The Leash Fetish

  • Unleashing talent
  • Unleashing creativity
  • Unleashing potential
  • Unleashing enterprise
  • Unleashing entrepreneurship

These aspirations I see nearly every day of my working life.  There is always something or someone to be ‘unleashed’.

But, where is the leash meister?  The evil one who holds us back?

Most systems of parenting, education and employment are designed to establish control, compliance, conformity and predictability.

Perhaps there are some systemic changes that we might make so that the challenge of unleashing is consigned to the history books?

But the real challenge is to recognise that with the transition to adulthood the leash IS off.  

We are free to choose and to act.  But like a dog that has been chained up for too long – when unleashed many of us have little desire to go beyond our former boundaries.

We ‘know’ our place and we stick to it.

The role of the enterprise educator is not to teach about business.  Nor is it to parade in front of students waving tenners inciting them to grab it!  Nor to put on yet another inspirational conference with a secret millionaire, dragon, apprentice or teenage entrepreneurial prodigy.

It is to help us to recognise that the leash has been slipped.  And we can begin the journey of becoming the person that we want.  And to show us how we can help ourselves and our peers to explore what we might be able to achieve through association, collaboration, perseverance, learning and skill.

This is the role of the enterprise educator.

Mentoring Enterprise – the corruption of a powerful process?

According to Tim Smit over at the School for Social Entrepreneurs all social entrepreneurs should demand a mentor. Far be it from me to disagree with such a luminary but I think not.   It is this kind of sloppy thinking that says we should ‘universalise the particular’ that leads to powerful processes of creative learning being undermined.
Entrepreneurs should seek to develop clarity on what their learning priorities (and which ‘gates’ they need ‘keepers’ to open), and they should be clear on how they are going to learn.
But the truth is that mentoring, while transformational for some, is next to useless for others.
We all have our preferences for learning process.  This truth is a problem for many enterprise support organisations who default to the ‘we’ll provide you with a mentor’ setting because they are more focussed on delivering their neatly pre-packaged service offer, agreed with funders no doubt, than they are in really understanding the needs of their service users.
Many of the mentoring enterprise schemes that I see use poorly trained mentors with even more poorly trained mentees.  There is a lack of clarity about the importance of choosing and using mentors in lifelong professional development, as the provider short cuts this with a ‘matching process’ to force start their own mentoring scheme.  No wonder that often the results are disappointing.
Such schemes tend to put the mentee in a passive role.  Mentoring becomes a process that is done to them rather than a process to help them find the personal and professional relationships that they need to help realise their enterprising vision.
Mentoring is an immensely powerful tool for professional development and the transmission of wisdom.  However poorly designed mentoring programmes, driven by big businesses CSR ambitions, and wads of taxpayers cash have undermined its credibility in the enterprise sector for many.

All entrepreneurs should understand the power of the mentoring process and how it operates in the REAL world (where it is not funded by taxpayers) as it is likely that most of them might need mentoring at some point in their career.   But is should never be a set component of enterprise development programmes and it is certainly not right for all.

So let us stop grabbing the cash and setting up the schemes and develop an understanding of the mentoring process that will serve our entrepreneurs and our communities for many years to come.

Person Centred and Responsive Service Delivery

I am thinking about developing a workshop to explore what is involved in developing a person centred and responsive mechanism for high quality service delivery.  Relevant to public, private and third sector organisations, this workshop will help to understand the challenges of adopting person centred and responsive methodologies and the very real benefits that come from meeting them head on.

Drawing on both theory and practice I would see the session covering:

  • Why person centred – what does it mean – how does it help?
  • Responsive versus strategic service delivery
  • At the point of engagement – what do we do at the front line?
  • Managing boundaries, outcomes and expectations
  • Building responsive networks
  • Making the financial dynamics work – if we don’t guarantee outputs who will pay?
  • Person centred, responsive and local
  • Moving in the right direction – next steps

Would you be interested?  What else would you like to see covered?

Feedback and comments welcome!

The Single Biggest Problem Facing the Third Sector?

I think the biggest challenge to the 3rd sector is the prevalence of many to look to the procurement requirements and proclivities of the state rather than looking long and hard at the community, its wants and needs.

A preoccupation with what Government wants to buy over and above developing enterprising services that local communities really want and need will gradually erode what credibility and goodwill the sector retains.

Social enterprises and community development organisations need to face those they purport to serve. Too many good development workers and voluntary organisations have already been ‘bought off’ to deliver the states objectives around obesity, entrepreneurship, smoking cessation, worklessness and so on.

Not only does this make a mockery of community development, it also wrecks the chance of doing good person centred development work in the forseeable future.

The problem is not just the pursuit of government funding and a ‘race to the bottom’ of the ladder for costs of service delivery – but a real and lasting breach of trust with those whom we purport to serve which may take us years to recover.

Those that wish to represent the sector need to make a much better fist of negotiating its relationship with the state. Otherwise the dead hand of the bureacrat will kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

Harvey Nichols as a Force for Good?

This morning, the very wonderful, Simon on the Streets had bit of a shindig with its supporters in the Fourth Floor Cafe of Harvey Nichols in Leeds.

Now Simon on the Streets is a magical organisation for many reasons.  Not only does it do great work with homeless people in Leeds (with bold plans to expand) but it does it with a philosophy of person centredness and respect for service users that is quite beautiful to see.

But this post is not about Simon on The Streets.

It is about Harvey Nichols.  And me!

I am firmly in the camp that says the economic and social development of Leeds has been far too heavily dependent on the retail and financial sectors.  So when Harvey Nicks came to town I was not one of the first through the door.  I saw it as yet another step in the grand brand invasion of the city I call home.

In fact as I queued to get in I commented to a friend that I had NEVER set foot in Harvey Nicks before, and that I wasgobsmacked that it was my relationship with Simon on  the Streets that had finally lured me in.  I was certainly a ‘fish out of water’.  A one man boycott.

The event itself was wonderfully managed.  Simon on the Streets message as ever gave me goosebumps and bought  a tear to my eye.  But I noticed something else.  The quality of the service in the cafe bar was also a thing of beauty.  They must have served 60 or so hot breakfasts while speeches were being made with barely any intrusion.  No dropped cutlery.  No clanking of china.  Skilled and efficient waiting staff who knew their work.  Not always the case!

After the event the General Manager of Harvey Nichols, Brian Handley introduced himself to me.  He had heard me mention that I had never been in before and asked me why.  So I told him about my one man, informal boycott of ‘up market cathedrals of consumption’!

I then listened to Brian tell me about many pieces of work that Harvey Nicks do to raise money for social enterprise in the city, but perhaps more importantly how they use their purchasing power to support Yorkshire based business, their venues to provide showcases for Leeds based charities and artists and their partnership work with 11 mills still making cloth in Yorkshire to help keep them in business.  He told me about the local sourcing of produce in the Cafe Bar.  And he told me about the pride and effort that they put into training retail as almost a craft occupation.  He also told me that Prada are a real supporter of Yorkshire textiles.  Some of my prejudices were well and truly put to the test, and exposed for what they were – prejudices.

Now I doubt that everything is the Harvey Nicks garden is rosy.  I expect there are chinks, perhaps vast gaping holes, in their CSR agenda.  There must be issues around carbon footprints and food miles.  I am sure there will be people thatwill tell me about their bad practices.  But here was a man who clearly was proud that he and his employer were doing what they could to make sure that not only does Harvey Nicks provide a great return to shareholders and a wonderful retail experience to customers, but doing it in  away that creates as much good as possible and does as little harm as practicable.

I have written before about my cynicism about the self congratulatory nature of some of the social enterprise sector and their demonisation of  ‘for profits’, about how there are simply good businesses, bad businesses and a whole lot that fit somewhere in the middle.  ‘For profit’ does not mean ‘bad’.  And being a social enterprise is by no means a guarantee of ‘goodness’.

Here was a partnership working for both Simon on the Street and Harvey Nichols.  And here was a ‘for profit’ ‘cathedral of consumption’ doing great work to keep local businesses going and support the third sector.

It was a useful reminder of my own message that there are just good businesses and bad businesses and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

And to beware my own prejudices!

Harvey Nichols as a Force for Good?

This morning, the very wonderful, Simon on the Streets had bit of a shindig with its supporters in the Fourth Floor Cafe of Harvey Nichols in Leeds.

Now Simon on the Streets is a magical organisation for many reasons.  Not only does it do great work with homeless people in Leeds (with bold plans to expand) but it does it with a philosophy of person centredness and respect for service users that is quite beautiful to see.

But this post is not about Simon on The Streets.

It is about Harvey Nichols.  And me!

I am firmly in the camp that says the economic and social development of Leeds has been far too heavily dependent on the retail and financial sectors.  So when Harvey Nicks came to town I was not one of the first through the door.  I saw it as yet another step in the grand brand invasion of the city I call home.

In fact as I queued to get in I commented to a friend that I had NEVER set foot in Harvey Nicks before, and that I was gobsmacked that it was my relationship with Simon on  the Streets that had finally lured me in.  I was certainly a ‘fish out of water’.  A one man boycott.

The event itself was wonderfully managed.  Simon on the Streets message as ever gave me goosebumps and bought  a tear to my eye.  But I noticed something else.  The quality of the service in the cafe bar was also a thing of beauty.  They must have served 60 or so hot breakfasts while speeches were being made with barely any intrusion.  No dropped cutlery.  No clanking of china.  Skilled and efficient waiting staff who knew their work.  Not always the case!

After the event the General Manager of Harvey Nichols, Brian Handley introduced himself to me.  He had heard me mention that I had never been in before and asked me why.  So I told him about my one man, informal boycott of ‘up market cathedrals of consumption’!

I then listened to Brian tell me about many pieces of work that Harvey Nicks do to raise money for social enterprise in the city, but perhaps more importantly how they use their purchasing power to support Yorkshire based business, their venues to provide showcases for Leeds based charities and artists and their partnership work with 11 mills still making cloth in Yorkshire to help keep them in business.  He told me about the local sourcing of produce in the Cafe Bar.  And he told me about the pride and effort that they put into training retail as almost a craft occupation.  He also told me that Prada are a real supporter of Yorkshire textiles.  Some of my prejudices were well and truly put to the test, and exposed for what they were – prejudices.

Now I doubt that everything is the Harvey Nicks garden is rosy.  I expect there are chinks, perhaps vast gaping holes, in their CSR agenda.  There must be issues around carbon footprints and food miles.  I am sure there will be people that will tell me about their bad practices.  But here was a man who clearly was proud that he and his employer were doing what they could to make sure that not only does Harvey Nicks provide a great return to shareholders and a wonderful retail experience to customers, but doing it in  away that creates as much good as possible and does as little harm as practicable.

I have written before about my cynicism about the self congratulatory nature of some of the social enterprise sector and their demonisation of  ‘for profits’, about how there are simply good businesses, bad businesses and a whole lot that fit somewhere in the middle.  ‘For profit’ does not mean ‘bad’.  And being a social enterprise is by no means a guarantee of ‘goodness’.

Here was a partnership working for both Simon on the Street and Harvey Nichols.  And here was a ‘for profit’ ‘cathedral of consumption’ doing great work to keep local businesses going and support the third sector.

It was a useful reminder of my own message that there are just good businesses and bad businesses and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference.

And to beware my own prejudices!

It’s not just about raising aspirations…

This was one of the key points from the Enterprising Places Network event run by Enterprise UK in West Yorkshire yesterday:

  • It’s not just about raising aspirations but about raising realistic aspirations.
  • Projects and initiatives need to adopt a sustainable approach and offer support in long-term engagement.
  • Partnership working presents a great deal of opportunity.
  • Enterprise is often about taking risks.

And, yes, bears do sometimes go to the toilet in the woods.

Contrary to the blog and tweeting from the workshop (done in real time by a rep from the Enterprise UK PR company) for me at least the Enterprising Places Network event was ultimately a disappointment.

Our hosts at the Cottingley Cornerstone Centre were friendly and and the lunch was substantial – but the acoustics in the room were terrible.  I hate to think what it is like when the centre is full of children.

But the problems for me were the ‘case studies’.

After introductions and context setting, Wakefield District Housing kicked us off with Chief Executive Kevin Dodd talking about the importance of carrots and sticks (I think he called them incentives) to encourage people to be more enterprising.   And by more enterprising it seemed he meant mainly getting back into the labour market.  Indeed this theme about job creation and routes into employment kept recurring.  There is more to an enterprise culture than tackling worklessness.  If someone’s behaviour is motivated primarily by the way that bureaucrats arrange carrots and sticks it cannot be described as enterprising.  Compliant, yes.  Enterprising, no.   So think long and hard.  Do we want our tenants to be compliant fodder for employers or enterprising?

We then heard a little about what Wakefield District Housing is actually doing to promote enterprise.  This consisted mainly of sending young people on Outward Bound Courses and providing mentoring in Wakefield secondary schools.    I worked for Outward Bound for a couple of years and have much time for them.  They develop many things, teamwork, leadership, followership – but I am not certain about enterprise.  I would need to be convinced.

And I am not clear how mentoring programmes help individuals to become more enterprising.  Especially when mentors encourage young people to take their eye off of their dreams and start to think seriously about Plan B.  ‘I know you want to be bassist in a rock band but really, don’t you think you should apply to study plumbing at the local FE college?’   ‘We need to be realistic with our aspirations’.  I personally think this shows a weak understanding of how people hold and transform their dreams and ideals without being told what is realistic by ‘authority’ figures.  It is not our job to decide what is possible….

The main reason schools welcome Mentors is because they can provide a little bit of additional 121 support to help pupils at school.  It is not about making them more enterprising. It is about improving school performance.   Too often enterprise is snuck in on the back of ‘improving educational attainment’ or ‘improving attendance’ ie providing incremental support to the mainstream pedagogy, curriculum and assessment, when in fact it offers radically ‘different keys’ to ‘different kingdoms’ for an increasingly large group of pupils that mainstream education fails to serve well.

But what was most puzzling to me was why a social landlord in particular would engage in such activities.  In what way does this build on the relationship between landlord and tenant?    Mentoring in schools is a fine way of delivering corporate social responsibility.  Personal development too is extremely worthwhile.  But neither of these builds on the unique relationship between landlord and tenant that I had hoped the workshop might explore.

Next up it was Connaught with a re-hash of last years Strictly Come Business competition.   Now I have problems with most types of ‘Enterprise’ competition and especially with those that base themselves on the Dragon’s Den format.  Dragon’s Den is  not a competition.  If investors believe a business offers a return, they invest.  You don’t have to ‘win’.  You just have to be investment ready.    In my opinion most winners of Dragon’s Den style enteprise competitions are not yet investment ready.  The journey to investment readiness can take years.

Does this competition format provide a serious and sustained methodology for creating an enterprise culture?  Or is it an easily costed and managed process that ticks the enterprise boxes?

If we put a leaflet through a door that says ‘Do You Have A Big Community Idea?’ most people will say ‘No!’.  The leaflet goes in the bin and those that might benefit most from our help to think in  more enterprising ways are lost.  At best we find a small minority who are already thinking ‘enterprise’ and give them a leg up.  This kind of enterprise skimming provides the sweet illusion of instant results but in reality changes little.  Indeed I think this kind of approach makes many of the 10 Commonest Mistakes in Encouraging an Enterprise Culture.

Networking over lunch, provided by local social enterprise Daisies, was fine and the presentations after lunch were good.  I especially enjoyed finding out more about CREATE and how they operated.  Competing on the basis of quality products and services rather than on the moral high grounds of SE seems like a winning and novel concept!

And a final talk through the development of Cottingley Cornerstone by our hostess for the day just re-affirmed how bloody hard this social enterprise game can be.  On a shoe string and continually seeking funding – but only that which fits with their mission and objectives.  Fingers crossed it stays that way.

My only problem with the afternoon sessions was that they seemed only loosely, if at all, connected to the theme of enterprise and social landlords.

So my main take aways from the day:

  • Social Landlords are coming under pressure from policy makers in Whitehall and the Housing and Communities Agency to do more to get their tenants to be enterprising.  The interest in enterprise is primarily policy led rather than informed by any real insights into how it might help to provide a better housing service and better places to live.
  • Landlords are not well placed to respond to this pressure because of their ‘unique’ relationship with tenants and also their relative lack of knowledge and understanding about developing an enterprise culture. It is not about ‘incentives’.  It is about power and self interest.
  • Just to be clear, I don’t think being a landlord helps if you are trying to promote behavioural change.  The tenants will always be looking for the ulterior motive.  For some housing cooperatives this maybe less of an issue.  But when did you last have a landlord who you could really trust to be working in your best interest rather than theirs?
  • There is an apparent willingness to adopt what has not worked in the past rather than to explore innovative approaches to building an enterprise culture.
  • There seems to be a conflation of enterprise with entrepreneurial.  A belief that more enterprising means more business-like.

So, as I said on my evaluation, the day was good in parts – although I  think we failed as a group to really get under the skin of the role of the social landlord in supporting an enterprise culture.

A Simple Solution to the Clarence Dock Ghost Town?

I am grateful to the very wonderful Emma Bearman (@culturevultures) for sending me a link to a piece  in the YEP by Rod McPhee in which he shows just how very simple it should be for the ‘big cigars’ of Leeds to sort out the Clarence Dock Ghostown in their upcoming ‘Summit’.  Apparently, ‘we just have to give people a reason to go there’.

Step 1 in the Mcphee masterplan is to significantly reduce the cost of parking in that part of town.  So the car park owner takes a financial hit.  Or the ‘costs’ are passed onto the tax payer.

Step 2: Get an ‘anchor’ tenant.   Find a ‘Harvey Nicks’ equivalent who will take up residence in the Dock and make it a ‘destination’.  Does Mr McPhee have any idea how many such developments are chasing so few ‘anchor tenants’ who have the money, the confidence and the brand power to really animate a new development?  Anyway – wasn’t this what the Royal Armouries was meant to do?  Perhaps we could ‘persuade’ Steve Jobs to open the North’s Premier Apple Store?

Step 3: Sort out the rest of the shops:  Cunning plan.  Perhaps Borders might like to open up an outlet?  Oh! Wait a minute…no….Most retailers are struggling to hang on even in places of high footfall.  Expecting them to move into a ghost town on the hope and a prayer that it is about to spark into vibrant commercial life is, well, naive.  Some of the early adopters who moved into Clarence Dock from the start have since pulled out as the enterprise fairytale failed to materialise.

Step4: Provide an entertainment complex such as a cinema or concert venue.  Smart idea that. Perhaps we could have Leeds Arena 2 please?  And put  another nail in the coffin of the few remaining independent cinemas in Leeds by bringing in another Vue or Showcase.  Yes, lets provide more playthings for the rats who are still running.

Step 5: Provide more facilities for the residents in the 1100 apartments that are down there.  Give them more of what they need – on their doorstep to stop them having to trek a whole mile into town.  Crikey, we have built them their own private footbridge over the river!  Of all of the neighbourhoods in Leeds that don’t have access to good affordable food shops I suspect the residents of Clarence Dock would not come high on the list of priorities.  And what sense does it make to reduce footfall and spend in the City Centre just to increase it in the Dock?  This is a zero sum game in which we would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Step 6:Stage more events – perhaps more markets to drag people in from the suburbs.  Well Mr McPhee in case you hadn’t noticed the markets have gone to the suburbs – at least the ones with cash – with popular farmers markets now established in most of Leeds leafy suburbs.  Now if we could develop a really impressive arts based market on a scale that would attract people from much further afield.

Whatever happened to the Dark Arches market?  Oh yes – it got turned into a car park.  And soon we will have another £13.6m thrown at the Dark Arches to provide the elusive residents of Granary Wharf and the not so elusive residents of City Inn a more convenient entrance to the station than our recently refurbished (£4.6m) Neville Street provides.

Step 7: Improve the road signs and make it easier for people to get there.  Hm!  If there is something there worth visiting the SATNAV and smartphone generation are going to find it Rod.  Inadequate signage might be a symptom of sloppy planning – but we are hardly dealing with root causes here.

Step 8: Cater for the office workers.  (A point of correction Rod, I don’t think there is a Starbucks there any more.  It wasn’t profitable.)  There is so much office real estate in Leeds chasing relatively few office workers.  We can try to make the place even ‘happier and shinier’ to attract those happy shiny people – but there are simply too many such developments in the City chasing too few employers.  And if Clarence Dock did become THE office destination of choice in Leeds – it would be to the detriment of other Leeds sites.  Unless of course we do (usually very expensive) deals to lure a large employer from out of the region.  But such inward investment rarely sticks.  This strategy fuelled growth through the nineties and the early noughties as we lured in financial services, call centres and the associated industries (including the euphemistically titled Gentlemans’ Clubs) but now that times are tough we can expect many of those to move on to pastures cheaper.

Rod says that sorting out Clarence Dock is hardly breaking the enigma code.  And following a recipe that says ‘throw money at it’  is indeed hardly rocket science. We could do the same thing with Holbeck Urban Village, Temple Works, Tower Works, Granary Wharf,  The Gateway, Wellington Place, Trinity, Velocitude, Lateral, The Mint and Raptor (OK some of those don’t actually exist – but you get my point!).  And Mr McPhee, despite £200bn of quantitative easing, there is still little or no money to throw at developments that cannot wash their face.  Nor will there be any time soon.

But just suppose for one moment that Mr McPhee got his way.   The big cigars decide to sell off some more of the family silver to throw good money after bad….The idiot proof answer to rebooting the Leeds economy is adopted…

More office work/more retail/more entertainment/more consumption?    A continued expansion of the rat race.  We are hardly looking at the yellow brick road to sustainability are we?  Nor are we looking at any realistic strategy for narrowing the gap in this city between the haves and have nots.  Instead we build a monetary vacuum cleaner to suck up as much money as possible from the Leeds economy and return it to institutional shareholders and investors based elsewhere.  Anyone still got a real appetite for ‘Business as Usual’?

So what is my alternative?  What would I do?

Well, I for one would do more, much more to encourage and develop enterprising people like Emma, whose work with Culture Vultures is done on a shoestring but makes a significant contribution to the cultural and economic wellbeing of the city.  And Emma is not a rare beast.  A magical entrepreneur.  She is just a (relatively) normal citizen – doing her bit, following her mojo.  There are thousands of people in the city doing remarkable projects, distinctive, creative and imaginative.

Let’s not subsidise the success of the ‘The Man’ in the big commercial (if only they were) developments.  Let’s invest in the many thousands of  wonderful residents in the city who are actively working to make things better.

Here is how. And here.

But this does approximate rocket science.  It is the enigma code.  But man HAS been to the Moon.  The Enigma Code was cracked. With care, passion, commitment and a tremendous sense of urgency.

It is not a quick, debt driven, electorally popular fix.

But it might just work.

Why IDB is Not So Smart…

Business Link is built around a proposition called IDB.  Inform, Diagnose and Broker.

Providing access to information, diagnosing problems, and brokering in people who can provide relevant specialist help.

As well as facing some tricky practical problems (making brokerage effective and impartial being just one) there are more significant problems with this approach.  It focuses on problems and weaknesses and assumes that these can best be managed by introducing the owner manager, or the management team, to an external consultant with specialist knowhow.

In spite of some very practical problems in making this work (has anyone got a brokerage platform that really works yet, or a methodology for diagnosing that is used consistently, objectively and effectively by all brokers?); the main problem is the occasional failure to get to the nub of the issue –  the make up of the entrepreneurial team and the managerial imbalance that, more often than not, is the root cause of the problem.

If a business is struggling with some aspect of its development, this is a clue that there maybe a weakness in the management team in that area.  It maybe a lack of knowledge.  Or a lack of passion for the specific activity.  It maybe that the knowledge and passion was never present in the management team (we don’t do enough to help entrepreneurs build a robust management team before they start up).  Or it may have just been lost over time as one, or more,  of the management team becomes complacent or jaded.   More often than not the underlying problem is in the current competence and passion of the owner manager or management team.  But this gets overlooked in our rush to broker in a solution.

A specialist is brokered in and the problem addressed.  Temporarily.  Often with limited success.

Why?

Because of the nature of the underlying problem.  There is no-one in the management team who really cares about this aspect of the business who has the passion and the tenacity to implement the recommendations of the specialists.  Giving marketing advice to someone who is not passionate about marketing is unlikely to lead to a roaring success.

The client often does not need brokering to a supplier of a one-off specialist solution.  They need to be helped to confront the structural weaknesses in their management team that allowed the problem to arise or the opportunity to slip by.