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?
The Enterprise Coaching conference held in Derby yesterday got me reflecting again on what I have learned from 20 years experience in working with enterprise coaches and people looking to make progress in their lives. It also prompted me to re-read Ernesto Sirolli’s PhD thesis – available on the web here (PDF).
He suggests that 4 key principles should underpin the work of the enterprise coach (Sirolli calls them Enterprise Facilitators™ – a term on which he claims a trademark). These principles are:
- Only work with individuals or communities that invite you.
- Never motivate individuals to do anything they do not wish to do.
- Trust that they are naturally drawn towards self-improvement.
- Have faith in community and the higher social needs that bond it together.
Each of these principles stems from an approach to providing help that is genuinely person centred and responsive rather than interventions designed to achieve the policy objectives of the state.
Sirolli argues compellingly that any violation of these 4 principles may lead to a self satisfying and self serving illusion of help but will in practice inhibit the long term development of an enterprise culture in the community.
Each of these 4 principles is worth significant reflection and its implications for our practice as coaches, and perhaps more importantly service designers and managers should be careful considered.
Here are a few questions to prompt the process:
- What would you and your service need to be like so that the people that you wish to support w0uld actively and willingly seek out your support? What would you have achieved? What would your reputation be like? Would you use offers of money or marketing campaigns to win attention in the community? If you only worked where people really invited you, would you have any work? What would you have to do in order to start ‘winning invitations’?
- If we do not motivate people then how can we help them to change? Do they need our encouragement and motivation to pursue objectives that are in their own self interest? What are the risks of motivating and initiating?
- What would happen if we just trusted people to move in a direction that leads to self improvement? If we rely on the development of a natural human instinct rather than imposing an external perspective of what constitutes progress will ANY of our clients move forward? What might happen to our performance metrics if we really worked at the natural pace of the client? What might happen in the long term to our effectiveness and impact – if we survive the short term problems? What is the role of the enterprise coach in working with clients whose natural inclination to self improvement has been somehow stalled?
- Is it sufficient to just have ‘faith’ in the ‘higher social needs’ that bind community together or does our work require a more practical approach to developing the role of the community in supporting individuals who are looking to make progress?
Our work needs to be grounded on principles if it is to be effective. It is not just about the techniques of coaching versus advising, mentoring or counselling. It is not just about managerial pragmatism in pursuit of the narrowly economic objectives of most funders and policy makers.
It is about our role in engaging with individuals and communities on the agendas that matter most to them.
It is about how best we can help people to engage in the rich infrastructure of services and support that is already out there if they wish to use it.
It is about how we can influence the design and delivery of these services (including mainstream business support) to ensure that they are both cost effective and relevant.
But most importantly it is about how can provide consistent and long term relationships that people can trust enough to help them as they confront the risks and challenges that come with stepping outside of the comfort zone and continuing the journey of self improvement.
Encouraging people to start on these journeys with promises of help and support, and then withdrawing that help and support when funders and policy makers shift their priorities not only destroys trust in us but also leaves our clients high and dry. If current funders are not willing or able to honour the long term commitments that serious endeavours to change the enterprise culture in communities requires then we perhaps need to find some new investors.
As George Derbyshire said – perhaps it is time to ‘Sack the Boss’.
Kevin Horne is the CEO of Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (NWES) ‘one of the leading business support organisations’ in the UK. NWES is a members of the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies and Kevin has written a piece drawing attention to the NFEA’s Enterprise Manifesto.
Kevin goes on to describe the ‘Enterprise Escalator’ which provides a ‘comprehensive customer journey’, comprising:
- Outreach and awareness raising.
- Pre-start advice.
- Start-up training.
- One to one support.
- Access to finance.
On the surface, good sensible stuff. But it perpetuates a myth. The ‘escalator’ implies that, if start up is right for me, I just have to get on and I will effortlessly ascend to the next level. It is a false promise. It is the enterprise fairytale. Real world is less ‘escalator’ and more ‘snakes and ladders’. Less gentle trip to the shopping centre and more laying siege to the mountain. It is life making work.
And what if it is not right for me? Kevin rightly suggest that we need to signpost to other services – but will any of those really help? I have seen too many people with aspiration and potential be sent back to the job centre because the job of helping them find their enterprising feet will just take too long. It won’t fit with the neatly packaged funded services that look to provide a start up fast track.
Perhaps we should offer an enterprise sherpa service. Someone who has managed the ascent before – but who has also, on occasion, failed. Someone who recognises that this is a risky endeavour and needs to be carefully managed if it is not to cause damage. Someone who can recognise when the time is right to push for the summit and when the time is right to do more training and preparation at low levels.
If we are to engage people in communities then we have to engage them ‘where they are at’. Some will already have made it to base camp and are hungrily eyeing the peak. It might not quite be an escalator but we can certainly pass them the oxygen, clip them onto the fixed ropes and wish them luck.
But many remain in the valleys and seldom look to the cloud covered tops.
We have to personalise our services and we have to recognise that many are not yet close to being ready to start a business – now is not the time to launch an assault for the summit - but instead to weigh up the pros and cons of even considering a short trek.
Different people are at different places.
Some will be highly motivated but with few skills. Others will have skills (that they often don’t recognise) but little or no motivation. Some will have neither motivation nor skill. A precious few will have both.
The real ‘enterprise’ challenge is to engage those who have already decided that the ‘labour market’ is not for them and to encourage them to reconsider what they can do with their lives. It is about reconnecting them to their aspirations, helping them to find belief and confidence and finding ways in which they can unstick their lives and make progress. It is about helping them to see that their is an enterprise journey that might be right for them. Can we cost effectively extend our sherpa service to engage and inspire them? What are the costs of not doing so? This should be the realm of the enterprise coach.
It is often a protracted job that requires a long term, strong, supportive, challenging, trusting and non-judgemental relationship. It is not about the ‘Enterprise Fairytale’ and fast start ups. It is about the hard work of developing people and helping them to find ways to dare to move forward again.
I wonder if Enterprise Agencies have the skill and commitment to required to develop an enterprise based service that will really start where many people are at?
Just reading Schumacher’s Good Work again. Although the original lectures on which the book was based were first given in the 1970s it seems that we have made little progress in helping people with the challenge of finding good work.
From the Foreword…
At the heart of our system of work lies our system of values, and more precisely, our view of the individual and his relationships with others. By way of illustration, consider one of the current pseudo-intellectual clichés, that work is part of the Protestant ethic and that a more enlightened view of it is (presumably) that the less work you can get away with, the better.
This is a cynical and degraded view of human nature (certainly not subscribed to by any religion that I know of) because it assumes that money is the sole reason for working. Set this view against Schumacher’s opening remarks in this book, in which he identifies three purposes of human work:
- to produce necessary and useful goods and services;
- to enable us to use and perfect our gifts and skills; and
- to serve, and collaborate with, other people, so as to “liberate ourselves from our inborn egocentricity.”
From the Preface….
A recent article in the London Times began with these words:
“Dante, when composing his visions of hell, might well have included the mindless, repetitive boredom of working on a factory assembly line. It destroys initiative and rots brains, yet millions of British workers are committed to it for most of their lives.”
The remarkable thing is that this statement, like countless similar ones made before it, aroused no interest: there were no hot denials or anguished agreements; no reactions at all. The strong and terrible words “visions of hell,” “destroys initiative and rots brains,” and so on–attracted no reprimand that they were misstatements or overstatements, that they were irresponsible or hysterical exaggerations or subversive propaganda; no, people read them, sighed and nodded, I suppose, and moved on.
Not even the ecologists, conservationists, and doom watchers are interested in this matter. If someone had asserted that certain man-made arrangements destroyed the initiative and rotted the brains of millions of birds or seals or wild animals in the game reserve of Africa, such an assertion would have been either refuted or accepted as a serious challenge. If someone had asserted that not the minds and brains of millions of workers were being rotted but their bodies, again there would have been considerable interest.
After all, there are safety regulations, inspectors, claims for damages, and so forth. No management is unaware of its duty to avoid accidents or physical conditions which impair workers’ health. But workers’ brains, minds, and souls are a different matter.
Enterprise, community and complexity. Slippery words. So slippery that I wonder what can be meaningfully written about them. But I will have a go.
Having worked on these ideas for many years I hold my beliefs tentatively. But they offer the possibility of a very different direction for both promoting enterprise and building ‘harmonious and cohesive’ communities. And few would argue that we don’t need a fresh approach. That more of the same will get the job done.
It won’t. We need to innovate and experiment.
Lets start with ‘enterprise’. First, empty your mind of all those misconceptions that I must be talking about ‘business start’s, ‘cash flow forecasts’, ‘profits’ and ‘Dragons’.
I am not.
I am talking about enterprise as a measure of ‘agency’ in one’s own life. The extent to which an individual is able to recognise what ‘progress’ (another slippery word) means and to take action its pursuit. This is what I mean by enterprise. It is the product of clear self-interest (I know what I want) and power (I have the confidence, skills and knowledge to take organised action in its pursuit). An enterprising person is one who is clear on what they want from their life and actively pursues it. An enterprising community is one which has many such people – because they are valued and supported.
If self-interest is ‘enlightened’ then it is likely that the product of enterprise will be a positive contribution to society. If on the other hand self-interest is poorly understood then the product of enterprise may be damaging. Enterprise in itself is not an inherently good thing. If we are going to pursue this route then we need to have faith in the essential positive nature of human beings.
If we are serious about developing ‘enterprise’, rather than managing the outputs that most enterprise funders are looking for, we need to concern ourselves with the development of self-interest and the accrual of power. We are in the realms of person centred facilitation and education. Not business planning. This is an enormous shift both in what we do, and how we do it. Helping people to clarify their self-interest and find the power to pursue it requires very different structures and processes.
It is worth noting that if you have money, there is a fair chance that at some time you will have hired a coach to help you with the difficult and personal work of clarifying self-interest and gaining the power you need to pursue it. And if they were a good coach they would not have manipulated you towards their preferred outputs – but would let you work on your own personal agenda. If you have little or no money the chances of you ever having access to such a potentially transformational relationship are slim to none. The relationship that you have with various ‘helpers’ is likely to be one where they try to manipulate you ‘back to work’, towards a ‘healthy diet’ or some such policy goal of funded output.
Over the last few years I have spoken with many enterprise educators, bureaucrats and practitioners and they have all accepted that this conception of enterprise has merit. Not only will it help us to get more business start ups, but it will also help us to get large numbers of people acting in pursuit of their own wellbeing – however they define it. It will also help us to make significant and real progress towards PSA 21 – Building More Cohesive, Active and Empowered Communities.
Which brings us to the question of how does this conception of enterprise fit with ‘community’?
Community is a property that emerges when individuals and groups learn to negotiate their self-interest with the self-interests of others. Community is an emergent property. If this contention is right then it raises serious questions about approaches which attempt to provide short cuts to community (building community centres and one stop shops for example) without addressing the preconditions necessary in a complex adaptive system (such as society) for its emergence.
Community emerges when individuals learn how to associate and collaborate in pursuit of mutual self-interest. When they recognise that the best way to achieve their own self-interest is to help others to achieve theirs. When they understand the nature of reciprocity. Or to borrow the words a well known Business Networking group that ’givers gain’.
A beautiful by product of this is a raised awareness of the importance of difference.
If I learn how to associate and collaborate with someone who has different skills and knowledge, or a different cultural heritage to my own I am likely to gain more opportunities than if I associate with people who are pretty much the same as me. Association across race, gender, age and so on provides the key to opportunity and provides a precondition that will allow harmonious communities to emerge.
With difference comes both opportunity and resilience.