Belgian workforce ranked among the world's most entrepreneurial employees

Most people do not immediately associate Belgium with entrepreneurship. A new study by the Flanders DC Knowledge Centre at Vlerick Business School, entitled ‘Success factors for intrapreneurship in various types of organisations’ now shows that Belgian employees tend to exhibit more entrepreneurial behaviour in a company environment. The study identifies and compares success factors for intrapreneurship in various types of organisations.

Professor Miguel Meuleman, together with Jana Deprez, Eva Cools and Mathias Cobben, examined the entrepreneurial profile of employees in Flanders as well as the measure in which organisations support intrapreneurship and the extent to which employees come up with, promote and implement new ideas.

An innovative society relies on traditional entrepreneurship as well as on intrapreneurship – or entrepreneurship within existing organisations. Intrapreneurship allows organisations – companies as well as non-profit organisations – to remain effective in a rapidly changing environment.

In recent years various studies, including the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), have demonstrated that Belgium’s score is rather poor when it comes to traditional entrepreneurship or starters who start from scratch,” says Pascal Cools, Director of Flanders District of Creativity. “But intrapreneurship can serve as a partial substitute for the limited traditional entrepreneurship in our country.

After all, entrepreneurship is a process that also takes place within established companies and organisations. When workers are the driving force behind this trend this is called intrapreneurship. A recent global survey within GEM shows that a large percentage of the total amount of employees (13.5%) in Belgium can be classified as intrapreneurs. Belgium (there were no individual figures available for Flanders) is clearly ahead of the pack, together with Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden. This can be explained by the extensive employee protection and social security in these countries: employees with secure jobs tend to explore new paths within the context of their existing job rather than starting a business of their own and dealing with the risks that are commonly associated with such a venture.

Large-scale survey

With the help of Vacature (a Flemish employment publication) 6,000 surveys were taken among employees in various companies and organisations (NGOs, schools, public administrations, and so on) in various sectors. The aim of this study was to map the extent to which employees display intrapreneurship and the measure in which the organisational or company culture encourages this entrepreneurial behaviour in its employees. The questionnaire shows that new ideas about products and services mainly come from Senior Managers. It also appears that as organisations grow (older) the entrepreneurial behaviour of employees decreases. Employees in the services sector display the most entrepreneurial behaviour while employees in public administration are the least entrepreneurial. The performance of the non-profit sector, moreover, is not as good as that of the profit sector in terms of the entrepreneurial behaviour of its employees.

The organisational culture in administrations inhibits the entrepreneurial behaviour of civil servants

The lesser degree of intrapreneurship or the entrepreneurial behaviour of civil servants in public administrations and educational institutions can firstly be attributed to an organisational culture which inhibits entrepreneurial behaviour. Generally speaking there is less support among top-level management in public administration and in education for the innovative initiatives of employees. In administration in particular the individual discretion of civil servants is far too limited. Various studies have shown that these factors – management support and individual discretion – are important explanatory factors for encouraging entrepreneurial behaviour among employees.

In other sectors a workload that is too high is often an inhibitive factor for launching innovative ideas as an employee. Some companies, e.g., Google capitalise on this by explicitly giving employees the time to work on new projects.

A lack of proactive behaviour

The explanation for the less entrepreneurial behaviour of civil servants in education and in public administration can also be attributed to a lack of proactive behaviour: civil servants tend to question internal processes less and they are also less aware of changes in their external environment, e.g., technological and social-cultural developments that may have an impact on their organisation.

Working to create an entrepreneurial corporate culture

The study also demonstrates that companies and organisations can work to create a more entrepreneurial corporate culture: “You can compensate for a lack of proactive employees by developing and implementing a corporate climate that supports and encourages this”, says Professor Miguel Meuleman. “You can clearly and systematically promote entrepreneurship in a company or organisation.”

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