What Inhibits Enterprise Thinking?

July 15, 2019 Joe Britto

Reading time: about 3 mins.


Isn’t it what we all want for our businesses: leadership teams and staff who act and feel as if the business they’re working for is theirs? Create that and people take initiative. They consider the impact of their actions on the wider business. They’re motivated. Maximize resources. They look for smarter, more efficient ways of doing things.

What leader wouldn’t want that?

There’re two ingredients that create an environment of enterprise thinking: connection and mindset. If either one is missing so is enterprise thinking. But before we get to those let’s remind ourselves what we mean by enterprise thinking in the first place.

A Definition

Merriam-Webster’s defines an enterprise as “a unit of economic organization or activity” and that’s a good place to start. It could be a multi-national, an SME, a mom and pop store, a political party, movement, or cause. What matters is that an enterprise is a wider group organized around specific goals and objectives.

The more we share those goals and objectives the more likely we are to work in concert with others to make them happen.

Defining the Challenge

Building on that definition, what could Cleo CEO be seeing when she looks around her multi-national and laments the lack of enterprise thinking? I’d suggest she’s seeing a lack of cohesion toward the pursuit of the wider objectives of the business.

That’s important because although senior leaders and staff may be working hard in their business units or teams; the thing that’s bothering Cleo is they’re not focused on the wider connections between business units or across teams. If they were, they’d see one enterprise with shared challenges that need shared solutions.

But what’s making it hard for her teams to keep an enterprise focus?

The Mindset Inhibitor

Here’s a simple truth: we work in the best interests of whatever we consider to be the enterprise.

That means a company disjointed in its approach isn’t necessarily lacking enterprise thinkers. It’s more subtle than that. A disjointed company could mean leaders and teams are defining the enterprise differently. What could be their definition? Well how about their business units, departments or teams. Can you see the difference?

What I’m saying is we all have an enterprise view. Thing is we might not all agree on what the enterprise is. And that’s the foundational mindset inhibitor to enterprise thinking.

Enterprises within Enterprises

If I’m working in a multi-national the thing I see every day isn’t the wider business. It’s the team I work in. If I’m a senior leader in a multi-national the thing that takes up my time is the concerns of my business unit. And because those are the things I’m seeing everyday it isn’t surprising that I’m focused on them. I want to hit my numbers in my business unit. I want the product of my business unit to shine and get press. I’m working for the success of my business unit because, well, I’m the head of it and I want it to do well.

Another way of saying that is, to me, my business unit is the enterprise.

Does that make sense? If it does you can see that Cleo isn’t lacking enterprise thinking in her organization. What she’s got are people working in the best interests of the thing they consider to be the enterprise.

That means her task isn’t to grow enterprise thinkers – she already has them – it’s to elevate the thinking of her leaders beyond the immediate concerns of their business units. And that helps them see how those business unit concerns impact, and are impacted by, other areas of the organization.

If you’re relieved because elevating thinking seems easier than growing enterprise thinkers you’d be mistaken. That’s a mindset shift, but it isn’t the only shift we need.

The Connection Inhibitor

Another thing missing when we see the enterprise as our team, department, or business unit, is a connection to the wider enterprise.

It’s connection that drives enterprise thinking. Think about it. I work in the best interests of whatever I feel connected to. That’s true in all areas of life.

If you’ve ever come across someone that shocks you with their selfishness it’s because they see themselves as the enterprise. If you’d do anything for your family, it’s because you see them as the enterprise. If you stay up late at night worrying about your team; look for ways to raise the profile of your business unit; or search for ways to grow the whole business, it’s because those are the things you’re seeing as the enterprise.

So just like enterprise thinking we already have a connection. It’s just about what we’re connected to.

Encouraging Enterprise Thinking

So you see the goal isn’t to develop enterprise thinkers. It’s to create the environment that grows them. It starts by allowing people to feel connected to the wider business. And just like in all aspects of life, people grow a connection to something by being invested in it. We have to feel part of it. And the best way I know of doing that is to allow people to be involved.

Grow involvement and people feel connected. Grow connection and people start to care. When people start to care they work for the betterment of whatever they care about. And if what they care about is your business now you have enterprise thinkers.


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