10 Common Mistakes In Developing an Enterprise Culture

Many projects designed to stimulate an enterprise culture fall foul of one or more of the following:

  1. they focus too much on the individual and not enough on the enterprising ecosystem – failing to address social context – instead trying to help individuals to ‘overcome the odds’
  2. believing that the reasons for low levels of enterprise are because we have not provided the right building – commissioning the latest interpretation of the ‘catalytic space’ – hoping that if we build it they will come
  3. failing to educate and engage other stakeholders and agencies involved in community development about the role of enterprise in economic and social development.  Helping them to see that this is about education and the development of human potential
  4. focusing on persuasion rather than education – using ‘carrots and sticks’ to drive people towards enterprise – rather than helping them to clarify their own self interest and then developing their power to realise it
  5. pretending that enterprise is a good thing – instead of portraying it in a balanced way as a double edged sword – a powerful vehicle for life that can crash horribly or take you on a wonderful journey
  6. skimming communities for those with most developed ‘enterprise potential’ and helping them take the last few steps – instead of helping those who have not explored their enterprise potential take the first few steps – ‘Have you got a great business idea?’
  7. designing interventions around 121, 12-several and 12 many interventions – instead of around word of mouth and other network effects – failing to train gatekeepers to act as educators and enthusiastic referrers
  8. designing services that are policy led (designed to achieve specific policy goals) rather than client centred – designed to help clients to become more enterprising in their own terms
  9. starting from where we want to start rather than from where clients are
  10. failing to recognise that strong, long term relationships are critical to building the trust and support necessary to enable people to take more enterprising actions – and a bonus number 11
  11. failing to build teams capable of starting sustainable growth oriented business – instead pandering to the myth of the lone entrepreneur bravely riding the range.

Any that I have missed?

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What Can We Learn From The Apprentice?

This is the title of a piece in a LinkedIn conversation.  Here is my perspective:

I think we need to be careful about what we learn from The Apprentice and other reality shows in the ‘business genre’.

‘Cost control’ is paramount in some organisations and in really simple tasks that only have to work in the very short term.  Keep costs low and con your way to a victory.  As long as you can keep finding new ‘marks’ you will be ok.  In the real world, appropriate investment and tolerance of ‘failure’ in the right market experiments is vital if you are looking to encourage creativity and innovation.

We could learn from The Apprentice that lying, backstabbing and cheating work.  As does staying off the radar for as long as possible.  All great tactics for having an ‘OK’ career in a traditional bureaucracy, but not what I would recommend to many of my clients who are interested in exploring their potential though and doing ‘good’ work.

Why do so many bureaucracies still reward such behaviour?  Because they are too scared of sacrificing the short term gains that they achieve in order to build long term value.  Managers often lack the courage, or do not know how, to do what is right.  I meet this situation OFTEN – especially in sales teams!  I also meet a lot of sales trainers who train this type of approach!  In fact I have seen highly successful teams that specifically recruit to this mode and just cull the worst performers every year.  It works a treat to shift units.  The costs in distorted and broken lives are externalised – so who cares….

What we can learn from The Apprentice depends very much on what we are trying to do and what ideas, models and values we use to frame it with.

My worry is that for anyone who has not been involved in ‘business’ they just learn that we are lying, cheating, money grabbing, backstabbing, environment wrecking, delusional dummies.  That business is about snake oil salesmen and the short term pursuit of cash and profit over any other value.

For aspiring ‘business people’ who just want material rewards as quickly as possible I think it legitimises a completely inappropriate set of behaviours that we should be sniffing out and eliminating.

For many managers it leaves them questioning whether they should maintain their faith in working with good, compassionate caring individuals – or whether they too should recruit from The Apprentice mould.

More perspectives inspired by the Apprentice:

Tre really is on another level

Management, Dragons and Apprentices

Rise and Fall

I am sad to hear that the Rise Catalyst Centre in Seacroft, Leeds, that was only opened in November last year is closing.  Instead of an investment producing entrepreneurs it will  now be used to train bricklayers and similar trades.

I have nothing against bricklayers, but genuine entrepreneurship is needed to help communities to grow in modern economies.  It is in large part an over-reliance on employment in blue collar industry that has held communities like Seacroft back.

Seacroft residents interested in enterprise will now have to meet their advisers at Seacroft library rather  than in a wonderful purpose built facility. 

However, putting the advisers where the community already meet makes a lot of sense, saves a lot of money and was always the right thing to do.  We have to take our work to the community and not expect, that just because we have built great facilities, that the community will come to us.

Worlds Most Wicked Problems – Or Just Great Questions

2008 Survey of Wicked Problems

  1. Balancing long-term goals with short-term demands
  2. Predicting returns on innovative concepts
  3. Innovating at the increasing speed of change
  4. Winning the war for world-class talent
  5. Combining profitability with social responsibility
  6. Protecting margins in a commoditizing industry
  7. Multiplying success by collaborating across silos
  8. Finding unclaimed yet profitable market space
  9. Addressing the challenge of eco-sustainability
  10. Aligning strategy with customer experience

Survey sponsored by Neutron and Stanford University. See the Business Week article: “Neutron and Stanford’s Survey of Wicked Problems”

“Partnership working?” What the hell is Partnership working”?

This has been my favourite tweet of the last 24 hours!

It caused me to pause and reflect.  It made think about how poorly it is defined and what a mess most partnerships are.  Many people find it a Herculean proposition to drive change in a single organisation.  What hope for progress in a partnership?

Yet few organisations or individuals can achieve what matters without involving others in some way.  If you need the support, permission, co-operation or resources of others to achieve what matters to you then you will have to work in partnership.

In my experience the best partnerships are formed when each partner:

is very clear and open about their self interest

has enough power to make things happen and is adept at using power to manage win/win negotiations with other partners.

In the worst partnerships, partners:

  • are unclear about their self interest, or keep it ‘under the table’
  • have little power or autonomy either in their own organisation or with partners
  • are inept at negotiating win/wins and partnerships are characterised by slow (if any) progress

My best guess is that if you work in a partnership and progress is slow, you are suffering from one or more of these symptoms.

The solutions:

  • Clarify and ‘go public’ with your self interest – if you are not prepared to go public then you are selfish rather than self interested.
  • Work on building both trust and power so that you can negotiate win/wins effectively and efficiently.

Good leadership and great development for partners can help partnerships to become significantly more effective.

Some people get very uncomfortable with  the idea of negotiating their own self interest rather than ‘co-operating’ and ‘serving’.  There are a lot of reasons behind this.  This article sheds light on some of them.

Multi Level Marketing and Enterprise Development

I went to a fascinating workshop last night organised by a multi level marketer and hosted at Shine in Harehills.

The evening kicked off with a series of presentations from the Business Link Yorkshire Ideas Team, Job Centre Plus and HMRC.  Three competent, wide ranging presentations.  For me, just too many talking heads.  Still I suspect all three were able to put ticks in boxes and they certainly gave the evening a solid air of credibility and professionalism.

After a short break things got really interesting.

We were presented with an introduction to Multi Level Marketing and how it differs from pyramid selling (pyramid selling is illegal and only those in at the beginning can get to the top, MLM is much more meritocratic in that if YOU do the work YOU get the rewards was the message I picked up).  The person making the presentation was a Multi Level Marketer for one of the largest MLM oufits in the world, Herbalife.  A little web research on Herbalife leads to some very mixed messages.  Clearly for many people it works well; they make money and enjoy good health.  The internet suggests that this is not everyone’s experience.





After the presentation one of the current herbal life distributors told us how it had transformed her life and it could transform ours too.  We could make money while we are on holiday, get repeat business, never have to talk with strangers, enjoy low start up costs etc.  It all sounded too good to be true.

This was not enterprise education – this was recruitment.  This was not impartial and independent advice.  It was MLMers doing their stuff, recruiting more MLMers and piggy backing on the credibility of Business Link, HMRC and the Job Centre.

Finally we had a very brief and very credible presentation from Robert Looker.  He provided a balanced and professional introduction to the concept of the franchise.  Robert was open about the fact that he worked for Exemplas.  He did not point out that Exemplas were one of the partners behind Business Link Yorkshire.

I think Business Support organisations have to engage with MLM schemes.  They are in our communities.  The vast majority of those ‘Need an extra income’ signs fixed to lamp posts lead to MLM organisations.  We have to find ways of making sure that they add value in our communities and do no harm. MLM works for some people not all.  Its reputation is mixed.  Typically it requires you to have a network of friends with disposable income (not massively common in super output areas).

I don’t beleive the public purse should be used to provide a platform for any single MLM organisation – although it should be used to educate about MLM.  If the workshop had been an impartial ‘All you need to know about MLM’ then I for one would have been much more relaxed.  I was pretty shocked that one MLM outfit had established this platform of credibility to promote themselves directly into the community.  This was neither independent nor impartial.

I have been involved in the development of the Business Link brand for over 15 years.  I understand independence and impartiality.  I also understand how easily these brand values are compromised – and I think they were last night.

Developing more enterprising cultures in ‘areas of deprivation’ is difficult  and fragile work.  There are always ‘get rich quick and easy’ schemes looking to part people from their cash and we need to be very careful to help people make good choices as we prompt them to flex their enterprise muscles.  We bear a burden of responsibility as we encourage people to be more enterprising.

I  doubt that our responsibilities are best discharged by wrapping advocates for one direct MLM organisation in the shrouds of publicly funded  business support.  I am sure it is the herbalife agents who will be following up interest. I am also sure that it was the public purse that picked up the tab for the refreshments.

I am distictly uncomfortable.

Am I the only one?

An Enterprise Anthem From Placebo

Seems like Placebo know more about enterprise than many policy makers:


Check the lyrics here.

What other anthems for enterprise would you suggest?

Making Partnerships and Alliances Work

Great blog post on this topic in today’s Washington Post.  They offer 8 Is for making partnerships work that are worth considering:

  1. Individual excellence. Both parties must have strengths on their own, because weak players cannot prop each other up.
  2. Importance. The relationship must have strategic significance. If it is just casual, don’t bother.
  3. Interdependence. The strongest and most enduring alliances occur when the parties are different in some respects and need each other to carry out an activity they would not otherwise do.
  4. Investment. One sign of commitment is a willingness to invest something in the partner’s success, such as equities or personnel swaps (business “hostages for peace”).
  5. Information. Transparency aids relationship formation. If you don’t want a partner to know too much about you, why are you in the alliance?
  6. Integration. There must be many points of contact that tie the organizations together in joint activities.
  7. Institutionalization. A formal structure and governing board ensures objectivity, and that alliance interests are considered, not just each company’s interests.
  8. Integrity. Trust is essential. Alliances fall apart in conflict and lawsuits when partners do not act ethically toward one another nor strive to contribute to the other’s success.

How many enforced public sector partnerships get even half way to meeting these criteria for success.

This suggests to me that being successful in less than ideal circumstances is going to take more determination, more time and more persistence.

You can read the full post here.