Reflections on the Enterprise Coaching Conference

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:

  1. Only work with individuals or communities that invite you.
  2. Never motivate individuals to do anything they do not wish to do.
  3. Trust that they are naturally drawn towards self-improvement.
  4. 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’.


  1. michael smith says:

    Hello Mike

    Following the recent enterprise coaching conference in Derby earlier this week and listening to the panel including yourself speak, i thought i would just like to add a couple of points to your blog! which i think is a great idea by the way.
    Firstly not all enterprise coaches (especially the 42) of us here in County Durham are trying or being instructed to re- package and deliver the old style business support under another heading “enterprise coach) Yes it does seem to be a “buzz word” and seems to be very high on a lot of peoples agendas. This is because we produce results, and not the sterile outputs or outcomes which the funders are looking for but real results at ground and community level. People in my remit dont ask for the County Councils Be Enterprising Coach, they say go and see Michael in the resource centre and see if he can assist, i have helped in areas i have no experience in, just by listening and understanding the persons needs, and having the ability to talk to them at there level (street) most of the time. I have many clients who keep in regular contact and tap me for advice 24-7 this to me is a coaches responsibility to be there at all times, as being self employed can be a very daunting and lonely experience, Having been a self employed animal for some 21 years with 12 retail outlets and over 25 full and part time staff across the north east, and also experiencing bankrupcy and the loss of my home through some side swipes that took a lot of my businesses from under me, and finding myself in a place i never want to revisit. I have had 21 years self employed and 4.5yrs as a coach, not an adviser, consultant or mentor and may i say enterprise coaching has to be the most enjoyable and fulfilling role i have ever done. But to me there is starting to emerge a league of the original pedigree coaches and the new kids on the block aspiring to be enterprise coaches dont get me wrong everyone has there niche areas of expertise but too many are using the banner and fragmenting and dissolving the coaches true role.
    LISTEN,REACT,COACH AND KEEP COACHING, for gods sake keep coaching as in my view a person who has had your shoulder to cry on, ear to listen to, and every word to hang onto, cannot be left out with the vultures to trade and any outputs/outcomes should if neccesary be judged on any one persons journey and sustainability after 12 months + as every person has a story to tell and a differant road to take. Thats my rant and it was a pleasure to listen to yours on Tuesday, both in the hall and the afternoons workshop.
    Cheers Mike.

    • Thanks for this Michael. I think that your experience is almost invaluable in making you an effective coach. For me, too many coaches have not lived the downside of the entrepreneurial journey and fail to really help clients to explore the cons as well as the pros of their ideas.

      I also agree with your point about LISTENing. But many coaches fail to get to the point where the client is really going to tell them anything worth listening too. The conversation is often just a pretence where both parties say the things they need to say in order to satisfy their respective bureaucracies with little or no real intention of any transformation taking place. Getting to the point where we can have really powerful, transformational conversation takes time and a lot of trust. Many who call themselves enterprise coaches are really little more than glorified sales people for the enterprise fairytale and act as a modern day pressgang to fill workshops and provide a ‘continual source of referrals to the mainstream’ which is increasingly under resourced to deal with them properly. So much talent and potential is lost because we rush its development and plug it into poorly designed systems.

      Would love the chance to come up and find out more about what you and your colleagues are doing in County Durham….Would love to know how 42 coaches manage to keep busy in a county with a population of just over half a million!

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