Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is Self Governing Important to Creating New Ideas?

One of the articles I read this week discussed the role of autonomy in the entrepreneurial orientation construct. Yeah, I know, I lost my wife with that phrase, too. So let me break that set of terms down.

Autonomy basically means self governing. If someone has control over when he works, how he meets his responsibilities, or over what he does at all, then he has some measure of autonomy. Obviously, most self-employed individuals have a high degree of autonomy because they get to choose which customers they sell to, which vendors they buy from, what to charge, what forms of payment to accept, and many other things in the course of running a business. Employees tend to have less autonomy, but businesses with an entrepreneurial orientation might grant more of it. That is the essence of what this paper argues, that autonomy is a component in the entrepreneurial orientation construct. Construct is basically another word for theory or idea. It simply means the area of research focused on EO.

Now perhaps it makes more sense why I put yesterday's post before this one. Understanding the meaning of entrepreneurship in the broader sense that scholars study it helps explain what it means to have an "entrepreneurial orientation." To me, that term means to have an eye towards new opportunities or improvements in existing operations.

So why would autonomy be important to finding new ways to make money or to improving old ones? Think about it. If an employee only does his assigned tasks each day because he has no choice in the matter (for the record, I mean no choice if he wants to remain an employee - no need to point out that everyone has a choice), then what opportunity does he have to share new ways of doing his work? What chance does he have to suggest new products or services to the business? Some measure of autonomy must be granted to give that employee a chance to find new and better ways to do business. Various articles I have read (most of them citing the work of Jeff Covin and various co-authors) point out that businesses with an entrepreneurial orientation tend to outperform competitors. Why might that be true? Because they give employees a chance to share new ideas for doing business. In the mind of Dr. Lumpkin and his co-authors, that opportunity represents means that some measure of autonomy has been granted, and therefore autonomy should be evaluated as a component of the construct.

Anyone still reading? Good. (No, this isn't Sesame Street, I assume the only people still reading will actually read those words... seems logical to me). The movie Office Space actually did a great job of mocking employee/employer relations through the character played by Jennifer Anniston. She had to wear pins to show "flare" (or was it "flair" - both words might work here), but it was her choice what pins she got to wear. One might say she had autonomy in her choice of flare, but not in her choice to have flare. I realize this example is extremely simplified, but at least memories of the movie can give someone a laugh. No, don't go rent it yet. I'm almost finished.

I personally think that having some measure of control over one's own work is empowering. The way many companies describe it is to be an entrepreneur with corporate backers. By granting a measure of autonomy - giving people choices in their work - companies can engender a greater measure of interest in firm performance. Job satisfaction would probably also improve, since most people tend to enjoy the chance to choose what and how they accomplish their responsibilities. I also understand why the paper calls for more research on the role of autonomy. Obviously businesses can't simply tell all employees to do whatever they choose. Some measure of control must be maintained for the sake of order and efficiency. I can add this to my list of subjects that interest me as I prepare to head back to school.

-- Robert


Shane ELoe said...

This reminds me of some business school case studies where a bureaucratic corporation would be brought to the brink of failure by external forces and go to the employees and ask for their help in optimizing operations to keep the business afloat.

The current economic conditions with a less certain employment environment may also be good for entrepreneurial activity as those that would be happy employees in a stable job market seek to control their own destiny and bear both risk and control as an autonomous player in the market.

Robert said...

First, welcome to the blog. And yes, I can see where you're coming from about both your comments - the bureaucratic company and the nature of the marketplace now.

Tomorrow (if I'm up to it), I may write a post about a definition of entrepreneurship that really struck me recently.