I visited a really great community centre recently. Busy, friendly, homespun, clearly doing great work in and with the community. We were using several rooms, one of which was called the ‘Enterprise Hub’. It was spotlessly clean, airy, spacious and well furnished, just like every other room in the building. But for the life of me I could not work out what made it an ‘Enterprise Hub’. It was not set up for hot desking, there were no PCs, no mail boxes, none of the usual paraphernalia…
So I asked the centre manager about the Enterprise Hub. The answer surprised me – but it shouldn’t have done. They were looking for cash to modernise and re-decorate the room and in conversation with the local authority it become clear that the only budget with cash available was in ‘Enterprise’.
‘They said if we called it an Enterprise Hub we could have the cash.’
I love the way this demonstrates the inherent enterprise of the community centre management team in tracking down the cash that they need to ‘get the job done’. I am less impressed by what it says about some investments in ‘enterprise’. I can just imagine the report to the councillors about the new enterprise hub…
I remember a colleague saying to me at the launch of a major enterprise initiative,
‘The problem is that many of the people in this room don’t really understand enterprise. They don’t live it and breathe it. If the Government was announcing a major initiative to invest in duck farming, because an economist had said THAT is the future of the UK economy, many of these same people would be in the room, nodding sagely, and would run home to invent new policies to encourage duck farming’.
Colin Bell over at Winning Moves picks over this old chestnut in his latest post.
Should we throw our limited resources at businesses that we believe have high growth potential or should we just go for lots of start-ups knowing that a minority of them will experience high growth anyway?
“What we did establish is that the carrots offered were far less effective than the sticks employed.”
Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts – talking about the ‘limited effect’ of Pathways to Work pilots
Sticks and carrots have a long and noble tradition in the management of donkeys. However even with donkeys there are times when the ‘bribe and punish’ approach to change management fails:
- When the donkey is not hungry enough
- When the effort of reaching the carrot is too great (the burden is too heavy)
In these circumstances we may choose to resort to the stick. But this too will not work if:
- the pain of the stick is thought to be less than the pain of moving forward
- the donkey learns to like the stick and the attention that it brings
But I think the real issue here is not about the limitations of sticks and carrots in the management of donkeys and people.
It is about the complete and utter failure to understand the nature of human motivation. Motivation is that which energises, directs and sustains a person’s efforts. Sustains efforts. Sticks and carrots applied to move a donkey from one (expensive) field to another (less expensive field) do NOTHING to sustain efforts. In fact it is likely to achieve the opposite. The donkey returns to its passive state until more carrots and sticks appear on the scene. And the state wants more enterprising communities?
But the major problem is not treating people like donkeys, and further dulling their enterprising souls. It is that the state believes that this is the most effective, fair and just way of changing behaviour. That this is such a common default setting when trying to manipulate the behaviours and choices of its citizens.
And we wonder why ‘community engagement’ is so difficult. When you have beaten and bribed your donkeys into submission don’t expect them to engage with you, without the use of ever more sticks and carrots.
Perhaps instead of resorting to a coercive approach to change, we might try instead a coaching approach?
Helping people to recognise their long term self interest and how it may be pursued. Helping them to develop the power they need to make progress in their lives. Helping them to recognise that it is possible and that they don’t need to be pushed around by a bureaucratic system of sticks and carrots. That THEY have choices and agency in their own lives. Vegetable wielding bureaucrats do not have to be the architects of their future.
And what if someone decides that their long-term self interest is served by staying exactly where they are?
Well, we could just leave them alone and put our time, energy and investment into those that want to explore pastures new. Why should the squeaky wheel get all the grease?
Because perhaps people are more like sheep than donkeys. When they see some of the flock moving forward others are sure to follow.
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?
Briers’ daughter had said something like, ‘Dad, I have made up my mind. I want to be an actress.’
Briers replied ‘Want? Want? Want is not enough! To succeed you must HAVE to become an actress. If you have to become an actress then I will roll up my sleeves and help. If you just want to be an actress then forget it.’
The story made me smile as I use almost the identical line when I am working with people who tell me they want to start a business, or they want to become an entrepreneur. I often ask ‘Is this something that you HAVE to do? Are there no other alternatives that you could pursue? Is there NOTHING more important than this in your foreseeable future?
In fact I will often go further, telling them all I can about the life of the entrepreneur. How it can take you away from family and friends, lead you into debt, consume your life and damage your health. Of course we explore the upsides as well but those downsides are the things that will derail the process if not considered, if the desire is not sufficient.
And then I will move the focus away from ‘becoming an entrepreneur’ which is such a vague concept as to be practically meaningless and will focus on what it will be like when they have their business up and running. What it is like to be sole trading as a furniture upholsterer, or a plasterer. What the transition will be like going from being a professor in the Biochemistry Department to being a part owner of a biosciences company working with venture capitalists to commercialise their intellectual property. Because being an entrepreneur is all about managing transitions. Starting with one lifestyle and ending up with another which is very different – and hopefully better.
Enterprise really IS about the emergence of identity. About shaping lives.
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’.