Home Concepts Organizational Theory Theory E²: Working with Entrepreneurial Professionals in Closely-Held Enterprises

Theory E²: Working with Entrepreneurial Professionals in Closely-Held Enterprises

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7. Multiple and Unacknowledged Motives

There is a final issue that is commonly found among entrepreneurs who lead professional closely held enterprises. In many ways, this is the most important of the issues we have identified; yet, it is also often the most elusive and readily dismissed by busy, results-oriented entrepreneurs. This is the issue of motivation: Why is the entrepreneur engaged in this enterprise? Why does she put in so many hours doing this work? Why doesn’t she get a “real” job, working for someone else, so that there will be less pressure? Part of the answer for professionals has to do with the fundamental desire for autonomy. Most men and women who choose a profession expect not only to achieve financial security and a fair amount of public respect, but also the capacity to be “let alone” to do their work in an effective manner without a lot of outside interference. That is one of the motives. But there is more at stake.

There are other questions being asked by the professional entrepreneur: Why does she care so deeply about the survival and ultimate success of her professional enterprise? As one of our clients recently noted: “I’m not sure why I work so hard and what I want to get out of my practice . . . Or maybe I do know, but don’t want to face the real reasons.” This quotation suggests that not only is motivation an elusive issue, it is also an issue that can be threatening or even offensive for many professional entrepreneurs. One of our colleagues was working with a small group of men and women who serve as chief executives of niche nonprofit organizations. He asked them to identify what difference it would make if their organization went out of business tomorrow. Our colleague asked this question in order to help his clients identify the underlying reason for their good, hard work. The reaction he got to this question was stunning. The chief executives immediately reacted with great anger, indicating that they didn’t appreciate someone suggesting that their organization might be expendable or “worthless.” They have dedicated their lives to these closely held nonprofit enterprises and don’t want someone coming in to suggest that their enterprise could go away tomorrow. They asked our colleague to leave their meeting and never come back again! Clearly, these chief executives were highly motivated and committed to their work; but they all misunderstood what our colleague was asking and refused to explore their own motives. The same reaction is likely if professionals are asked to identify the reason why their organization exists and what differences it would make if they ceased to do their work.

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