Enterprise is a dangerous thing.
In the wrong hands it can re-distribute wealth from the wealthy and put it in the hands of the poor. If this happens of course vast swathes of public services could be cut back. Job Centres could be closed down, demand for health services might plummet and swathes of middle class ‘helping’ professionals could be laid off. So, ensuring that enterprise culture remains depressed and marginalised in some of our poorer communities is essential to social progress and economic recovery.
Here is your quick guide on how to do it…
- Build a Public/Private Sector Partnership with the Mission of ‘Promoting Enterprise’
Counter intuitive I know. But if it just looks like a government/council/housing association led initiative it may lack credibility. Getting a few (even one) local business person on board will really increase credibility and increase the chances of winning investment. Be very careful though. Private sector people will actually want to see enterprise encouraged. As soon as they see the real effects of the programme they are likely to flee like proverbial rats on a sinking ship.
- Get your hands on a large sum of money
People are inherently enterprising. They show all sorts of creative and innovative ways to make life better or at least more bearable. Fortunately for us many of these (in fact the vast majority) don’t show up in our measures of enterprise so we simply deny them and state that communities with low start-up and VAT registration rates are ‘lacking in enterprise’. However, the point remains, people are inherently enterprising and if we wish to discourage enterprise it can be expensive. A few million should do it to sustain a 2 or 3 year campaign.
- Invest substantial sums in prolonged marketing campaigns encouraging enterprise and claiming that anyone can do it
I know this seems counter-intuitive. If we want to discourage enterprise, then surely we shouldn’t be promoting it? But bear with me – this works. If we can get a message out there that says
‘You can be your own boss, running your dream business: All it takes is a bright idea and the determination to succeed’
…our battle is practically won. Leaflets, posters, websites, adverts on commercial radio stations and buses. Just flood the target areas of deprivation with marketing collateral. Ideally also recruit some enterprise champions to attend local community centres and summer fairs handing out leaflets and letting everyone know just how much support is available to the would be entrepreneur. And if you want to blow a few tens of thousands on a website too – well it will do no harm.
People will come forward in reasonable numbers especially if we help them out with bus fares, offer free lunches, crèches and hint at the possibility of funding to listen to our messages. Enterprise for all, Anyone can do it, All it takes is hard work, You don’t even need a bright idea – we can give you one of those…
- Procure Your Own MBA Enterprise (Lite)
Now all we need to do is feed them into an Enterprise MBA (anorexically) Lite. Perhaps three half day workshops with a decent consultant who can make it all seem so very simple. Half a day to work up the idea, half a day to develop a marketing plan and half a day to look at financials should do it. Perhaps supported by a week-end Enterprise Show that offers ‘All you need to know about business in one day’.
Whatever you do please do not encourage team based start ups. These are far too likely to succeed. Encourage the myth of the ‘lone entrepreneur’ at every opportunity.
Now we can just sit back and wait.
If we work really hard at this within a year or two we can have perhaps 1000 bright shiny new businesses – most of them run by the gullible who really believe that with all the support available this should be easy. And the magic starts. They suddenly find that this is hard work, and it is relentless. The business becomes like a cuckoo, requiring constant attention, dragging them away from family and friends, requiring time, money and lots of hard work.
NB be very careful not to provide any form of ‘relationship’ with your wannabe entrepreneurs other than the poorly transactional/technical. You must never employ competent coaches who might help them to balance these tensions and maintain their motivation to succeed. Instead employ people who have never run a business nor have been trained as coaches and use them as recruitment sergeants for the MBA Lite. You can call them Enterprise Coaches. Just make sure that their enterprise experience is limited and their room to coach negligible. As our wannabe entrepreneurs start to feel and show the strain of running their own businesses we can start to blame their struggles on them. ’Perhaps you are just not cut out to be an entrepreneur’. Again avoid telling them the true stories of many successful entrepreneurs who often cut their teeth in failing businesses before finally finding a recipe for success. Luckily there is a whole industry of motivational speakers and ex Apprentices who will help you to re-tell and re-enforce the Enterprise Fairy tale. (NB don’t underestimate the budget you will need to procure their services. This seems to be one area where the vast supply available has not resulted in driving down prices…)
- Run a ‘Modest’ Grants and Loans Programme
Lending people money or even giving small grants to get their businesses started provides a wonderful mechanism to ensure that painful lessons about enterprise have a long-lasting and practical impact. It also helps us to short-cut the most commonly raised objection to starting a business which is ‘I don’t have the cash’. This is a vital step. In its absence they may go and speak to lenders who will explain to them that their business is unlikely to work and that they will not be able to pay for any investment they seek. THIS IS DISASTER! We should do all we can to avoid exposing our wannabe entrepreneurs to such doses of reality.
By running our own grants and loan schemes we also help to lay the seeds for decades of resentment in the community. Firstly we will have the chance to refuse many who apply for loans. This really ticks them off, wastes their time, puts them off the enterprise process and makes them deeply suspicious of anyone who offers to invest in entrepreneurs. And for those that we do make loans there is a good chance they will default – but even if they don’t they will see us as money lenders – and no-one really likes their lenders, do they? And if we give them a grant, because no one else will lend them money – well we are almost certainly setting them up to fail. If their business idea was inherently profitable they would not need to come to us for a grant.
NB actually setting up a grant or loan service can be hard. Instead, do a deal with a local credit union and get them to work ‘under your brand’. This way you get all of the upsides without having to actually do any of the dirty work. Never signpost people to independent sources of finance and investment. This risks your client seeing you as the good guys and them, the evil moneylenders, as the bad guys. Of course if your long-term goal of depressing enterprise culture is to be achieved then you need to be perceived as the bad guys – so bring the finance guys under your brand.
- Now be patient
That’s it. Now sit back and watch the results of your labour come to fruition. You have encouraged perhaps a thousand people to start businesses. Of course, some of these would have started their businesses anyway. And some will expect to work all hours to get things working well. But many, if we are lucky a majority, will be anticipating some sort of cake walk to entrepreneurial success.
And so the magic starts.
The demand for many hours of hard work kicks in. The money flows out, and our trap is sprung. We may have had to put up with a short-term spike in the start-up rates (it is unlikely that many VAT registrations will occur as a result of our MBA Lite) but now we can expect the start-up rate to quickly fall away again.
We now have a small army of failed and failing entrepreneurs in our community, with neighbours and friends talking about their latest entrepreneurial failure, trying to service their debts and walk away from their ‘dream business’ turned nightmare. If you have done your work well perhaps loan default rates could be significantly above 50%. We do not need to promote these failures. Indeed we can be portraying them as successes to ensure that we recruit another tranche to our MBA. The entrepreneurs will collude with us in portraying their success – but the community will recognise and spread the truth. That enterprise is hard and inherently risky, and that in spite of all the support available the decks are stacked and success often remains elusive.
But what, I hear you say, of those that ‘succeed’. Aren’t they walking adverts for the entrepreneurial dream? Well, actually, No. Most of them will be in the ‘working like a dog for not much money’ phase. Even those on the road to entrepreneurial success (typically by way of a start-up failure or two) will be like government sponsored health warnings against the dangers of an entrepreneurial life style.
- Commission a Mid Term Evaluation
It must be glossy and full of warm words and smiling faces. Don’t worry, even your most miserable and hate filled entrepreneurs will be prepared to smile for your cameras as you explain to them that many potential customers will read this report. If possible get an evaluator with a double barrelled name and a decent reputation to undertake the evaluation. They will understand the politics of the situation and can be relied upon to be sympathetic.
- Avoid producing lists of the entrepreneurs you have helped and the businesses you have started
Such lists can be problematic. People who are interested in enterprise in their communities might ring up some of your clients and find out whether they are living the dream or not. If you are wise each of the clients will have been helped by several of your partners and will have been counted more than once. Such double counting can easily be hidden away in a database. Indeed we can blame it on the IT system. A published list is much less forgiving.
- Get Out Early
Ideally after a 2-4 year campaign such as this you should now withdraw your sources of advice and support. If you are lucky you will be able to blame this on central government cuts and ‘The Recession’. Don’t worry the long-standing enterprise support organisations such as the Enterprise Agencies or Business Link won’t be able to pick up the slack – they are already stacked out.
Q: We have spent several millions refurbishing old buildings in deprived areas as ‘enterprise centres’ and have helped establish Development Trusts and CICs to run them. Is there any danger that these might serve to promote enterprise in areas of deprivation?
A: Relax! It is true that you have spent millions that you could have held onto – but it is unlikely that you will have done any real harm to our mission of depressing enterprise in deprived areas. As long as you have built in lots of overheads (Victorian listed buildings that are inherently energy inefficient, combined with generous staffing and ‘architectural’ use of atria and ‘overpriced shared working space’ should suffice). Unless you make the mistake of offering really competitive prices for decent office space with easy terms you are not going to fill up with local sustainable businesses capable of paying their rents consistently. This mistake is almost impossible to make as if you should, no doubt unwittingly, provide any meaningful competition to the private sector there will be howls of complaints about anti-competitiveness.
NB leave the buildings with a legacy investment so that they can sustain themselves for a year or two after you have gone. This way you may avoid some of the blame for commissioning a white elephant.
As the poor CIC or Development Trust pursues ‘break even’ it will have to forget its social mission and, at worst, the car park will fill up with BMWs, Audis and 4x4s as entrepreneurs from out of town recognise that their are deals to be done on some sexy workspaces. Or they may shift their focus from ‘enterprise centre’ to ‘conference centre’. Or the car parks (and bicycle sheds) will remain stubbornly empty and after many months or years of support the centre will die a long and lingering death. In most of our communities this trajectory can still be seen playing out in versions of ‘enterprise centres’ from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
You may find that some claim the Enterprise Centre gives local people something to aspire too and that this will somehow lead to an entrepreneurial revolution. Again Relax. Go and talk to the operations manager in any of the older incarnations of the enterprise centres. They, their low occupancy rates, and their key tenants running government programmes, will testify that no such enterprise revolution is likely to occur.
Q: We have executed the plan perfectly. Does this mean that we can take the foot of the gas?
A: No! People are inherently enterprising. As soon as you stop, the recovery starts. They start to make progress again. Luckily it tends to be slow and pain staking but it happens. You must be prepared to re-brand and relaunch the whole project again at least every 10 years.
Q: Hang on a minute! We have done some or all of the above in the name of encouraging enterprise in deprived communities. Are you saying that we have got it wrong?
A:…Well of course only time will tell. But in short, Yes.
I love 2×2 matrices. But there are worse crimes I suppose. Of course they oversimplify things, deny shades of grey, limit ‘nuancing’ and so on.
But they work for me.
They help to clarify where we are, where we need to be and can generate ideas about how we get there. Take this 2×2 for example which maps the credibility/utility of the service we offer versus its visibility/accessibility.
High/High – ‘The Real Deal’ or ‘The Hen’s Teeth’
This is the goal. Credible services that work and are visible and accessible to the people they are intended to serve. Likely to have a low marketing overhead as word of mouth and the power of attraction will keep the clients coming. Well evidenced, high value for money services mean that funders cannot afford to withdraw from it.
High Accessibility/Visibility but Low Credibility – ‘All Mouth and No Trousers’ or ‘The Emperor…has no clothes’
This is the norm. Sadly. PR companies on large retainers to buy square inches in the local press. Social media strategies, web sites, leaflets, posters and inspirational strap lines and branding guidelines abound. Every one knows it’s there – but most of us know it doesn’t do ‘what it says on the tin’…The service relies on heavy self promotion to find a continual source of new referrals. Word of mouth strategies including introductions and referrals don’t work. They often have to rely on ‘inducements’ such as soft loans, grants and free lunches to get people to ‘sort of’ engage. They can have plenty of clients on the books but few of them do anything very interesting. Failure rates are high. Many new entrepreneurs soon fall out of love with their ‘dream’ businesses and loan default rates are high. Often have lots of front line staff on the ground all looking for ‘good’ clients. Added value is low. Management strategies involve efforts to ‘bluster our way through’ until the funding stream ends.
High Credibility/Utility but Low Visibility - ‘The Hidden Gem’
So we have a great product and service that does the job – but people don’t know we are here. Don’t worry about it – this situation won’t last for long – perhaps 6 months? If you have a product/service that reliably and consistently does what it says it will do – transforms lives, starts dream businesses and contributes to economic and community development the word will get out. In fact you will soon be winning prizes and if you are smart making serious money. Perhaps give a little thought to promoting a word of mouth strategy – learn how to ask for referrals, and introductions and you will soon have them beating a path to your door. Make sure you can evidence your effectiveness and trademark/copyright your service. It is worth a bomb. This is a great place to be….
Low Credibility and Low Visibility - ‘No Style – No Substance’
Actually not as bad as it sounds. Perhaps most new enterprise services should recognise that this is the starting point and where we might spend most of the first year or two of a new project. Learning about what works in a particular community, about which partners are the ‘real deal’ and which are ‘all mouth but no trousers’. Sniffing out the hidden gems to work with. By deliberately keeping a low profile, but working on the long term impact of our products and services with a modest volume of clients we can gradually build a great service. Once we have moved into the ‘hidden gem’ category we can then make the transition to become the ‘real deal’.
Working with Stakeholders
Of course when we use this in our own services we tend to have a bias towards the ‘real deal’ and ‘hidden gem’ quadrants. But if we ask our clients, our funders, our experienced advisers, or an informed outsider to place us in the matrix then the results can be enlightening and provide powerful clues about the way forward – if we are smart enough and honest enough to listen.
- Is this matrix useful?
- Are you in the quadrant that you want to be in?
- Do you have a clear strategy for getting to be the real deal?
I have been thinking some more about ‘helping styles that help’. Many services that purport to ‘help’ appear to be helpful on the surface, but often leave clients more dependent on experts to help them with decision-making in the future, rather than less. We achieve a net loss in ‘enterprise’ rather than a net gain. Or we deliver the bureaucratic requirements of our service while leaving things substantially unchanged.
Every interaction offers us possibilities to help or hinder the development of clients (and ourselves). For some years now I have trained a person centred approach based on 4 styles of intervention intended to help advisers/coaches to think about how they can use every interaction to both strengthen their relationship with the client and to move the change process along:
- acceptant (getting them the client talk and to acknowledge feelings and emotions as well as facts)
- catalytic (introducing models, theories and concepts that help the client to see the wood for the trees, to recognise patterns and ‘make their own sense’ of the information they have available to them
- confrontational (challenging the client when words and actions seem to lack coherence – when they appear to be acting against their own self interest)
- prescriptive (telling clients what they should or should not do – a very common subset of this is called ‘veiled prescription’ for example ‘Have you thought about calling Business Link?’ which is really a prescription disguised as a question.
These four styles are then used in conjunction with what I call the enterprise coaching cycle. This starts with initial contact/gaining entry (winning the permission of the client to help; crossing the threshold at which the client ‘invites’ us to work with them on exploring options and plans). It then goes through contracting, data collection and option generation phases (all led by the client with the coach in the role of facilitator in nearly all occasions), option selection, planning, implementation and then either exiting or re-contracting for a further cycle of support.
In practice many of the people I train recognise that their ability to help is limited by the extent to which they can effectively ‘gain entry’. They are often not trusted as being ‘on the side of the client’. Gaining entry is a challenge because as it cannot be done on the basis of expertise and power (the usual starting point?) but on the basis of trustworthiness and intent. Without gaining entry we can go through the motions of a helping relationship and tick most of the right boxes but nothing substantially shifts.
When working with coaches and advisers I have had to do quite a lot of work to decrease the amount of prescription that goes on and to increase the amount of acceptant work. This is usually resisted until advisers experience the style helping them with one of their own real life challenges. Even then they will habitually revert back to advising each other – even when they know from personal experience that ‘prescription’ is often almost useless as a helping style! There is a challenge of learning new techniques and skills, but the main challenge is unlearning old habits!
There is also often a resistance in case what the client really wants to work on reflects neither the coaches’ expertise nor the remit of their project.
I have also done quite a lot of work with advisers and coaches on ‘self directed learning’ which draws heavily on reflective practice techniques and helps them to build personalised learning support mechanisms. One of the unintended consequences of the standards based approach to professional development has been emphasis on the collection and collation of evidence that criteria are met rather than genuine reflection and the creative development of professional practice.
Another challenge has been to get advisers/coaches to be genuinely client centred, rather than centred on either the solutions that they have up their sleeves (workshops that have been commissioned and need filling, managed workspaces that need the same, existing services provided by ‘partners’) or the outcomes that draw down their funding (steering people towards business start ups, VAT registrations or training places – because they count as ‘success’ in the terms of the funder).
Working on the front-line of service delivery leads to challenges further up the supply chain. This includes helping service managers/designers to balance the tensions between client centredness and outcomes that funders demand. In my experience this balance is nearly ALWAYS struck on the side of the funder rather than the client which often dilutes the potential of the service as we cannot gain entry if we are more concerned in gaining outcomes for the funder than helping the client on their agenda. There is also the challenge of helping funders to recognise that they are much more likely to achieve their outcomes if they fund person centred support rather than policy centred ‘advice and guidance’. Work is required in all these areas if we are to make a real shift in the system and its efficacy.
I am not sure if this stream of consciousness will add anything to the analysis of the challenges in developing enterprise coaching as an impactful and cost-effective practice, but I hope it shows that I have perhaps some of the pieces of the puzzle that may help to shift things a little at both theoretical and practical levels, both at the front-line of service delivery and the design and management of services.
If any of this may be relevant to your work then please do give me a shout.
I recently ran some 2 hour workshops for staff at Wakefield College where steps are being undertaken to ‘Embed Enterprise’ across the curriculum. I got some lovely feedback about the sessions:
- Enjoyable structure to lesson; enterprise from another angle.
- Great presenter learnt a lot of new ideas of how enterprise can be embedded across the college.
- Good varied discussion; topic was quite thought provoking, good and interesting speaker.
- Inspirational; thought provoking.
- Really helped me understand the concept of enterprise, both personally and to help the adults I work with.
- Interactive: Thought provoking
- Very interesting presenter, stimulating & thought provoking, it flew by.
- Session leader engaging, funny, and interesting – actually had something important to say.
- Excellent input led by an interesting person who has credibility and vision.
- Motivational speaker, clear messages, fun! Message matured my view of what teaching is about.
- Right messages about enterprise, good pace, good balance of theory and anecdote, good understanding of issues in FE.
- Stimulating, helped me look at my position at college in a slightly more “empowered way”.
- Thought provoking, lots of ideas I would like to follow up on / research (if time permits).
- Food for thought, helped me to basically understand the role of enterprise, training and business has to fill the gap not the need. A really good session.
- Flexible, great knowledge, inspiring.
- Fab delivery, stimulating ideas I’d really like the power points and any refs etc.
- Brilliant!…….. really interesting, interactive.
- Variety, fantastic thanks.
- Very interesting, good tutor, good use of IT.
- Interactive excellent, provoking thoughts, highlighted further development, how to manage entrepreneurship. Team sessions with staff about developing enterprise.
- Varied session covering a wide topic. Encouraged reflection on own practice and future role in college.
- Made us think, interactive, quite moving at times.
- Very thought provoking, interesting topics and examples, well presented.
- Good depth.
- Fantastic delivery, so useful and incredibly inspiring. Very relevant and realistic, thoroughly enjoyable.
- (Strengths), presenter and activities, style personality knowledge.
Do get in touch if your team could do with the cockles of their enterprise hearts warming.
If I said enterprise not entrepreneurship then I was too strong.
It is just that we can help people to develop their enterprising soul in so many more and varied arenas – many of which are more intrinsically attractive and powerful media than ‘business’ – especially to young people. Musicianship, sports, art, food, writing, wildlife, gardening, web 2.0 etc etc. Why nail ‘enterprise’ to ‘business’ so much of the time? It just serves to alienate lots of people for whom the world of business seems phoney, vain, self serving, venal and corrupt.
Azjen’s stuff is interesting. My problem with it is that it presupposes a set of behaviours that we are trying to move people towards. ie an officially sanctioned version of what constitutes the enterprise curriculum. I know that these exist – but I question their value. I believe that the way in which each of us is enterprising is distinctly personal and probably neither transferable nor generic. It is an expression of our personality, culture and our experience as much as of our aspiration. Enterprise education is therefore about drawing out what is within rather than grafting on what is (according to a gap analysis against our framework) ‘missing’. It is about helping people to become fully themselves, not to fit our template for enterprise/entrepreneurship.
The fact that you might find enterprise conceived this way hard to measure is not a major concern of mine. However I KNOW FOR CERTAIN that if we engage more people in this process of self discovery and emergence, a massively high proportion of them will go on to do enterprising and very possibly entrepreneurial things. Invest in this and you will get increased wellbeing – and there is plenty of cash being spent on that! Hint towards strategic repositioning, broadening income streams and increasing impact for your organisation.
From a more enterprising community will come more entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, actors, writers, intrapreneurs, political activists and entrepreneurs. It is this idea of what constitutes an enterprising community that we should develop. Hint – it is not one where the measure of TEA =6%.
To develop a more enterprising community we need to help community activists and gatekeepers, to develop much more benign and open attitudes to the potential of enterprise as a tool for community and personal development. All the time it looks like a thinly veiled government plot to reduce benefits and increase tax take we can not expect to be welcomed with open arms – especially when the cash runs out – as it will.
Listening to the Millionaire MBA was really insightful for me on this idea of the personalisation of enterprise where, even in the narrow field of high growth entrepreneurship, successful entrepreneurs accredited their success to a vast and often conflicting range of different behaviours, models, ideas and values. Kalms and Roddick both had very different takes on the politics and practice of branding – yet they both exploited the practice wonderfully. Similar examples are legion.
Success in business, success in life depends fundamentally on becoming YOU – not conforming to the policy makers aspiration of the ideal citizen. Enterprise is about the emergence of identity not its manipulation by the Treasury. So come on enterprise educators. Let’s drop the obsession with ‘business’ and get on with the real work of educating more enterprising souls.
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Couple of pieces of feedback about small pieces of work. 2 hour diagnostic conversations with managers of enterprise services followed up by brief 1000 word reports back to them.
thanks for this….you have managed to capture exactly my vision, and my apprehensions, in regards to the the service and expressed it in a way that is so much more professional than I could ever do myself.
Thank you so much for meeting with me last week and for the report you kindly sent us. It was very helpful to talk through the issues and to have them laid our so succinctly in your report, which despite identifying several areas that need addressing, I found very encouraging.
I am not quite sure the best way to approach [our funders] but do feel I it would be beneficial to send them a copy before I see them. Are you happy for me to do this? I shall also send the information to our Board to reflect on and I have requested that we find some time to work on the issues you highlight.
You also suggested I should contact someone from the council about taking the market plan forward into the city. Are you happy for me to takes some quotes from your report to send to [ list of councillors], if we are going to progress our move into [the city centre] it will only happen by having all of them on board.
I look forward to hearing from you and again many many thanks for your time, encouragement and assistance…
In both cases the intervention has led to clearer understanding and a series of actions designed to take things forward. This IS the enterprise coaching cycle in practice.
If you manage an enterprise service and would benefit from a similar service do get in touch!