Academic achievement must go hand in hand with an entrepreneurial mindset

30/04/2015

The next three months will see universities churning out thousands of very proud new graduates – BA Hons, BSc’s the lot. A great education with brains packed full of new learning, knowledge and facts. But why do so many fail to find a job? How many of these bright new graduates have had their prospects limited by the conditioning of the external environment? These young adults have been supported in life skills and getting their head in shape for the next stage of their life. How many walk away with a personal growth plan that defines very clearly how to move their life on and make the best of their three years spent at university? How many have thought creatively about next steps… charity work, setting up their own business, free lancing using specialist skills they have acquired?

My view, is that we have some of the best academic institutions in the world and we create some of the finest talent, but so many never realise their potential and end up in jobs that fall way below their true capability – futures that lack direction, bouncing around from one job to another. It’s no use having a long list of qualifications if you don’t put them to best use. More effort and energy should be put into developing the creative and entrepreneurial mindsets that drive ambition and ultimately greater achievement. If you cant find a job why not create your own and set up in business? We need to see more graduate entrepreneurship.

I speak from experience, I left university in 1986 with a degree in Chemistry – great technical skills, but struggled having conversations, making presentations and generally selling myself to potential employers – no skills for life. I am not sure much has changed to be honest – I had to work it out for myself. We need to equip this next generation with a more rounded experience thereby allowing them to combine great academic qualifications with a mindset conducive to achievement and releasing personal potential. We must remember that we get what we think about. The universities are a rich seam of next generation entrepreneurs, work is needed to getting them started.

Are the cap and gown, the photograph that hangs on mum and dads wall and the handshake from the university chancellor the best send off we can give them? As well as the well-earned degree certificate, they should all leave with a “plan for life” or maybe a plan for their own business.


High growth companies actively pursue “customer lock in” strategies

21/04/2015

Ambitious high growth entrepreneurs should spend at least 3 days of their official working week living in the customer’s world. Viewing the market place from the desk is extremely dangerous, being immersed within your industry and the needs of your customers provides real-time market intelligence. This helps to tailor propositions specifically to the wants and needs of your market place; it also supports new product and service development. Gazelle companies create a massive gap between them and their competitors because they deploy innovation and imagination to problems, this inspires and very often leads to development and evolution of propositions that the customer didn’t even know they wanted! They occupy uncontested space. Others will soon start to copy and replicate – your job is to stay one step ahead of the game.

High growth businesses we have studied stay close to their key stakeholders. More specifically, they spend time:

  • Looking at the factors that impact their customer’s performance – this provides opportunities to provide new solutions
  • Understanding their customers strategy – this facilitates a partnership working model
  • Looking at how they can help improve efficiencies, reduce costs and enhance performance.

Getting close to the market helps to drive what I term “customer lock in” – that phase of the supplier/customer relationship were there is a true partnership, mutual respect and a genuine win-win. Moving to lock in can absorb an enormous amount of time effort and energy, however the rewards can be big. It also makes it very difficult for competitors to move in and occupy your space. Being embedded means any new entrant would have to untangle lots of relationships, systems and processes to get a foothold.

A word of caution – never take relationships for granted and be aware of performance vs. KPIs. Customer complacency represents a real danger zone for businesses. Lock in delivers true competitive advantage.

 


Business growth needs great leadership

09/04/2015

Growth is what everyone is talking about at the moment. Whether its public sector policy makers or entrepreneurs, we all need growth. Easy to say but do we truly understand the implications of going for for it! Growth requires a vision; a sense of purpose, a plan, resilience, mental toughness, teamwork and a whole lot more. Whether you are trying to grow a business or turn around a failing school someone has to build a picture of what the future success looks like then execute a plan that gets everyone on board for the journey.

My own particular passion is around driving the entrepreneurial growth of UK plc. More specifically, encouraging individuals who have got what it takes to pursue their ambition of being their own boss. This extends to supporting existing entrepreneurs to think bigger and truly maximize the potential of their business. As Adam Smith the Scottish philosopher and economist quoted in his book The Wealth of Nations back in 1776 –

“we are a nation of shop keepers”.

Well not much has changed, the economy relies so heavily on the very small business, it amazes me that well over 90% of companies in the UK employ less than 50 people, very few ever get past employing more than 25 people – so why is this? The reasons are wide ranging but all too often the stresses and strains that come with growth are just one step too far for most people. Taking financial risks and the associated personal, professional and commercial challenges, which the journey inevitably brings, results in the pursuit of a more pedestrian voyage.

There is much debate at the moment about a special group of businesses commonly referred to as gazelles. These are fast moving businesses that exhibit sustained levels of growth over a three-year period – they achieve growth rates above 20% per annum and their contribution to the economy is phenomenal. Independent research conducted by Nesta shows that 6% of ambitious innovative businesses over the coming years will deliver 50% of new jobs. So the answer is, we need more of them. Game changing leadership lies at the heart of driving more gazelles and therefore improved growth, individuals who can create a culture that enthuses and motivates others to perform and deliver.

There are many schools of thought on what great leadership look like, however my own insights, (derived from the great fortune of being immersed in a world of successful entrepreneurs) would lead me to conclude that there are ten essential ingredients, most notably, leaders who drive growth:

  1. Have an ability to embrace and drive change to the benefit of all stakeholders
  2. Personally very driven with aligned personal and professional intentions
  3. Are future focused and have clarity of what needs to be achieved
  4. Operate by the philosophy of success is down to 20% thinking and 80% doing – progression involves iteration and this builds momentum
  5. Communicate their purpose and values with passion both internally and externally
  6. Build a team ethos with roles and responsibilities of all clearly mapped out and monitored
  7. Ruthlessly guard their reputation and have a moral compass which ensures all decisions are made with best intentions
  8. Performance management and key performance indicators (KPI’s) are embedded throughout their organisation – they know if they are on track
  9. Have a mindset aligned to success, this is supported by an innovative positive mental attitude that delivers the edge
  10. Leaders are readers, they commit to personal development and usually have a mentor who helps locate personal blind spots…very self aware, knowing very clearly their strengths and weaknesses!

Leadership and growth are inextricably linked; lets hope the business stars of tomorrow will emerge over the coming months. A new generation of go getting individuals who will drive innovation, wealth creation, exports and jobs. They are the hero’s of the economy.