The Power of Acceptance

“We need to tell people not to be helpful. Trying to be helpful and giving advice are really ways to control others.

Advice is a conversation stopper…we want to substitute curiosity for advice.

No call to action.

No asking what they are going to do about it.

Do not tell people how you handled the same concern in the past.

Do not ask questions that have advice hidden in them, such as “have you ever thought of talking to the person directly?”

Often citizens will ask for advice. The request for advice is how we surrender our sovereignty. If we give in to this request, we have, in this small instance, affirmed their servitude, their belief that they do not have the capacity to create the world from their own resources; and more important, we have supported their escape from their own freedom.”

Community – The structure of belonging – Peter Block

“One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness.”

Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Paulo Friere

“It was wonderful! Incredibly powerful – just to be listened to.”

Participant on an Introduction to Enterprise Coaching Programme.

The War for Talent – and the option for pacifists!

The War For Talent

Another copy of People Management drops onto the doormat and once again I am reminded about the potential for Human Resource Management to help negotiate the credit crunch.  My favourite piece of advice –  ‘Look for ways of saving money without laying people off’! – Just wrong in so many ways.  How do ‘membership magazines’ get away with such dross?

And then there are the usual mantras about talent management, talent recruitment and talent retention.  There is even a glossy supplement on Recruitment Marketing that shows just what lengths some organisations go to in order to recruit the best.  Pictures of gyms, yoga classes and the Bourneville Sports Ground all provided to help retract and retain talent.  Articles headlined ‘The Talent Crunch’ – and then over 30 pages of very expensively crafted and placed adverts many of them from organisations that consistently under-invest time and money in people development.  (They obviously take the CIPD advice seriously and see training as a place where you can ‘save money with having to lay people off‘.  Indeed it even saves you the expense of redundancy as you can watch your talented people walk out the door on their own volition!  Double bubble!  Indeed many of the recruitment ads are from the NHS where the recent Healthcare Commission report showed that the chances of you getting even an annual appraisal that you feel is helpful are less than 1 in 4!

Most wars are stupidly expensive and damaging – and the war for talent is no different.

This is because people have an innate and practically limitless potential to learn and develop.  Some people have switched on to this potential and been developing it successfully for a while (this is what we mean by talented).  Others have not yet learned to believe in and develop their potential.

So if you really want to develop a great team of talented people don’t join the talent recruitment wars.  Instead fight for more engagement with people, more feedback, more coaching and more work based opportunities for development.  Fight for the right of every person to be supported effectively, frequently and professionally to develop their own potential.  Practice the rhetoric of investing in people instead of flying the flag for it.

Don’t head hunt other peoples talent.


Not only will you find remarkable talents in some quite unexpected places – but you will also get a reputation as a place where talent can flourish, people can express themselves and explore and develop their potential – and that is more appealing to talented people than the sexiest job advert or well appointed gym.

How Not to Inspire a Green Revolution – or anything else

I awoke this morning to hear the following rallying(?) cry on the Today Programme:

‘We need nothing short of a green revolution…if we are to hit European targets on climate change’.

I didn’t catch the speakers name – but the last reason that we need a green revolution is to hit European targets. In fact I can’t think of a worse reason for a revolution.

Yet many managers use this kind of pathetic rhetoric on an almost daily basis.

‘We need to improve training and development as part of our pursuit of third star’.

‘We need to improve boys literacy at Key Stage 2 if we are to get a good inspection’.

‘We need to increase sales if we are to hit our targets’.

Most people do not care about targets or inspections.

They do care about doing a great job, doing the best that they are capable of and making a secure living. So we should be saying:

‘We need to improve training and development so that we can deliver the very best public services that we can’.

‘We need to improve boys literacy at Key Stage 2 if we are to be a great school’.

‘We need to increase sales if we are to increase our profitability and grow the company’.

Perhaps the most inspirational speech ever is Martin Luther Kings ‘I have a dream speech’. Here is an excerpt:

‘I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.’

In the hands of the unknown revolutionary on the Today Programme this might have become:

“I have a plan that one day we could pass some really good equal opportunities legislation and pursue some really ambitious diversity targets.”

Management is a Team Sport

I get to work with a lot of businesses.  Some of them are successful.  Very successful.

And all of the successful businesses have one thing in common – a successful management team with diverse talents.  Between them they are able to produce a great product or service, market and sell it brilliantly and have in place first class financial management, planning, forecasting and controls.

If good management teamwork is a pre-requisite for a successful organisation then why are so many management development programmes designed to work with individuals and to promote the cult of individualism rather than good management teamwork?

Entrepreneurship as a Team Sport

I get to work with a lot of businesses. Some of them are successful. Very successful.

And all of the successful businesses have one thing in common – a successful management team with diverse talents. Between them they are able to produce a great product or service, market and sell it brilliantly and have in place first class financial management, planning, forecasting and controls.

Nearly all of them were founded by a team as well. It seems to be a very difficult transition for most founding solo entrepreneurs to make from being the lone ‘big cheese’ to being part of a management team. Generally they either sell their business to a management team – who are often able to grow it significantly – or they retain complete control of a pretty small empire.

If good management teamwork is a pre-requisite for successful high growth then why are so many entrepreneur development programmes designed to work with individuals and to promote the cult of individualism rather than good management teamwork.

Good business plans are always written by teams. The best entrepreneurs always build the team first. Then they help the team to develop the plan.

Are any of you working on enterprise development programmes that put this reality smack bang in the middle of things?

Enterprise Centres – All things to all people?

The New Generation Enterprise Centre - SHINE at Harehills

One of the things that LEGI has stimulated in ‘deprived areas’ all over England is a renewed interest in Enterprise Centres.

Many of them have a very wide remit to:

  • Provide serviced workspaces for social enterprises as well as more traditional ‘for profit’ businesses
  • Make available hot desks in open plan environments to encourage ‘start-up’ entrepreneurs to network and support each other
  • To provide access to business advisers and other professional sources of advice and support
  • Community Cafes/Restaurants
  • Conference facilities and meeting rooms
  • Crèche facilities

This breadth of focus should provide a real strength – a business community that is diverse in terms of goals (making profits AND making progress) and stages of development (start-ups mature businesses and high growth all under the same roof) and from a variety of business sectors. However it is also a potential Achilles heel as it easy for the various market places that the centre sets out to serve can become confused.

For example in Leeds this was recently written about one of the Enterprise Centres being developed in the city:

‘Shine Harehills offers flexible and high quality serviced accommodation for Leeds growing companies’

‘The space, being marketed to the city’s growing creative industries includes 14 office units, each around 600 sq ft, plus spaces from 50 sq ft.’ – ABOUT LEEDS – Summer 2008

Now this makes it sound ideal for a small but growing business looking for space in a professional, high quality and creative ‘for profit’ cluster, but perhaps not an ideal choice for a small social enterprise start-up.

The new generation centres are usually located in the heart of some of the most deprived communities in the country. It will be interesting to see what the ‘creative professionals’ make of the location of SHINE! Especially if they follow the local media and buy into their characterisation of the community.

The fact is that not everyone will be keen to situate their office in the middle of one of the most challenging and diverse neighbourhoods and the third most deprived ward in the city. This may sound like a horribly middle class mind-set. Middle class or not – it matters. I recently suggested meeting a client of mine for a curry on Harehills Lane. However she was not happy about parking her lovely Audi TT convertible down there so we ended up in the Shadwell Tandoori (again). Audi TTs are the ‘runarounds’ in that part of the city. Finding entrepreneurs who want to make a profit and play a part in community life will help to ensure success.

The nature of the local communities could result in the new Centres being put behind large fences, surrounded by CCTV and feeling more like Secure Units than open and welcoming centres for community enterprise. Working effectively with local people, councils and the media to change community narratives from ‘impoverished and problem filled’ to ‘optimistic and full of potential’ will be critical to the successful development of new generation enterprise centres and the transformation of the communities themselves.

Being able to develop and market a cost effective and diverse ‘new generation enterprise centre’ will depend on engaging the right balance of different tenants – and helping each of them to quickly realise the benefits of being part of such a diverse community rather than looking for a more homogenous business environment.

They will also need to very carefully learn the lessons from previous generations of enterprise centres, few (if any?) of which have managed to stay close to achieving their social objectives as they have had to pursue almost ANY tenant who can reliably pay the rent and cover the additional operating costs associated with high quality managed workspace. When faced with the reality of developing a sustainable business plan, that is not dependent on long term subsidy, sometimes the quality slips as does the range of additional services and support.

These ‘first generation’ centres sometimes do little more than offer cheap office accommodation for entrepreneurs that live elsewhere, enabling them to generate additional profits that are spent in other more affluent communities. These centres often then provide only a handful of jobs in security, office administration and caretaking to local people. The actual regeneration potential of the centres for providing business incubation for local entrepreneurs to help to transform the enterprise culture of the local community is largely missed.

If this new generation of centres is not to fall into the same trap then passionate and skilful management will be required – as well as a strong nerve – to ensure that they do become powerful centres of regeneration for local entrepreneurs and not simply low cost profit machines for the already entrepreneurial classes. The centres will need to have strong boards that are held to account as much for their role in the regeneration of the local community as they are for the financial performance of the Centre. And, believe me, when centre managers report to their boards the first thing they talk about – sometimes the only thing – is the financial security or otherwise of the centre.

I hope the new generation centres are massively successful. I do believe that they can achieve both commercial and social objectives. I just hope that they are able to attract the executive and non-executive management teams that they need to keep a balance between their commercial and the social objectives and to keep funders and other stakeholders on board for what could be a long, bumpy but incredibly worthwhile enterprise and regeneration journey.

Cycle of Change – Prochaska and Diclemente – and Enterprise

  • When we are encouraging individuals to become more enterprising we are encouraging them to consider the merits of changing.
  • To consider replacing one pattern of attitudes and behaviours with another.
  • So if we are going to succeed in helping people to change in this way what can we learn from other professions and professionals who have been working overtly on changing behaviour for years?

This was one of the questions that we set out to explore when we asked Vicky Sinclair from the substance misuse unit in Leeds Prison to work with a group of enterprise professionals in Leeds as part of the Sharing the Success Capacity Building programme. Vicky shared with us the Cycle of Change model developed in 1982 by Prochaska and Diclemente – which seems to have tons of relevance to enterprise professionals.

The cycle of change has 6 phases:

Cycle of Change - Prochaska and Diclemente

  1. In ‘pre-contemplation’, the person does not see any problem in their current behaviours and has not considered there might be some better alternatives.
  2. In ‘contemplation’ the person is ambivalent – they are in two minds about what they want to do – should they stay with their existing behaviours and attitudes or should they try changing to something new?
  3. In ‘preparation’, the person is taking steps to change usually in the next month or so.
  4. In ‘action’, they have made the change and living the new set of behaviours is an all-consuming activity.
  5. In ‘maintenance’, the change has been integrated into the person’s life – they are now more ‘enterprising’.
  6. Relapse is a full return to the old behaviour. This is not inevitable – but is likely – and should not be seen as failure. Often people will Relapse several times before they finally succeed in making a (more or less) permanent to a new set of behaviours.

A couple of things require thinking about when we look at this model in relation to encouraging people to change to more enterprising behaviours.

Firstly, most enterprise professionals think that the path to entrepreneurship is (or should be) a fairly linear one if the client has a half decent business idea. We just need to give them the right training at the right time and bingo! This model suggests that there are a whole range of factors that are liable to lead to lapses – if not relapses – on the enterprise journey and we should be aware of this. Lapse or Relapse does not mean failure – and should not be taken as indicators that the person is not capable of making the change. Indeed they should be EXPECTED as a normal part of the cycle of change in relation to new behaviours.

Secondly, the change cycle will often operate over a timescale of years rather than months. When we are designing enterprise services we need to take account of the fact that different individuals move at a different pace. Any attempt to group people into cohorts and move them at the same pace through a change process needs to take this challenge very seriously.

Thirdly, and perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY, enterprise services generally seem to market themselves at those that are already contemplating or have already decided that ‘enterprise’ is for them. They recruit those who are already at Stages 2, 3 or 4. If we are serious about really changing the enterprise culture then we also need to find ways to engage and work with those who are at Stage 1 – Precontemplation. This stage requires a very different approach to marketing in terms of both the message and the media. It also requires a different type of service.

Making Progress in a Mature Team

I came across a particular challenge recently working with a public sector manager who led a pretty high performing team. The team which is pretty mature and stable were acknowledged to be doing a good job – but the manager was finding it hard to find ways to further improve performance.

One of the challenges that has to be confronted here is complacency. The belief that it is enough to keep doing what we have always done. This carries with it two risks that I can see. Firstly, other teams will continue to improve and suddenly what used to look like good performance becomes mediocre as others reach higher standards.

Secondly performance might tail off in real terms as the job becomes less challenging and team members start to ‘sleepwalk with an amazon faux fur pillows‘ their way through the work.

Urgency is not an issue for people who have been asked all their lives to maintain the current system like a softly humming Swiss watch. This is a recipe for good – but not great performance.

So what to do?

You need to ensure a sense of urgency and importance around continual improvement. Always looking for ways to get more done, more effectively at lower cost. Never believing that good is good enough. Always pushing at the boundaries of excellence.

For managers who value getting things done the ‘right’ way this desire to continually push for innovation and change can feel uncomfortable. They sometimes value consistency over excellence. Similarly managers who value strong relationships can feel very uncomfortable asking already solid performers to produce more.

You should also recognise that for an already high performing team the challenge it to move closer to the leading (bleeding?) edge of performance. Our performance is good – but is it really the best? What behaviours and skills could help to taken our work to an even greater level? Care should be taken here in working out what this ‘next level’ looks like. Sometimes it might be about more efficient practice (costs down). Sometimes more effective practice (value up). Sometimes a combination of both. But we have to be able to answer the question ‘In which direction does progress lie?’. This can take time and energy and is not likely to happen in change resistant teams and cultures. It will also require some tolerance of risk and failure in pursuit of excellence which can be difficult in risk averse cultures.

Whack a Mole Management

If you have been to one of my training sessions there is fair chance that you have heard me rant about whack a mole management. Whack-a-mole is an arcade game in which you try to hit ‘moles’ that pop up randomly on a board using a rubber mallet. Every time you hit a mole, you get a point.

It’s fun and people experience a ‘high’ as pent-up energy is released by whacking the moles. The challenge of not knowing where the next mole is coming from adds to the excitement.

Whack-a-mole management is based on the same principles.

The challenges are the ‘moles’. As each challenge presents itself to managers, they hit it hard and fast with the hammer of position and conventional wisdom. Slam! They get one. Slam! They get another one.

It requires quick decision making in a fast moving game. It’s exhausting, but fun. Each night the players go home, knowing their job is safe because they have successfully ‘whacked’ enough organizational problems to stay for another day.

Problem One: Whack-a-mole lures people in because it works in the short term
Problem Two: Whack-a-mole management is more concerned with looking good than with being good.
Problem Three: Whack-a-mole management always ends by making things worse

Want to learn more? Try this blog post over at Slow Leadership

What do we want Enterprise to do for us?

This is an important question and one that is rarely given serious consideration. Of course more entrepreneurs means more wealth means better communities. Right?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

In the current context most enterprise programmes focus on finding individual entrepreneurs and helping them to find ways of making their business ideas work. There is a good chance that as soon as this happens the entrepreneur will find their new found success gives them the option of leaving the community for a more prosperous one. This is because their success has been in spite of the local community and not because of it. The community is something to be escaped from. This approach to enterprise in the community plays up the role of the entrepreneur as individualistic hero(ine) fighting against the odds. If it succeeds then the community is actually weakened as successful people are able to leave.

So if we want enterprise to enable individuals to succeed and escape ‘deprived communities’ then this sort of individualistic approach to enterprise can work.

However if our goal is to transform communities through enterprise then we need to adopt very different models of enterprise development. We need to develop a context in which enterprise can succeed BECAUSE of the community context and not in spite of it. Where success ties enterprise into the community rather than provides a spring board out of it. Only when we learn how to nurture this type of enterprise development will it become a tool to really transform communities as well as individuals.

These transformational approaches emphasise enterprise as a social phenomenon. They bring people together to collaborate on possibilities and to develop stories of hope and change. They emphasise the role of the local community in supporting enterprise with patronage but also with advice, support, guidance and introductions. They build enterprise services where local people can succeed in making progress because of their communities rather than in spite of them.

If we want to succeed in transforming communities through enterprise then this needs to be given some serious consideration.

The ability of projects to build social capital and to raise the collective understanding of enterprise and the role of the community in supporting it, as well raising the ability and potential of individual entrepreneurs will be key.

So what do we want enterprise to do for us?