For a few years now I seem to have been living in Groundhog Day. Not everyday, but enough to be disconcerting.
I will be chatting with an enterprise professional, perhaps a lecturer in a University, an enterprise coach in a ‘deprived’ community, a start-up business adviser or a bureaucrat managing an enterprise project. In our conversations about enterprise we will recognise how it is not all about business. How enterprise can be expressed in a seemingly infinite number of ways. Sure, for a significant and important minority, it is about commercial endeavour. Business, profit, and social impact in some combination. In order to express their enterprising soul a minority have to start a business.
But for the majority being enterprising, being proactive in pursuit of a better future, does not mean starting up a business. It may mean making a phone call, having a conversation, calling a meeting or writing a letter. Taking some action that increases agency and power in pursuing a preferred future. It may be taking the opportunity to reflect on ‘The direction in which progress lies‘, or ‘What are the next steps that I can take to make progress?‘ or ‘What options have I got?‘
We will reflect on how some of the most enterprising people we know may work in the Council, or the University, or organise festivals and campaigns in the community. That the enterprising soul finds its expressions in many forms and not just in entrepreneurship.
We will agree that the real point of leverage in our communities lies not in providing start-up advice with those who are already minded to start a business, although of course this IS important. The real leverage lies in helping more people to establish the direction in which progress lies for them and their loved ones and helping them to plan and execute actions designed to move them in that direction.
If we can significantly increase the stock of enterprising people then, as sure as eggs is eggs, we will also increase the stock of entrepreneurial people. And we will not lose so many who are completely turned off by enterprise because of the Gordon Gecko or Victorian perceptions of enterprise nurtured by the reality TV shows and newspaper headlines.
We will also increase the survival rate of new businesses as people make natural progress into entrepreneurship instead of being persuaded to start a business (‘all you need is the idea and the determination to succeed’) when they have not yet gained the real skills or capital that they will need to succeed.
In our conversations we will agree on these things. And then almost invariably they will head off to run another course on ‘Marketing and Sales’ or ‘Business Planning’ or to look at monitoring returns that count bums on seats and business start-up rates.
If ever there was an industry that needed to innovate and re-invent itself and its role in modern Britain it is the enterprise industry. If we really want to build a much more enterprising Britain then we need to break the stranglehold that the business start-up industry has on enterprise policy.
This might be just one of the ideas we can explore at Enterprising Communities: The Big Conversation in Leeds on May 19th.
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.
These are not words I am expecting to hear anytime soon – but who knows?
If David Cameron gets his way and he finds an army of entrepreneurs to go into local schools to promote the ‘joy’ of entrepreneurship and the job market continues to go west – it could well happen.
How would I respond?
Well, if they say they want to be an entrepreneur and ask for my help, then I will refuse it, and do all I can to persuade them away from the idea.
If they say they have to be an entrepreneur – because it is the only way they can do the work that they feel they have to do then I will roll up my sleeves and help with enthusiasm.
Why the distinction?
Because however you wrap it up, in spite of what people like Cameron say, entrepreneurship is hard. Especially if you do not have a large bank account to bale you out when things go wrong. I don’t think I have met a single entrepreneur in my work who would describe the experience as joyful. Dramatic, yes. Full of highs and lows, yes. Scary, yes. But joyful…not so much.
So why promote the lie? Why continue the enterprise fairytale?
It doesn’t even help to build an enterprise culture as with increased start-ups come increased failures and more bad experiences of entrepreneurship.
It couldn’t be to do with an obsession with outputs over social impact could it?
I will leave the last word to Noel Coward:
Some years ago when I was returning from the Far East on a very large ship, I was pursued around the decks every day by a very large lady. She showed me some photographs of her daughter – a repellant-looking girl and seemed convinced that she was destined for a great stage career. Finally, in sheer self-preservation, I locked myself in my cabin and wrote this song – “Don’t Put Your Daughter On The Stage, Mrs. Worthington”.)
Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage
The profession is overcrowded
The struggle’s pretty tough
And admitting the fact she’s burning to act
That isn’t quite enough
She’s a nice girl and though her teeth are fairly good
She’s not the type I ever would be eager to engage
I repeat, Mrs. Worthington, sweet Mrs. Worthington
Don’t put your daughter on the stage
So Em amd Meg – unless it is something that you have to do, ignore Messrs Cameron, Brown (remember him – architect of much enterprise policy) and their army of enterprise evangelists and give entrepreneurship a miss – at least until you have some real knowhow under your belt.
On the other hand if this is the only way that yo can do good work, and you are prepared for the journey that lies ahead, then, and only then, let’s go for it…
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.
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’.
Enterprise for All was a one day conference organised on behalf of emda by Unleashing Enterprise with a mixture of key note presentations and workshop sessions.
A few things really struck me about it. From the key note speakers and a tour of the exhibition hall it was clear just how much of a grip business and economic development interests have on the enterprise agenda. Enterprise really IS all about business. Business start ups, business growth and business education.
Except of course enterprise has relevance in many, perhaps all, spheres of life. It relates to parenting, cello playing, footballing and planning. To mathematics, politics and dance. An enterprising approach helps with business, yes, but it helps with so much more as well. Because an enterprising person is someone who has a theory about the direction ‘in which progress lies’, and has the confidence, strategies and skills that they need to pursue it. By conflating enterprise with business we do it a disservice. We alienate many who should be our natural allies, and we repel some who we should attract.
Business is a great vehicle for teaching enterprise – but so too is sport, art, history and drama. In Bolivia, enterprise education has been conducted largely through the power of classical music.
I was deeply surprised when another speaker said that ‘Business is Easy’. This has not been my experience. Business is hard. And small business is really hard. There have been times when it has been so difficult that I have though it must be me doing it wrong. And I talk with some of my closest confidantes about my fears and they tell me ‘No – it’s not you, it IS hard’. One mistake and your reputation is shot. It can take over your life and ruin your relationships with friends and family. It can leave you depressed and in debt. It can also be the most wonderful platform for personal development and a fulfilled life. It really is a double-edged sword!
I have never met an entrepreneur, until yesterday, who has told me that business is easy. This is the ‘Enterprise Fairytale’. I would agree that it is relatively easy to theorise about business. To develop ideas, to refine them and to think about business plans. To get advice from business experts and to act on it, or not. All this is quite easy. On paper, it certainly isn’t differential calculus. But in practice it is something else. It is easy to imagine yourself juggling, or being an astronaut or a pop star. Actually doing it is another thing. It is NEVER easy! Good enterprise education needs to help learners to recognise the ‘double edged’ nature of the sword and recognise that a career in business will not be a glorious extension of a 2 day facilitated workshop held in the comfort of the college hall. It just won’t be. Good enterprise education nurtures the resilience, character, determination and commitment that is required to succeed in business or any other challenge that life throws our way. It teaches the importance of craft and skill, of persistence and commitment. And knowing when might be the right time to give up.
And the strange thing is that in my experience, the more honest we are about the challenges of entrepreneurship, the emotional, analytical, physical and financial challenges involved the more likely we are to get good, enduring entrepreneurs. The more we help people to recognise how hard it is to leave the comfort zones and try something different the more likely they are risk it.
I was very struck when another keynote speaker told us about a primary school class that wanted to sell him a presentation. An 8-year-old offered to sell him the copyright! Now I am all for educating young people about the importance of intellectual property, but at 8? Is this really what enterprise education should be for such young children? A Primary Business Curriculum?
Now this is a contested area. No-one holds the truth on this. In enterprise education we have little consensus on curriculum, assessment or methodology. But I know that if my 8-year-old had come home from school telling me that they had been learning about copyright I would be seriously questioning the schools priorities for primary education. I have witnessed primary classes being taught the difference between tangible and intangible brands. And I was once approached in a Leeds hotel by a girl of 6 or 7 wearing a badge that said ‘Sales Executive’. She knew exactly what margin she would make if she could sell me the beetroot plant that she was brandishing. Are we really introducing appropriate content at the right time into the classroom? Do we deserve the respect of our colleagues as educators when we teach this in the primary school? I am not so sure.
Throughout the day I was approached by a number of people who made very similar comments. ’Mike, I agree with you wholeheartedly, but we only get paid for outcomes related to business. I know it isn’t right, but if that is what the funders are paying for that is what we have to provide. It is what the system demands’. I love the irony of this. ’We teach enterprise by following instructions’. But I think it points to a wider challenge for the policy makers and the funders. Does this ‘head on’ approach to entrepreneurship really work?
The title of the conference was also telling – Unleashing Enterprise. Much of the socialisation of young people is all about putting the leash on them. We value compliance, academic achievement, team playing and conforming. Those that dare to see things differently, to do things differently, to paddle their own canoe, tend to be bought back into line, or expelled. And it is not only enterprise that we struggle to unleash. Creativity, leadership, innovation, potential…all of these have been subject to the leash fetish.
I have not done much on the enterprise conference circuit. I have worked in community centres, village halls and at kitchen tables helping individuals and communities to develop their own approach to a more enterprising future. It was a new experience for me. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone – and as always happened I learned a lot!