Australia: Business Intelligence 2006 - Directions

Last Updated: 30 October 2006
Article by Helen Davis

If for you, the word 'entrepreneur' conjures thoughts of a lone CEO or company founder, boldly espousing and striving towards an heroic vision, then take a good look around you. For entrepreneurial spirit is not confined to leaders - it lives in every person that makes up your organisation.

Organisations are made up of people. Without people, organisations are faceless. Much lip-service is paid to human capital as being the most important asset of an organisation. And whilst a growing number of organisations articulate in their strategy the common objective of employee and employer wellbeing, the reality often is that financial and short-term success speaks louder and satisfies the financial market and executives’ KPIs to a greater extent, than above-industry retention rates, engaged employees and flexible work practices.

It would be naďve to suggest that one day the corporate world will not be driven by profit. That is the genesis of business for all organisations, whether to generate wealth for investors and growth, or to fund essential social services in the government or not-for-profit sector. But equally, it would be naďve, in today’s world, to suggest that organisations who fail to truly engage their people, will achieve sustainable success.

So, no doubt you have heard all of this before. But can you genuinely say that your organisation has invested time and effort into assessing its ability to adapt, change and survive in a world of:

  • globalisation of business
  • globalisation of the workforce
  • a shrinking talent pool
  • an increasingly savvy, educated and informed workforce
  • increased female participation in the workforce
  • an ageing population
  • fast-paced technology
  • the death of many traditional jobs and the creation of new ones.

Few organisations can truthfully say that they are not feeling the pressure of these realities. Even fewer organisations can confidently tell you what they are doing to address them. This fact reinforces the perception that Australia, once the land of the long weekend, has in many ways not only failed in the pursuit of becoming a global player, but in doing so has failed to retain its point of cultural differentiation.

If entrepreneurial spirit can be considered an attitude, it is logical that an organisation’s culture will hold the key to unleashing (or stifling) it.

Before an organisation can begin any navel-gazing exercise, there must be a clear understanding of the organisation: its current values, its structure, its people, as well as its goals and vision for the future. The most effective way to do this is through a thorough assessment of how work is organised, how people behave, interact and relate to the organisation and what values and forces shape the organisation’s vision, mission and strategic goals. Together, these dynamics make up the organisation’s work culture.

Success in today’s environment requires a much broader vision, not only for an organisation itself, but for the people who make up the organisation, their skills and competencies, their relationship with each other and their relationship to the organisation. This concept encompasses how work is done and how people are selected, developed, managed and rewarded. Organisations wanting to continue past successes, may need to embark on significant cultural shifts in the relationships with their people.

Enter the Federal Government’s industrial relations reform agenda. Operating on the ideology that a good business model involves a collaborative approach, the new and completely re-written ‘WorkChoices’ legislation is aimed at enabling Australian business to address those challenges, outlined above, that they are facing now and will continue to face in the future. The Government believes that the key to achieving this is to return the power and control of organisations to the workplace through the encouragement of direct relationships between employers and employees - an approach that is not without opposition, internally and externally to organisations.

Nor is it without risk for employees at the hand of a few unscrupulous employers.

Truly entrepreneurial organisations will, however, embrace WorkChoices and do so in a manner that not only achieves legal compliance, but dares to elevate the importance and focus of direct relationships with employees. This does not mean a one-sided dictatorial approach, absent union and Industrial Commission interference - in most cases, employees will actively oppose this, or simply become a turnover statistic.

But rather, the creation of a collaborative environment and one with the capability to foster entrepreneurial spirit.

Does your organisation have the mettle to promote and achieve this? The answer to this question lies in whether your organisation has the courage to:

  • have guidelines, not rigid immovable rules into which entrepreneurial spirit and creativity must be squeezed
  • let go of employees, particularly senior management, who refuse to accommodate and support the desired culture
  • have an open dialogue with your people on business needs, objectives and achievements
  • give feedback, constructively and often
  • overhaul your current employee and industrial relations strategies and existing agreements
  • experiment with alternative working arrangements that can service both business and individual employee needs
  • ask your people how to improve your business and workplace – they often have more of the answers than your senior management!
  • reward positive efforts consistent with the organisation’s objectives, not just financial success
  • take risks – acceptable risk, not the reckless kind
  • fail – from failure comes learning.

These are challenging and interesting times to be in business in Australia. The current Government, through its WorkChoices legislation, is providing a platform that encourages growth and entrepreneurship. The opportunity exists for the taking by the truly committed.

Adopt a budget-approach to change, and you will achieve no more than a budget-outcome and possibly struggle for continued survival over the next decade. Have the courage to go further and invest in your organisation’s future.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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