OK it’s not quite like a new product launch from Apple, it won’t get people queuing outside the SFEDI stores for days in advance, but in its own way the launch of an Endorsed Award for Enterprise Coaches is a significant milestone.
This Endorsed Award is not from SFEDI, the Government recognised standards setting body for business support and advice. It is from SFEDI Enterprises a private limited company that provides accreditation, products and services based on the SFEDI National Occupational Standards for Business Enterprise and Business Support. There are no SFEDI National Occupational Standards for Enterprise Coaching. Confusing isn’t it?
Enterprise Coaching is still new. It comes in many shapes and forms and goes under different names. For some it is a recruitment sergeant for mainstream business support – scouring the ‘hard to reach’ for people with the potential and desire to explore options around self-employment and entrepreneurship, preparing them for referral to the mainstream. A kind of enterprise skimming activity.
For others, including yours truly, it is a more radical relationship with clients to help them explore how more enterprising attitudes and skills might help them to develop more influence over their own futures and help them to become more active and engaged citizens. It is as closely related to the development of the wellbeing agenda, cohesive communities and PSA 21 as to the narrow increase of Gross Domestic Product and reduction of benefit dependency.
But this Award has the hand of Government in it. The majority of these Enterprise Coaches will be branded – ‘Solutions for Business – Funded by Government’. They will be focused on entrepreneurship.
SFEDI Enterprises have developed an ‘Endorsed Award’ and the role of the Enterprise Coach has now been quasi officially defined. It IS about coaching people to ‘increase their capacity to be enterprising which might include self-employment’ (and business start-ups). On close inspection the qualification is almost all about self employment and starting a business.
Enterprise Coaches can join the rank and file of ‘outreach workers’ foisting another policy goal of government onto unsuspecting deeply suspicious people living in areas of multiple deprivation. Once again we are in danger of missing the chance to do something different and radical that might make a real difference.
But suppose that I am wrong and SFEDI Enterprises are right. That the Great British Taxpayer, and service users in some of our most deprived communities, are well served by a small army of Enterprise Coaches acting as recruitment sergeants for mainstream business support.
(If you think this overstates the case let me refer you to assessment criteria 3.3 Support people to identify and overcome their own barriers to employment or self employment (be warned there are several 3.3s in the Award – this is just one of them). The award talks of ‘overcoming clients barriers and objections’.)
There is just one criterion that I could find that hints that self employment and starting a business might not be right for everyone. It requires that the Enterprise Coach should Explain when self employment may not be a viable option. This puts the Enterprise Coach as judge and jury – deciding whether the client is capable of achieving their ambitions or not. There is no such judgemental clause in relation to starting a business – just self-employment. In my opinion this demonstrates a misunderstanding of the coaches role to say the very least. ‘Judgemental’ is not one of the four approved intervention styles!
The whole tenor of the Award is to move clients towards self employment and start ups. There is little explicit recognition that the role of the coach is to help clients to look at these as two options among many for making progress. Nor is there any mention in the award of the coach helping the client to explore the potential risks associated with either self employment or starting a business. This is part of the Enterprise Fairytale. It is ALL upside.
I know from personal experience that this Enterprise Fairytale leaves some people in debt, with visits from bailiffs, and their relationships and health under immense strain. I get to work with them when they contact me occasionally through this blog. Businesses that are ‘Dreams’ on paper sometimes turn into ‘Nightmares’ in reality. The Endorsed Award, like so much publicly funded enterprise propaganda, chooses to ignore the potential downsides. Indeed if the client should express reservations about losing money the award actively encourages the coach to ‘overcome’ them.
I spent a couple of hours getting to grips with this document and read it carefully. Structurally it is not very intuitive. However, its structure and the minor errors and typos are the least of its problems.
It is the impact it could have on ‘licensing’ sometimes poorly qualified, poorly trained, poorly paid, poorly experienced and on occasion poorly managed and supervised ‘coaches’ to go out there and encourage people to rush into risky endeavours for which they are often ill prepared that worries me. And enabling them to do this in some of our areas of greatest multiple deprivation. These communities deserve better.
NB I can find no expectation that Enterprise Coaches should seek effective supervision for their work – which is I believe a requirement of most of the major professional coaching accreditation bodies.
Not only will we weaken our enterprise culture (as more people experience the unanticipated downsides of enterprise) we may also significantly decrease the quality of our small business stock as people rush to enterprise without the skills and experience that they require to serve their customers well and profitably. Yes I have seen this happen too, on several occasions. It leads to more debt, desperation and poverty.
The fact that Enterprise Coaches will have an Endorsed Award may promote a sense of comfort and wellbeing in funders and service users that may be misplaced, unless the award provides reasonable guarantees that coaches will do no harm and may do good for the majority of service users. I am not sure that this one does. But these are just my opinions.
Some criteria from the award that are, in my opinion, too ‘open to interpretation’ include:
- Analyse the reach that centres of community activity have in engaging traditionally difficult to reach individuals
- Evaluate the stage that individuals have reached
- Analyse the change an individual may go through when undergoing enterprise coaching
- Carry out awareness raising activities that manage the diversity of people, ideas, interests and motivations
Personally I am very comfortable at this stage in its development for the enterprise coaching role to be interpreted in many different ways. Enterprise Coaching on a University Campus will differ from Enterprise Coaching in a super output area. Rural models will differ from urban. We should let differences flourish and seriously look to share ‘interesting practice’ across the sector. Unfortunately at the moment I can find little serious reflection on ‘what is working’ as most programmes paint an extremely positive picture to support applications for further extensions to their funding. High failure rates, and high rates of loan defaults are ignored as we announce how many hundreds of businesses have been created.
If Enterprise Coaching is to have a respected future then it needs a standard setting body that does not just reflect current practice in order to turn the handle on the qualifications and funding machine, but challenges the sector to raise its game. I have watched SFEDI engage with business advisers and enterprise professionals ‘where they are at’ for over a decade now. Suffice to say progress has been slow.
The new award has some technical holes, but politically too it is ‘interesting’. It is not a full qualification – but an Endorsed Award. With a light touch on assessment and verification, it is designed to be accessible to those who may aspire to this role but do not have sufficient or the appropriate experience to begin to practice or apply for posts of this nature. The National Award is not an assessment of competence. It is not a measure of a person’s ability to do the job to the standard sets by the industry. I am not really sure what it is a measure of. Potential perhaps?
Part of the assessment requires observation of the coach working with a ‘real’ client, which is a concern if you are one of those without sufficient or the appropriate experience. SFEDI recommend ‘volunteering’ for such people ‘where learning support is available’.
To be an effective enterprise coach, to establish transformational relationships and maintain them over a period of time to help service users make a real difference in their lives is a demanding job, both emotionally and technically. The fact that we are unwilling to pay the people who do this work what it is worth is not an excuse to water down the standards and allow those without sufficient or the appropriate experience to gain the award. But politics being politics I fully expect that when the enterprise coaching award becomes a qualification and gets slotted into the national framework it will be at Level 3. Business adviser qualifications are at Level 4.
All in all I think this is an inadequate, if well intended, attempt to provide professional development opportunities and ‘recognition’ for people (who may not have the required experience) to work with others on developing their capacity for enterprise, considering self employment or starting a business. I refuse to believe that is is designed to sell watered down business adviser training and ‘quality assurance’ through SFEDI endorsed ‘Centres of Excellence’, which I believe will be the only routes to access the Endorsed Award.
Either way the Endorsed Award frames the role of the enterprise coach in a narrow and limiting way and will, in my opinion, do little to help us develop the ‘enterprise culture’ that we aspire to.
The job of engaging people in some of our most deprived communities on the journey towards living more enterprising lives, offering them a relationship that they can use to transform their own futures, and helping them to adopt sometimes radically different behaviours and choices deserves better. These are not second class business advisers.
They need to be first class enterprise coaches.
Details on the SFEDI Enterprises Endorsed Award for Enterprise Coaching can be requested here: http://www.sfedienterprises.co.uk/contact
But perhaps I have got it wrong. It would not be the first time.
Perhaps the awards will provide us with a solid platform from which excellent Enterprise Coaching services can flourish. I have my doubts but I sincerely hope they are proven to be misplaced.