Companies ask us, “How can we get the entrepreneurial spirit?” The real question should be, “How did we lose it?” When their founders started in that garage or basement so long ago, there was no question in their minds, if they didn’t make sales, they’d go out of business. But something changed along the way. They lost the entrepreneurial spirit!

What happened? Did they get so carried away with the specialization of human resources, they forgot what their founders knew – that sales are essential to survival? Did the various siloed specialties, like engineering, marketing, R&D, and admin, actually begin to believe that they were more essential than sales?

The specialties began to organize, have their own groups, their own conferences, their own publications. And as they became isolated and insulated from sales, they began to take sales for granted. “Sales can’t happen without my skill set,” became the refrain. Or worse, “Sales? That’s not my job!”

A “good idea” was thought to be all about improving some part of the production process. But did the folks who executed and improved those processes know why their process was essential to sales? Probably not. Management might say “They didn’t need to know.” But knowing why you are performing a process is the backbone of the entrepreneurial spirit. Sales is the reason!

We were honored to be the Keynote Speakers for the 75th Anniversary Summit for IdeasAmerica. These are the folks who brought you the suggestion box in the early 1940’s and have advocated for employee-authored good ideas ever since. We decided that our message should encourage them to explore the cultural conditions that allow for, and promote, the engagement of employees.

Here’s our short list:

  1. Overkill on Orientation. It’s not just where the bathroom, coffee, forms, and go-to person are. It’s how the money that’s in paychecks, benefits, and bonuses gets to your employees. Show them a graphic “money map” that identifies everyone who touches your company’s products or services, and what each one wants from your company. They will see more clearly how they fit in.
  2. Pay for Performance. At least some part of your employees’ compensation must be tied to sales, growth, and profits. When you put all your people on the same bonus plan, you create the comradery of a well-practiced team with the same goal. The most effective bonuses are given quarterly – long enough to get the numbers and short enough to stay attainable.
  3. Know the Need. Some companies are convinced that their people don’t need to know about sales, marketing, or competitive challenges. But when your people get the big picture, see how they fit in, and realize that you view them as a valuable problem-solving asset, they become more creative, and more loyal.
  4. Grant Permission. Mistakes will happen. Make them permissible, as long as they are followed by immediate improvements to the company’s processes and procedures so they will be less likely to reoccur. Grant permission to brainstorm and entertain “crazy” ideas to solve problems. They often lead to a bright idea and a practical solution.
  5. Give Acknowledgement. Make acknowledgement both public and written, and copy the whole team. Everyone will know more about who is being praised and have more respect for that person. They will likewise anticipate public praise when they solve problems. Some studies show that being appreciated is even more important than salary.

We salute IdeasAmerica and acknowledge the fine work they continue to do for both American and international companies. With a bit of encouragement, your people will provide a plethora of good ideas!   

Who Are We.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey co-authored the New York Times bestselling business book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand. The book has been selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum, the C-Suite Book Club, and numerous university classes on business and entrepreneurship. It chronicles their humble beginnings from the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse in 1986, to the board room of E&J Gallo, where they successfully sold their brand in 2005. Barefoot is now the world’s largest wine brand.

Beginning with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles, create new markets and forge strategic alliances. They pioneered Worthy Cause Marketing and performance-based compensation. They offer their Guiding Principles for Success (GPS) to help entrepreneurs become successful and help corporations achieve entrepreneurial cultures to engage and empower their people.

Currently they travel the world keynoting at universities, corporations, conferences and symposiums. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals; along with being FOX News Radio Network’s Workplace Culture Experts. They are also the recipients of the 2014 Distinguished Entrepreneur Speaker Award from the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Bradley University. Visit their popular brand building site at www.thebrandauthority.net. To make inquiries for keynote speaking, trainings or consulting, please contact info@thebarefootspirit.com.

Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders