Working on the Press Gang..?

The work of the enterprise coach is, for me, about providing a relationship that people can use to explore how they might transform their lives and whether or not this is a journey they want to undertake.   It is a relationship characterised by trust, confidentiality, skill and often the long-term. It is not directive; the coach has no ulterior goal that they are steering the person towards.   The only goal of the coach is to help their client to become the kind of person that they really want to be.

The relationship provides a chance for them to really transform their life. Of course this doesn’t always happen – but there is a chance. The transformation may come about through starting a business. Or through getting better housing, becoming a better parent, tackling an addiction or pursuing an ambition. The job of the enterprise coach is to enable people to take more control of their futures. To find their power in shaping their own lives. It is a truly valuable, challenging and privileged role.

It seems to me that much of the Enterprise Coaching world sees things a little differently. For them the enterprise coach is part of a smiling press-gang, working ‘in the community’, promoting the benefits of enterprise (narrowly defined around self employment, employment, business start-up or expansion) and encouraging people to grow their ‘dream business’. Clients are usually recruited to workshops after a limited amount of 121 work, given a crash course in business literacy and referred to the mainstream – where they take their chances. It is a directive process where the only positive outcome is a referral into the business support industry. It is about skimming talent and potential rather than a longer term engagement to change attitudes, habits, beliefs and decisions.  The whole process is lubricated with the judicious use of free lunches, celebrity speakers, community transport and the potential of getting some cash.   This is traditional pre-start up business support.  We have been doing it for a long time in various communities.  It feels safe, and it does produce start ups.  But I have yet to see it transform communities.

Sometimes  it even damages the very communities that it is intended to help.  I would suggest three mechanisms by which this unfortunate and unintended consequence sometimes occurs.

  • Firstly the service helps to skim off the most able and talented in the community: those that already have the confidence and self belief to start a business and helps them up and sometimes out of the community.  Those that succeed do so, not because of the support of their community, but often in spite of it.  Enterprise is seen primarily as a process for personal progress rather than community building.
  • Secondly we engage large numbers of people on the enterprise journey that we are unable to work with in sufficient depth or for sufficient time before they are referred into a mainstream that is not resourced to work with them.  Failure, disappointment and frustration are commonplace.  Word spreads and the reputation of the service provider drops.  Numbers engaging with the project fall away and the community becomes even more suspicious of the enterprise agenda.
  • Thirdly is the mechanism of reactance.  The more we persuade people to look at enterprise as something that is potentially good for them the more likely they are to resist our persuasion.   Flood a community with pro-enterprise messages and perversely you may decrease enthusiasm for it.

But back to the two visions of Enterprise Coaching that I opened with.  At the moment we are losing the chance of realising the first because of the funding that is being pumped into the second.  I meet and often work with great coaches who are trying to deliver the first vision for enterprise coaching, while being performance managed by a system that is demanding the second.  The consequences are inevitable.  As I have written before, enterprise coaching is being broken.

The question is – what are we going to do about it?  Join our LinkedIn group to find out…


  1. Harry Fortune says:

    Some really good points there Mike – but the question is what can we do about it? Community development is a massive arena, a very long burn and probably expensive?

    I think what is key here is to break the two types of ‘enterprise’ away from each other and this needs to be done with the policy makers -those people high up in govenment that they don’t realise what is actaully happening on the ground because the reports that they get are so filtered to say the right things, massage egos and to get more money for further programmes of delivering enterprise. It is getting them to understand enterprise for what it really is (development) and what is isn’t always (business and entrepreneurship). Then perhaps the like of BIS, DCLG, DWP et al really need to sit down thrash out the issues and decide what enterprise is, what an enterrpise coach should be doing, if they will fund it, if so how and with what caveats attached to it. Partnership working at econdev and community

    Lobbying of government is paramount and well as designing an effective solution of delivery that that works for the right people – so engaging them in the development is also important…


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