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.
Interesting to see how much effort is starting to go into selling qualifications and training to the enterprise coaching market.
SFEDI Enterprise are launching their Endorsed Award in Enterprise Coaching and ILM are pitching their coaching qualifications (other suppliers are available).
I am not sure that now is the right time to be pursuing qualifications. Of course it makes sense for the employers to have qualified staff, and it makes sense for coaches to have qualifications, but does it really serve the customer? Will it support the reflective practice and development which our nascent profession demands?
Do we not risk converging too quickly on tried and tested methodologies? On embedding lowest common denominator practices? Do we not put the focus too early on ‘proving our competence’ rather than reflecting on and developing our practice?
Let’s avoid the bittersweet seduction of qualifications and instead pursue the development and recognition of methodologies that work in our communities, with our customers in our contexts. Let’s avoid the one size fits all mentality and lets encourage innovation and creativity in pursuit of our full potential.
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’.
Last night I found myself in the very wonderful boardroom at Broadcasting Place in Leeds running a masterclass for students on the MA in Creative Enterprise at Leeds Met.
In essence I told them not to worry about being too focussed (See Norman Perrin’s excellent post on Obliquity). I introduced them to the ‘baited hook’ strategy, where you cast out lots of juicy baits and see which ones get a bite. This seems perfect for ‘creatives’ who on the evidence of last night seem incapable of not innovating. They always have new ideas, skills and visions to bring to market. My advice….don’t fight it just find a way to get product to market quickly, and if the bites don’t come, then fail cheaply and quickly. We explored this against a backdrop of ’10 000 hours theory’ that suggests you never have a really tasty bait until you have served your time and really mastered a craft! You pay your money and you take your chance….
I also did some stuff with them on the importance of building balanced management teams with people who can look after great product, great marketing and sales and wonderful financial management. A quick dissection of a few businesses in the room showed them to be packed full of creatives – but certainly short, if not completely absent, of real passion for marketing, sales and financial management. This, to say the least, is a problem. I hope they recognised that perhaps as well as hanging out with other creatives (who provide validation and yet more ideas) they might need to hang out with a few ‘suits’ in order to get the diversity of passion and skill that their businesses need. The course tutor said that she could see a look of relief pass across faces when I said that they should not be expected to be great at everything themselves. That it was OK to build teams, to ask for help. That someone else should be doing the bits in the business that they hate. We explored how proper mentoring and coaching could help fill this gaps and that skills could be begged, borrowed and bartered. The inadequacies of some mentoring programmes designed to help where described by entrepreneurs who had been on the receiving end. So much mentoring is more about CSR and professional development for the mentor than it is about really helping the entrepreneur. We also spent much of the evening talking about the merits of ‘kissing frogs’ and seeing which ones turned into to Princes/Princesses! Don’t just accept the mentor you have been sent. Go and search for the right one yourself!
The 90 minute masterclass (for me at least) flew by – ending with a riff on the importance of managing your own learning, along with a few insights into how to do this, and keeping yourself on track with your own personal vision for the kind of person you need to be. Staying true to yourself. Following your muse.
At the end, as has happened several times before when I have done this kind of gig, participants told me that ‘I really understood the way that artists think and work’. This reaction initially puzzled me. I have a degree in Physics and a schooling in enterprise and entrepreneurship. I did once read Gombrich’s History of Art and I do know what I like….but how could I have developed any real insight into the psyche of the artist?
The truth is of course that artists are people too. The same ideals of psychology, personal growth, honesty in work, and staying true to a personal vision and values apply whether you are an artists, physicist, engineer or nurse. The real secret of my work here is connecting with people about their personal visions – and not getting sucked into the nitty gritty of the business.
I’d love to do more of this kind of short masterclass – so if there are any opportunities out there do get in touch!