Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning

06/06/2012

It is the leaders role to create and communicate a compelling vision and strategy to staff and stakeholders. When this is done with passion and authenticity, strong foundations are built for innovation and creativity; it sets the scene for personal progression and engages teams to fire on all cylinders. But how does the leader gain the inspiration, insight and knowledge to build such an environment. Well the answer may lie in the cliché – leaders are readers. Having worked with over 3,000 small businesses over the past 6 years, many of which would be termed gazelles (high growth innovative firms), the one ingredient that differentiates outstanding performance from mediocre is a leaders approach to learning. Winning Pitch’s work in this field indicates that organisations led by individuals who create space to acquire and apply knowledge go on to derive benefits of faster and sustained levels of growth.

The inability or lack of motivation to allow time for learning often results in leaders pursuing business as usual strategies. In the worst case this leads to disconnection from the market place and the needs of customers. The resultant impact is lack of competitive advantage and a spiral decline in margins, market share and revenue. Innovative high growth business leaders practice the philosophy of 20% thinking and learning along with 80% doing and reviewing. This mental framework facilitates an iterative approach to entrepreneurship, project implementation, idea generation and learning. It is a process commonly associated with scientific discovery. Iteration provides an effective route to positive progression and getting new ideas and projects off the ground more rapidly. It drives momentum, a characteristic commonly displayed by successful entrepreneurs.

Maintaining the healthy 20:80 split is extremely important as a slip in either direction can lead to either inertia, particularly if too much learning prevails or chaos if too much doing dominates the agenda. The latter gives rise to another popular cliché – not being able to see the wood for the trees. So what is the secret sauce to achieving an optimum return for the 20%? It is appropriate to point out that entrepreneurial leaders embrace different learning preferences and styles, however our experiences are summed up wonderfully in the Chinese Proverb:

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

The power of learning by seeing and doing charaterises many of the ambitious entrepreneurial leaders Winning Pitch has worked with. Several learning formats that have emerged from this school of thought, the most popular being peer to peer networking – informal environments where entrepreneurs’ get together to discuss and debate issues and challenges they face. This becomes an extremely powerful option to fast tracked learning, the reason being many problems associated with growth are common – very often they revolve around building teams, finance, access to markets and regulations.

An environment where entrepreneurs debate how they solved specific growth challenges can save others facing similar difficulties an enormous amount of time. Such edited highlights are proving to be an increasingly popular way of consuming new learning. This approach has given rise to numerous entrepreneurial networking organisations such as Entrepreneurs Circle, Supper Club, Tie and Winning Pitch’s High Growth Foundation. Entrepreneurs often make reference to living a lonely life and exposure to their peer group can deliver a whole range of learning benefits, firstly, they can help to alleviate and cope with those feelings of isolation and secondly, they can steer them to solutions only obvious to an external viewer.

Experience sharing is a valuable tool for entrepreneurial businesses and their leaders; more specifically it produces accelerated learning within organisations where training budgets are limited. Simple yet highly effective routes to achieving this can be done by:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales & marketing approaches implemented by non-competing organisations. This helps entrepreneurs to acquire knowledge of trusted advisers and expertise. All too often entrepreneurs end up on the receiving end of bad advice. By speaking to those deemed as exemplar this can fast track to effective support networks.

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong. There are excellent learning opportunities distilled from bad experiences and more often than not entrepreneurs are only too willing to help others avoid the mistakes they made themselves.

Studying biographies of success – we live in an age where the digital environment provides a content rich source of inspirational stories of the tactics and tools successful people have implemented to achieve great results. Many high performing entrepreneurs featured as part of Winning Pitch’s network regularly refer to the insights gained from studying these biographies as being – stimulus for change, acquiring new knowledge and delivering enhanced performance.

In early 2012, Winning Pitch via its High Growth Foundation accompanied 18 entrepreneurial leaders on a learning journey to Silicon Valley. Common to these UK entrepreneurs was their desire to build globally focused organisations. Through Winning Pitch’s contacts on the West Coast ambitious individuals were exposed to some of the largest brands on the planet including Google and LinkedIn. On return participants stated that the learning journey had acted as catalyst for both personal and company progression.  Participating entrepreneurs listened to the stories and methods used by global company leaders – how they go about their business, innovate, manage staff, build culture, access finance – not only what they do but more importantly how they think. The UK delegation were united in one key learning outcome – The mindset and the scale of thinking within Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a quantum level greater than that seen in the UK. Entrepreneurial leaders – Create space for practical learning (See www.highgrowthfoundation.co.uk for more information)

 

The UK boasts internationally competitive and highly recognised educational institutions, ones equipped to teach strategy, management tools and techniques and associated frameworks and philosophies at the highest level. However, is there a missing link in the provision of assistance? Could more be done to help entrepreneurs embrace a mindset which raises the bar of performance in a big way? The UK economy needs more high growth businesses and new starts to deliver employment opportunities – NESTA’s Vital 6 per cent report clearly showed that a small minority of high-growth businesses hold the key to job creation and wider prosperity. This means we need UK entrepreneurs to learn how to think bigger, no better way of doing that than seeing it in action.


Non Executive Directors – Try before you buy!

10/05/2012

It seems very much the rage at the moment for companies to hire Non Executive Directors (NED). I am a big fan of these “outsiders looking inside“. They provide wisdom, guidance, help to raise the bar and introduce more robust systems and processes, help leaders make decisions and support change. In many instances an NED can help to open up new doors to finance and potential customers – help in the transition of growing up. If you are pursuing VC funding or PE finance then having a NED is often part of the deal.

One observation would be that many young companies appoint NEDs too early on in their cycle. They view them as the saving grace and the magic wand with all the answers. The reality is young fast growing companies should initially seek out a mentor or experienced person and trial the relationship before Companies House papers are signed. There are many individuals out there searching for NED trophies, it almost becomes their barometer for success – food for the ego!

My message to young growing companies who are seeking their new best friend, the NED, is be sure they can add value, be clear on where they can take you and most of all dont GIVE AWAY equity, people either buy or earn a stake in your company.


Gazelles – past and present (part 2)

02/05/2012

I wrote a blog a week ago that covered Harvey Goldsmith’s view of the Top 10 greatest entrepreneurs past and present (part 1). Here is the final listing from 6 – 10 and the insights I think are important for other ambitious people:

6. Harry Hyams (1928 – ) – a man who changed the face of commercial property. He built Centre Point in the 60’s and left it controversially empty for months. He was a man who got his timing right, stirred things up – a great example of success is often down to luck. Many would say he planned to be “lucky”

7.Bernie Ecclestone (1930-) – grasped the opportunity when he saw it. From selling cars to F1 supremo. The window of opportunity is presented to so many of us but how many grab it when it appears? It often only lasts for a short time. His vision and leadership is an inspiration to us all.

8.William Morris (1834-1896) – crafts and arts specialist who dreamed of improving the quality of life for British workers. He was a highly successful artist whose designs are still around today – the message is? Leaving a legacy and putting something back!

9.Lew Grade (1906 -1998) – a master entrepreneur in the entertainment business. Famous for pushing an idea across the finishing line – how many of us are guilty of losing faith in an idea when the first hurdle presents itself. Faith is such an important part of getting the idea into the market place. Sunday Night at the Palladium and Pink Panther were several of his major accomplishments.

10. Sir Martin Sorrell (1945-) Not had the best of press this week given the big salary. However, so many forget what this man has achieved. In the mid 80’s he bought a little company called Wire & Plastic Products – this became WPP. It emerged as a world-beating communications and advertising business. Annual revenues running into billions and profits approaching £1bn. How many others can say they have done that. Grit and determination are key ingredients of his success. So the press….get off his back, how short people’s memories are!


Global Entrepreneurship Conference – Get Lucky

14/03/2012

This was probably one of the best events I have been to for a long time. Sometime fantastic speakers, for me Lord Heseltine did the business, what an incredible man. His own entrepreneurial story was highly engaging, it came straight from the heart. He talked about how lucky he had been in his career, one that led to the creation of Haymarket Publishing, a global business with 2,000 employees.

Well on the note of luck, Harvard Business School have done their research and some really interesting findings have emerged. They claim that luck in business can be cultivated, through what they call lucky attitudes and lucky networks. They found that a lot of their entrepreneurs believed in and are extremely open to the power of serendipity – in other words a lucky attitude. They also have a wide network of relationships that at first glance may have little to do with business but somehow later come into great relevance.

Richard Branson’s off the scale mindset of creativity is testament to the power of being different. A common theme around loving what you do was woven throughout the day – passion lies of the heart of success, it keeps you going and is a vital ingredient to mental toughness. The Black Farmer Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, hit the spot as well – going into business or growing a company means you have to overcome your fear, and you only live once, so go for it and be brave.

An amazing job done by Liverpool Vision and the broader Liverpool Community – so many other cities could learn from their ambition and visionary leadership. An example of public sector practicing what they preach.


Controlled lunacy – a recipe for growth

24/02/2012

Are you MAD? This is often the reaction friends and family give when someone says they are off to set up their own business. Giving up the security of a well paid job and entering the unknown is often seen as a bonkers thing to do. Well if this is madness we need more lunatics. Very often seeing things that others cant is the first sign of going off the rails, however it’s also a trait of entrepreneurs who have a vision or calling to go it alone. A burning idea, new product or a solution they have found to a commercial problem. So often entrepreneurs see things that others cant!

One word of caution, this lunacy must be controlled and a safety net provided with solid advice, sound coaching to ensure all the cogs of finance, compliance, systems and processes are in place. So important, otherwise the wheels come off. Control that madness.


Businesses with soul and purpose

21/02/2012

I spoke at the Business Conference for Childcare Providers this morning – it was a fantastic group. The audience comprised a mix of private sector, social enterprise and volunteer groups. One thing that struck me was the passion and enthusiasm and giving nature of the people who turned up. They were individuals with a passion for what they do – a soul and purpose which focused on looking after children.

The theme was leadership in a changing economic environment, my messages revolved around the 10 principles of getting it right:

  1. Changing times need a change of mindset
  2. Create the right mental imprints with stakeholders and staff
  3. Be future focused
  4. Performance measurement & monitoring is vital
  5. Build a great team
  6. Put a credo in place
  7. Live in the “customers” world
  8. Gain the edge through innovation & creativity
  9. Great leaders have a mentor
  10. Practice the 4C’s (Condition, Coach, Communicate, Conform)

It confirmed my belief that businesses with a higher purpose have a greater chance of success. Many of us are searching for meaning in life and a sense of belonging. When we translate this quest into a commercial idea and balance it with good business practice then the results are amazing. Moreover, a business with a cause deals with the harder times much easier than those that don’t. Its so easy to pack up when things get tough – I feel that those companies with a soul and purpose have a greater chance of success!

 


Success Factor For High Growth Entrepreneurs

12/02/2012

Success Factor is my second book and it has not been given the attention it deserved over the last 12 months, the main reason being the focus on several major tenders. I am now back onto it, with bags of momentum.

I am a great believer that successful high growth entrepreneurs embrace the right mindset for success, here is the summary:

The ten steps to a winning mindset involve:

1.   Define your personal intentions and align them to the things you love doing. With this sense of purpose and clarity you can then begin the journey to achieving what you desire from your life, business or profession. Remember alignment must be achieved between personal and professional intentions – they cannot work in isolation.

2.   Prepare yourself for the journey by creating the right mental conditions. Resilience and mental toughness are directly related to your sense of purpose. If you give up after the first hurdle then your purpose is not strong enough! It wont be easy! Be careful about what you think about! That’s what you will get.

3.   Personal responsibility for your actions means that you will make choices and not sacrifices. Belief in yourself is a key part of the way to think – if you don’t believe in yourself then no one will! When things go wrong don’t fall to victim mentality as this gives rise to a whole series of self defeating internal discussions – become the master of your own destiny.

4.   Taking action must quickly follow all the thinking. Success is down to 20% thinking and 80% doing. Strategies emerge when we take action – strategy comes alive in the execution – it is this action that creates serendipity – people will often talk about getting lucky! Success Factor believes that luck is the product of intense activity and personal clarity!  We then start to walk the path of our destiny.

5.   Embrace the spirit of cooperation and working with a team ethos. Going it alone can be a tiresome and difficult journey. Caring and working with others can be the catalyst for us reaching our destination. Finding those who can support our shortcomings and plug the gap in our performance, can make things happen smoother and quicker.

6.   Learning to lead ourselves before we lead others is vital. Once self-leadership has been mastered the leadership of other can commence. This means we must foster an environment that create the conditions for success to flourish, we coach those we are supporting, we communicate with impact and we ensure those under our leadership conform to the rules.

7.   Playing by the rules is an essential part of long-term sustainable success – we must observe the value of humility and operating by a set of values that show caring for others and our environment. Practicing the philosophy of giving before we receive warm the hearts of others and is visible representation of the fact that we live a life of integrity – our reputation is often all we have to trade.

8.   Engaging with others and building win – win relationships is a vital step to success. By embracing a mindset that life is truly a pitch we begin to recognise that competition means that we have to sell to get what we want – this could be our skill and expertise, qualifications, talents or products and services. By active listening and marrying carefully our proposition to what others want – we start to build relationships

9.   A creative mindset helps us to truly stand out from the crowd. Creative capital is often viewed as the ultimate source of competitive advantage because it unlocks our imagination – drives innovative thought and delivers remarkable differentiated results. Keeping a fresh mind and outlook enables us to remain ahead of the game and become memorable to those we need to influence.

10.   Going the extra mile by doing things others wont do will get you remembered. Life has become extremely competitive which means there are far more applicants than jobs, more suppliers than contracts, less places on popular courses.  The only way to get the edge is by digging deep and going one step further than others.


Having the edge will drive growth

07/02/2012

The school of thought that assumes all high growth businesses are technology based is wrong. Fast-moving companies display an edge that connects with their customer’s world, one filled with imagination, inspiration and fresh thinking. Their founders and teams have an inherent ability to spot a niche, an unfulfilled need or problem demanding a solution.

Gazelle performance can be achieved by repackaging a traditional idea. The fusion of a diverse range of business models to produce a whole new experience is a skill high growth entrepreneurs have perfected.

Focusing on activities that don’t necessarily bring in revenue can also attain the edge. However, they do position the organisation head and shoulders above the rest. In other words they produce a wow factor. Leading experts in creativity would claim that 95% of a company’s point of difference is achieved by as little as 5% of what it does.

High growth businesses excite their customers by displaying their edge with passion and clarity. Companies must avoid falling into becoming a“me too” market player – this drives down margins, the cheapest wins, a sort of spiral descent very difficult to recover from.

So how do you find the edge? It starts with the mindset of the leader – old world tells us to think outside the box. My recommendation is to get rid of the box because it does not exist – eliminate limiting beliefs, self-imposed boundaries and negative influences that restrict your ability to think. Find a coach or a mentor who will help you fill the pipeline with new possibilities. Find your 5%!


Small business owners ‘ready to give up’ (what?)

24/01/2012

This was the headline finding of a report compiled by Aviva and covered in today’s Daily Mail. It went on to read “a quarter of small business owners say the economic outlook is so bleak they would rather return to being an employee”. Given the job I do I am more than aware of the pressures and challenges entrepreneurs face, but why is the media constantly pushing out such bad news.

Negativity of this nature can condition ambitious people to hang up their boots up, we must balance all of this with celebrating the successes of many entrepreneurs who have decided not to participate in recession.

Headlines like this do nothing for the spirit or culture of enterprise. A brighter way of looking at the future is looking at the great successes of the past:

General Electric – formed by Edison when US economy faced collapse.

IBM – set up in the middle of a US economy slump

General Motors – went buying spree when the Federal Reserve was approaching melt down

Disney – took off smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression

Microsoft – founded in the middle of a phase of stagflation

CNN – started in a “double dip” recession

Apple– thrived just after the dot-com bubble burst!

These are the messages we should be putting out into the market. One of the key ingredients for business success is the mental toughness of the entrepreneurial team – please can we stop with the doom and gloom – we all know things are tough, stop pushing it in our face. To quote Jim Collins (again) great leaders face the brutal facts but they maintain absolute faith and belief in what they set out to achieve.

Well I am sure Aviva did the research with all best intentions, but this is  my advice to those thinking of packing in:

1. Remember the very reason why you set up on your own

2. Get involved with a network/group and speak to other business owners, ask them for their advice

3. Find a mentor – someone to lean on

4. STOP – take a day off and try to rise above your business situation

5. Surround yourself with positive people

6. Stop listening to enterprising assassins

7. Be aware of negative thinking and reframe with positive thoughts

Challenges are all part of the business growth journey, many of us would be lost without the pain. More success and good news stories PLEASE.


Discipline must run in parallel with Innovation

19/12/2011

High growth companies are disproportionately innovative to those that are not and whilst I believe creativity is the ultimate source of competitive advantage, I must caveat my views. The importance of embedding a culture to allow free thinking that stimulates new ideas is well documented. However, without control you end up with pet projects, loads of possibilities and hundreds of potential initiatives that absorb time, energy and resource. Large companies have processes to deal with their ideas pipeline, but in smaller high growth businesses the danger is that there is too much innovation and entrepreneurship and not enough control and discipline.

Commercial problems potentially loom when there is too much lateral thinking and lack of order. Jim Collins in Good to Great uses a very powerful phrase – “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”. This embraces the notion of balance – innovative thinking and behaviours being guided within a framework of performance measures and KPI’s.

Too much Discipline – then a disconnection with customers, markets and new possibilities takes place

Too much Entrepreneurial flair – nothing gets done because everyone is bouncing off the walls with great ideas

Successful high growth companies tend to have a disciplined approach to new idea generation and implementation – a form of commercial filter. I often wonder how much smaller high growth companies can teach large corporates about innovative thinking and entrepreneurship. The reverse is also important – how can big companies help ambitious founders gain a better handle on their organisation? Feels like a powerful learning forum!