What comes first for successful enterprises?

In October 2017 I was lucky enough to be invited to join as an external advisor on the Spark Social Enterprise Safari held in Belgium.

My background is someone who has worked as a business coach and consultant in the social enterprise space for 10+ years and runs their own social enterprise that enables CEOs to grow their enterprises by addressing their confusion and frustration around – how to create clarity of leadership, strategy and an enterprising culture.

I wanted to share a few observations and challenges from the trip – particularly from the enterprises we visited on a great bicycle tour of Ostend (no one told me it would be 30km!) – relevant to organisations being able to innovate and create social impact whether in the UK, Belgium or Holland.

1. Innovation can take a long time (investment and not a cost). Whilst the SPARK programme is a great start in terms of enabling organisations to develop a method of scaling innovations, it is just the START. The good people we met at www.burenhulp.be, who provide a wide range of inclusive services for the elderly, were very honest in how long it has taken them to develop their service innovation and on some of the mistakes they have made along the way. This reminded me of a great book I’ve read on positive learning from failure, marginal gains, creativity and innovation – Matthew Syed’s ‘Black Box Thinking’ – which is worth a read for any entrepreneur.

2. The power of telling a story. I was struck with the power of a video we were shown of The Ostend Street Orkestra. The video was inspirational for the viewer understanding – the who, what, when, why, how and where of the marginalised people that the orchestra works with and supports. My takeaways from this visit were:

i)  Video has recently tipped over to 51% of the total content of the world-wide web. It is a very powerful medium to get your message across and is starting to replace the old-fashioned case study or report.

ii) If you can’t tell a good story about what you do then you will not fulfil your vision/ambition. It is vital to show funders, prove impact, put together a great crowdfunding campaign, get customers and engage a wide range of stakeholders etc. rganisations are now focusing on this element and getting smart so don’t get left behind.

3. Innovative use of technology. One of my favourite visits was to De Oesterbank www.oesterbank.be where they have transformed their supply chain business to compete alongside commercial organisations whilst being able to employ significant numbers of disabled people in meaningful/paid work.

A large warehouse may not be a crowd pleaser in terms of location, but it was very clever how they have deconstructed their operational processes into bitesize chunks and used technology to make the workplace accessible. For me it was good example of how you use technology/innovation to enable hard-to-reach groups to take part in every day work and not just focus solely on technology for the end consumer. And compete against pure commercial organisations.

My final thoughts on developing sustainable innovations, no matter which country you are from:

  • Innovation does not happen without the input of the end user or customer. Understand the needs/problems and only then work on shaping the solution (service and value) that you are providing.
  • Crowdfunding is a great way to test the market demand for your proposed product/service and raise much needed investment into your enterprise. Get the story right.
  • But what comes first is clarity on your purpose, vision and values – the bedrock of all successful enterprises.

Any thoughts, questions, feedback to share on the above please do get in touch:   Craig Carey, Director of Business, Bubble Chamber CIC craigc@bubblechamber.net

(Photographs by Lynn Delbeeke)

Running (Your Organisation) with Purpose

So, somehow my brother-in-law persuaded me to run a marathon this year. Beer and bravado probably had something to do with it. Now, I’m not built like your traditional runner but I’m really enjoying some serious mileage each week.

Apart from the physical challenge there’s the mental aspect of cranking out those miles. To help with this I went back to a book I read a number of years ago called ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’, a classic by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. He’s a bit of a legend: 25 marathons, 11 novels and some crazy ultra marathons.

I’ve decided to take a proverbial leaf out of the book – that is if you substitute being a novelist for being a social enterprise coach and consultant.

When working with organisations, we always start with the personal and organisational purposewhy are we doing this? If we don’t get this right then the business is simply not going to work. So, taking some of my own medicine, I’ve had to think about why I’m running, if I’m to have half a chance of getting through this marathon and that scary thing called the ‘wall’. I realised I need to get some focus.

Craziness, fitness, raising money for charity, challenging myself & wanting to get a faster time than my brother-in-law are a number of reasons that spring to mind. But thinking this through, it’s not clear as some or all of these are relevant and valid reasons.

This is a common mistake organisations make when they are not clear and have too many “whys”. When pushed, I would say the main reason for me to run is that, having got to the other side of 40, I want to challenge myself. Having defined this, I now know that I should be planning for the THE BIG RESULT, that is the marathon.

Back in Enterprise life, if you know why you are doing something, where you want to go to (Vision), and where you are positioning yourself in the market, then devising a growth strategy becomes a lot easier.

A good organisational example of not knowing why they exist, which is close to my heart, is that of Newcastle United Football Club. From a fan’s perspective, the club has been directionless for about eight years now. Some would say they do know the “why” – the club just acts as a shop front or giant billboard for Sports Direct and the owner’s passion.

Other “whys” include making as much money as possible (another passion) through buying cheap young players with high sell-on values, while just staying in the Premiership and getting stupid amounts of TV money. And, at the same time, cutting the costs of running the club to the bone.

Another key thing about purpose is aligning it with the different stakeholders involved. In Newcastle’s case, the fans want a team that at least tries, provides some entertainment and is a good representation of the region. The players know it is just a stepping-stone to getting sold to another club, so there’s no loyalty. Fans, players and the people who run the club all have different purposes.

The result of this? Well if you know the current state of football, you can look at Newcastle and see we’ve got one giant mess of an organisation! Not knowing the “why” has led to numerous mistakes in sales, marketing, operational, finance and people strategies.

The club is certainly not growing. The owner and board do not understand the marketplace. Even the owner’s purpose of using the club as a shop front for Sports Direct seems less than logical, as a poorly run and performing club is not the best brand advertisement. Or so it seems to me.

Well, rant over – perhaps a long run this weekend will run it off. Another 18 miles to ponder all things Strategy and Social Enterprise!

Work On Your Business, Not In It

What you need to do is start working ON your business NOT IN it.

This is a growing catchphrase used by business coaches and consultants who are trying to help CEOs scale their social enterprises. Hands up, I’m guilty as charged here as well!

When you work with CEOs and leaders on strategy you will hear the excuses:

“I haven’t had time to do that”

“This and this came up that I had to sort out”

“I need to cancel a meeting” etc.

Working in the business, wanting to make the organisation run smoothly at an operational level, working directly with end users and getting stuck in to solve problems for the team is a great thing for a leader.

However this approach is not sustainable if you want to grow the impact of your organisation. To grow requires a real strategic lead and the headspace to look and work on the business. Otherwise you will be for forever firefighting, which can still allow growth but not to the scale and impact that is possible.

So what can you do as a leader to start to make this transition, to create time and get off the treadmill?

1. Get the right team in place

How does the old saying go – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

All the best leaders surround themselves with a great team. This will give you confidence to take that step back knowing that the organisation is being well run and you have empowered the team to take ownership.

Often overlooked is the importance of succession planning despite its potential benefits to the organisation; this should not just be for the leader but all key staff. The process ticks the boxes for keeping it strategic, fresh, innovative and is great for staff development.

2. Prioritise and delegate

Two key things to master but we are also notoriously bad at – prioritisation and delegation. All leaders at some stage would have gone through a prioritisation test or exercise at interview, obviously doing very well at the time but then forgetting the principles when actually starting the job.

The art of delegation – choose the right tasks to delegate, identify the right people to delegate to, and delegate in the right way.

3. Give yourself permission

Easier said than done and perhaps this should be No 1. This is all about giving you the emotional permission to take a step away from the business to focus on the strategic direction. I think this is especially hard for a founder who’s in a leadership role. But, if you have all the other support blocks described in place, then this will be easier to do.

4. Reconnect with your actual role

Have a look at your job description sometime – what does it actually say? It will probably have words like strategic, leadership, developing new business, building key relationships etc. – not firefighting in the business!

5. Write it down

We are all intelligent people but for some reason, we try and keep the ideas and plans in our heads. This takes up a lot of emotional energy; it takes time to keep it there and can be stressful. A plan needs to be written down so it can be shared with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders.

The strategy does not have to be complex; it shouldn’t be like reading a copy of War and Peace. A good plan can be written down in 10 pages or less. It needs to be accessible, actually used and updated on a regular basis.

Our Strategy on a Page is an even more economic way of presenting the absolute essentials of planning and guiding your enterprise concisely and with laser-like precision.

So, get the proverbial helicopter out and have a look at what is going on in and out of your organisation – it’s a flight worth investing in.