battles, or worse trying to divine what the most senior executive in the room wants to hear, you need to rethink your culture.
  5. Entrepreneurs become great by making their people great.  Great leaders don’t “manage.”  They coach.  They listen.  They counsel.  They teach.  They divine each person’s strengths, and find ways for them to play to those strengths.  They give direct, straightforward feedback, straight from the heart and from a place of love.  They have a sincere interest in seeing each team member build an extraordinary career, and they shine the spotlight on them when they do something amazing.  But, they also don’t suffer fools and they have extraordinarily high expectations.  
  6. Entrepreneurs have fun.  Everyone knows the old saying, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  But not all of us can be rock stars or famous actors.  I didn’t grow up with stars in my eyes, dreaming of being a digital wealth management executive.  But I love what I do, I love the people I work with, and I love our purpose of enriching the wealth management experience our industry delivers to help hard-working Americans secure their dreams, so I wake up before my alarm goes off nearly every day, my head spinning with ideas and concepts that need to be committed to paper quickly.  It’s currently 5:48 AM, and this blog post is one of those ideas!

If you build your company — no matter the size — around these ideas and truly commit to living it every day, you will be great (provided your product or service is valuable, of course).  But it takes commitment.  It’s takes a wild hair.  And it takes some stubbornness.  Done right though, you will implement the best ideas, you will innovate, you will have committed, engaged employees and delighted customers.  Best of all perhaps, you will also become a “destination” employer, where the most gifted and talented people in your industry yearn to work.

About Steve Dunlap

Steve is the president and COO of FolioDynamix, a fast-growing, innovative financial technology firm providing ground-breaking technologies, investment advice, and thought leadership to investment and wealth management firms. He is known for helping these firms successfully navigate the digital disruption of the financial services industry, and has has spent his entire career in FinTech and financial services. As various times, he has served as CEO of large financial services firms, run small, private-equity-funded start-ups, and is now running a cutting edge provider of disruptive financial technology.

His career has focused on building solutions that combine technology and investment capabilities and are used by financial advisors to help their clients achieve their financial dreams. Over the last year or so, he has been “going social,” drawing upon his 25+ years experience in financial services and what he learned as a college philosophy major to promote knowledge, transparency, and ethics in financial services. He believes passionately that technology is the key to a more successful financial industry that serves consumers more effectively and equitably.

Previously, he has served as EVP of Wealth Management for Cetera Financial Group, CEO of Tower Square Investment Management, CEO of Lockwood Advisors, a unit of The Bank of New York Mellon, and President of Finetre Corporation, a financial technology start-up that automated the sale and delivery of insurance products. Early in his career, he designed a mutual fund illustration system at Thomson Financial, which is still in use today as part of the ThomsonOne platform used by major financial services firms.

He lives in Manhattan Beach, California with his wife and two sons. When it’s time for fun, they enjoy sailing, scuba diving, and exploring the desert and long-abandoned mines in his highly-modified Jeep Rubicon 4x4.

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