Kevin Horne is the CEO of Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services (NWES) ‘one of the leading business support organisations’ in the UK. NWES is a members of the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies and Kevin has written a piece drawing attention to the NFEA’s Enterprise Manifesto.
Kevin goes on to describe the ‘Enterprise Escalator’ which provides a ‘comprehensive customer journey’, comprising:
- Outreach and awareness raising.
- Pre-start advice.
- Start-up training.
- One to one support.
- Access to finance.
On the surface, good sensible stuff. But it perpetuates a myth. The ‘escalator’ implies that, if start up is right for me, I just have to get on and I will effortlessly ascend to the next level. It is a false promise. It is the enterprise fairytale. Real world is less ‘escalator’ and more ‘snakes and ladders’. Less gentle trip to the shopping centre and more laying siege to the mountain. It is life making work.
And what if it is not right for me? Kevin rightly suggest that we need to signpost to other services – but will any of those really help? I have seen too many people with aspiration and potential be sent back to the job centre because the job of helping them find their enterprising feet will just take too long. It won’t fit with the neatly packaged funded services that look to provide a start up fast track.
Perhaps we should offer an enterprise sherpa service. Someone who has managed the ascent before – but who has also, on occasion, failed. Someone who recognises that this is a risky endeavour and needs to be carefully managed if it is not to cause damage. Someone who can recognise when the time is right to push for the summit and when the time is right to do more training and preparation at low levels.
If we are to engage people in communities then we have to engage them ‘where they are at’. Some will already have made it to base camp and are hungrily eyeing the peak. It might not quite be an escalator but we can certainly pass them the oxygen, clip them onto the fixed ropes and wish them luck.
But many remain in the valleys and seldom look to the cloud covered tops.
We have to personalise our services and we have to recognise that many are not yet close to being ready to start a business – now is not the time to launch an assault for the summit – but instead to weigh up the pros and cons of even considering a short trek.
Different people are at different places.
Some will be highly motivated but with few skills. Others will have skills (that they often don’t recognise) but little or no motivation. Some will have neither motivation nor skill. A precious few will have both.
The real ‘enterprise’ challenge is to engage those who have already decided that the ‘labour market’ is not for them and to encourage them to reconsider what they can do with their lives. It is about reconnecting them to their aspirations, helping them to find belief and confidence and finding ways in which they can unstick their lives and make progress. It is about helping them to see that their is an enterprise journey that might be right for them. Can we cost effectively extend our sherpa service to engage and inspire them? What are the costs of not doing so? This should be the realm of the enterprise coach.
It is often a protracted job that requires a long term, strong, supportive, challenging, trusting and non-judgemental relationship. It is not about the ‘Enterprise Fairytale’ and fast start ups. It is about the hard work of developing people and helping them to find ways to dare to move forward again.
I wonder if Enterprise Agencies have the skill and commitment to required to develop an enterprise based service that will really start where many people are at?