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.

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High Growth Foundation – A trip to Silicon Valley

18/05/2012

What delegates found in Silicon Valley was the theme of last night’s High Growth Foundation event – you could actually feel the entrepreneurial spark in the air at Manchester Airport’s Concorde Suite. I don’t think attendees actually realised that Concorde was going to be in the room – over 150 delegates sat under the fuselage and listened to what was a set of fantastic contributors. As always our resident compare Michael Taylor did a great job unlocking interesting stories from the massively enthusiastic Gareth Burton, fun loving Jim Clarke, and the practical go getting Janet Green. (On the side lines Liz Weston, a Winning Pitch friend and Foundation supporter was busily tweeting).

The setting for this event was symbolic of what the Foundation is all about. Our purpose is to support entrepreneurs who have the desire and ambition to move their business forward at supersonic speed but doing it within a framework of disciplined management and focus on key business processes.  Encouraging companies to deliver sustainable growth over a long period of time is what we are about. The session I feel was an effective antidote and reminder of not to take part in the doom and gloom thinking we have seen over the past months.

The event brought together almost one year of social media activity and events whose messages focused on thinking globally and thinking big, a state of mind that is finely tuned into “going for growth”.

One of the most effective ways entrepreneurs learn is by experience sharing:

Viewing what great looks like – strategy, raising finance, sales marketing

Speaking to other entrepreneurs – what went right what went wrong

Studying biographies of success – personal and business journies

Well in March this year 18 entrepreneurs did experience sharing in a big way. They went to Silicon Valley to observe how some of the most successful brands on the planet go about their business.

More to follow on insights from the West Coast!

Our guest speaker Scott Fletcher went down a storm – his messages focused on conditioning yourself to develop a positive mindset, create a great culture and look after staff.   He’s is a living example of an entrepreneur who has embraced the big thinking mindset.  As Chairman of the ANS Group, he has off the scale ambition and grown one of the Region’s finest businesses – one that has rapidly transformed itself from gazelle to gorilla.

Really chuffed great that Pannone supported this event, especially Lisa Conmy their very own passionate ambassador for the entrepreneurial agenda.


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!


The Silver Bullets – Rules for Gazelles

22/04/2012

Here they are, and they work!

  1. Create and craft differentiated propositions that stand out from the crowd – don’t compete on price, compete on difference
  2. Develop an effective vision, strategy and execute of a practical game plan – communicate this to the rest of your team – success is 20% thinking and 80% doing
  3. Drive innovation into the processes and functions of your company and always look at doing things differently
  4. Embrace change and see it as an opportunity to develop and introduce new propositions
  5. Build a great team – thinkers, sellers, doers and controllers – create a culture where values and behaviours are aligned to delivering great service both internally and externally
  6. Condition your mindset – coping with the challenges that come with growth means a Believe You Can (BYC) state of mind is vital
  7. Live in the “Customer’s World” and deliver services and products that capture their need and voice. Build long-term relationship and keep coming up with new ideas to address their challenges.
  8. Disciplined systems and processes need to be put in place – KPIs that provide a real time state of business health are vital. Key your eye on cash and how you finance your company. Get expert help.
  9. Become great at selling and put the sales engine in place – sales are the lifeblood of any organisations, sell what you believe in as well as the products and services you offer.
  10. Find connectors that can provide answers to the challenges you face – getting experienced mentors, coaches and non executive directors working to raise the bar of performance are an essential ingredient of success

Personal development is the ultimate source of competitive advantage – be aware of what you are good and bad at. Review how you are performing in relation to the Ten Silver Bullets !

 


Gazelles – past and present (part 1)

16/04/2012

There was an excellent article in the Weekend Mail a few weeks ago written by Harvey Goldsmith (entrepreneur and impresario). It catalogued his views on ten of the greatest British Entrepreneurs. I found it to be a smart account of those individuals, past and present business who have  made a profound impact on the UK economy.

The Governments new high growth service targeting gazelle businesses over the coming years will hopefully be the stimulus for creating more of these globally focused organisations. Here is the list and my own view of the insight we can gain from these incredible people:

1.Simon Fuller  – Entertainment Business (1960 -). A man of great vision who sees opportunities grabs them and just gets on with it. Avoids the celebrity limelight a real doer. Stop talking start doing.

2.Chales Dunstone – Mobile phones (1964 -) Carphone warehouse fame, a person with the courage and belief in his business model to take on giants such as BT and Vodaphone. Living proof that a small company can take on a big brand and win. Fortune favours the brave!

3. William Lever (1851 – 1925). The son of a Bolton grocer, with a social conscience. He built Port Sunlight for his employees and Unilever is now one of the biggest companies on the planet. Look after your staff and the rest takes care of itself.

4.John Sainsbury (1844-1928). The core idea that offering a little more quality than your rivals can go a long, long way.

5.Dame Anita Roddick (1942 -2007). Body Shop was set up at a time when more and more chemicals were finding their way into cosmetics and packaging was getting fancier. She swam against the stream and introduced her natural range of products – a global phenomenon building over 2,000 stores worldwide. Dont always follow the pack, have your own mind and think blue ocean

The next five to follow soon.


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.