The Snapping Dog of Recession Is Good News for Mentors

Over the last three months, searches for mentoring, support and advice have increased by 116%, according to business directory Yell.com.  (Source)

The worrying thing about this is that so many people leave it until the snapping dog of recession is snapping at their heels to seek support.  Often by then it is just too late to do much about it.

However many entrepreneurs feel that tough times give them the licence to make tough decisions that they have avoided making in better times.  This too is a worrying pattern.

The surge is perhaps counter intuitive.  You would think that people would be pulling in their horns and investing less in external support.  So perhaps what they are accessing is free mentoring and support.

Economic Gardening or Economic Hunting?

Economic Gardening and Economic Hunting are two very different approaches to developing an enterprise culture.

An economic gardening approach sets out to create jobs and entrepreneurial activity by investing in local people and their talents, cultures, passions and skills.  It is an endogenous “arising from within” approach to community and economic development.  The starting point for economic gardening says that ‘in this community we have all that we need to build a vibrant and sustainable future’.  It may need careful nurturing to help it thrive but the seeds of our future success are already sown.

The key tools of economic gardening include:

  • building open and accessible networks for potential and current entrepreneurs that foster the exchange of ides and collaboration
  • signposting to existing and continually improving support  services that help local people on their enterprise journey
  • locally available, convivial and very low (preferably no) cost coaching support to help local people to nurture their dreams and aspirations and to believe in their ability to develop them
  • access to commercial finance for local people with investment ready business ideas
  • support services that recognise that everyone has the potential to become more enterprising and don’t just work with those that are already entrepreneurial.

This contrasts with economic hunting which sets to create jobs and entrepreneurial activity by attracting investment and employment into a community from outside.  The starting point here is one that says ‘our community is deficient.  We lack the entrepreneurs to create employment so we have to attract them from elsewhere.  Then perhaps some of the entrepreneurial pixie dust will rub of onto local people.  And if it doesn’t, well at least we will have attracted entrepreneurs who will provide them with jobs.’  This is an exogeneous approach to community and economic development.

The key tools of economic hunting include:

  • the creation of facilities and resources to attract companies or ‘creative class’ members to set up their homes and businesses in our community (NB usually these resources are beyond the means of many local people to access).  If you are in a facility that serves a ‘much better cup of coffee at a higher price’ than anywhere else in the neighbourhood, or if many local people are priced out of your facility, then there is a strong chance that it is the product of economic hunting rather than gardening.
  • the development of inward investment teams and budgets to enable local authorities and regional development agencies to negotiate ‘sweetened’ deals for employers to locate in their communities
  • support services that focus almost exclusively on the ‘already entrepreneurial’ as those who have the potential to create wealth and employment for the rest of us.

Historically most of the investment has gone into economic hunting strategies.

There has been a rise in interest (if not yet investment) in economic gardening.  I see no fundamental reason why the two can’t co-exist in the same community, but they are not always comfortable bed fellows.  Economic hunting usually means changing things to make them convivial to outsiders (better coffee, better carpets and sexy furniture).  Economic gardening means making things really convivial to local people, affordable, local and accessible.

Often community based enterprise development programmes struggle to help local people to access the business support infrastructure that was designed as an economic hunting tool.  It is not designed to be convivial to local people, but to that special breed of entrepreneur from out of town who will pay £3.40 for a posh coffee and £20 an hour to hire a meeting room.  More often than not such facilities fail to win in either of these two market places.

So which tribe do you belong to?  The hunters or the gardeners?

Busy Times!

Apologies for the lack of blog posts just lately!  So much has been happening:

  • a new mediation training package designed to help you decide whether mediation is right for your organisation
  • a major piece of in-house management development with the Leeds College of Music
  • developing a new programme for Rodney Housing Association in Liverpool
  • providing training to managers in Harrogate Borough Council on effective delegation

as well as several other pieces of work around management, enterprise and entrepreneurship.

In the business of hope

Our work with enterprise clients is usually about helping them to make and take a decision to change some aspect of:

  • what they do,
  • how they think,
  • how they run their business or
  • their business plans.

In essence we are helping them to take decisions that are ‘hopeful’. The decisions, if acted upon, hold the potential (not guaranteed) to make things better.

‘Hope’ is the essence of the enterprise professionals offer. Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. Hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had.

Yet in my experience many enterprise professionals are pragmatists and realists – sometimes uncomfortable when talking about ‘hope’.  After all, “hope is not a plan”.  They encourage their clients to be ‘realistic’ – in essence to be less hopeful and optimistic – about what they might be able to achieve.

Yet hope and optimism provide the basic motive force for human endeavour.  The generate the commitment that makes progress possible.  When we diminish hope and optimism we are diminishing our chances of creating a more enterprising culture.

Are You Playing Enterprise Pinball or Contract Bridge?

I get to observe and work with a lot of programmes designed to promote an enterprise culture.  Broadly speaking they fall into two types – the pinball machine and contract bridge table.

In Enterprise Pinball there is a glittering array of products and services, buzzers and bells, many of which come with a bouncy castle, a free lunch and the possibility of cheap finance.  Clients are recruited and fired into the pinball machine and aimed at the most appropriate target – pre-pre start, pre-start, start-up etc.  Each buzzer and bell, every service provider is implored to play their part in a seamless system of support for clients – to refer them on to other service providers who can help – until eventually they hit the jackpot – the star prize.  Occasionally the ball might get held in a pocket for a while, racking up points, but all too soon it is pinged back out into the vagaries of the game. 

Sometimes there is no-one playing enterprise pinball.  The flippers are un-manned and stand impassively by as the shiny balls that have missed targets, or have been referred in the wrong direction lose their momentum and sink down the table into the gutter.  Over time some of the bright lights go out, the rubber bands lose their ping and the whole setup becomes a little under par.  Sometimes there aren’t even many balls in play.  Or if there is a player they don’t see the potential of the flippers.  They think in terms of just needing to commission another buzzer or bell.  Another workshop, marketing campaign or a change of provider might just make the difference.  Perhaps it will – one day.  Or maybe we just need a clever piece of CRM software that will help us to recognise which buzzers and bells are not helping to keep balls in play.

The enterpise pinball machine needs skillful players.  Players who can watch every ball, understand their dynamics and goals, and when they lose momentum and drop down the table are able to intercept them and with an almost magical sense of timing, urgency and power flip them cleverly back into play.  Players who really understand the clients and are able to help them to manage their own game of enterprise pinball.

Other projects look a bit more like a game of contract bridge.  Coach and client form a contract for what they want to achieve, and both parties agree to play by the rules.  They build trust and understanding, establishing a relationship that provdes the basis for real achievement and change.  The players are committed to work together until the game is over.  And usually the enterprise game is run over months and years. 

Perhaps the very best enterprise services have both the impressive pinball table of products and services and the contract bridge team working with every client to help them navigate the available support infrastructure.

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Really Social Enterprise…

Two stories have really hit me in the last 12 months about the nature of real social enterprise in the UK.

The first was told to me by the people of Kintyre about the herring fishermen of Carradale.  Apparently when the herring boats went out, finding the schoals of fish was a pretty hit and miss affair.  Some boats would come back loaded – others would have nothing.  This would mean that some families would eat and others would not.  So instead the fisherman would wait for all of the boats to return at the end of the day and some of the days catch would be given to those boats that had not caught.   Each boat was independently owned and run on a ‘for profit’ basis. But this was not altruism.  It was recognised that although ‘I caught today; I may not catch tomorrow’ – so sharing the bounty was in everyones best interest.  Not only did this serve a genuine economic purpose – the waiting on the harbour side ensured the development of bonding social capital over a wee dram a song and a story.  I believe that there is no longer a commercial herring fishing operation in Carradale.

The second was told me by an old headmaster of mine who was reminiscing that back in the 1940s schools would organise ‘Harvest Camps’ where pupils would go to work with local (for profit) farmers in August and September to help them to bring in the harvest. A kind of early work experience that was essential if the whole community was to be fed through the winter.

Both of these examples show me how our communities used to recognise the value that entrepreneurs brought to the community – but also recognised that at time they needed help and support – and it was in everyones best interest to ensure that they got it.

Now in this day and age it is less ‘fishermen and farmers’ and more likely to be ‘graphic designers and financial advisers’ – but the enlightened community will recognise how it can best nurture and support the entrepreneurs that create real value.

It is my beleif that this deep understanding of how the wider community can support and foster good enterprise is still alive (if not that well) in many of our communities – however it needs re-inventing and re-invigorating for the 21st century.

What do you think?

Motivation Wisdom from Wally

Reporting on a line in a blog post on the best small workplaces Wally Bock puts his finger on a small but critical nuance when thinking about motivation and engagement.

“”Motivating and engaging workers – and giving them opportunities for professional growth – helps a business retain the best people and ultimately boost the bottom line.”

That sounds pretty conventional. But read it again. It treats “motivation” and “engaging” as something you do to “workers” who, presumably, are different from you and need your help.

“Workers” are people. They can motivate themselves just fine, thank you. They’re quite capable of deciding whether or not to be engaged. “

Spot on Wally.  If we have got workers who are not motivated and engaged the problem lies not with them, but with us and our practices of management and leadership.

You can read Wally’s full post here.