Taking Established Social Enterprises to the Next Level

Perth Concert Hall

S2S – the second annual Social Enterprise Trade Fair was held in Perth again this year. Blessed by sunshine and the usual diverse mix of delegates – bankers, bureaucrats and social activists – the event was highly enjoyable – and well worth the long drive.

I only managed to take in one workshop, “Striding Out – Taking Established Social Enterprises to the Next Level”. This featured three speakers, all of whom had experience of doing just that, either through acquisition (buying a business) or organic growth (winning more business and employing more people on the back of the surpluses created). The speakers were Mike Sweatman from the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative, Pauline Hinchion from FEAT Enterprises and Laurie Russel from the Wise Group

In all three cases the next level meant getting bigger. Only one of the presenters gave time to the possibility of staying small – working a niche as a way of moving to the next level. As someone who was brought up on ‘Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered’ – by EF Schumacher I am definitely not convinced that bigger is always the best route to better! Especially when ‘better’ means more effective delivery of a social purpose.

All three speakers emphasised the importance of good management in making the ‘transition to the next level’ and how much should be learned from the ‘for profit’ sector in this respect.

I don’t recall any of the speakers talking about the challenges of working with the key competitive advantage of the sector, namely the passion with which people, employees, volunteers and (some) funders subscribe to the cause. As a social enterprise gets larger how do you keep the passion burning?

Passion is the ‘kryptonite’ of the social enterprise. Management and leadership that nurtures passion and develops excellent management in pursuit of a social cause is what makes the third sector such a powerful force. My fear is that we may learn the wrong lessons from the private sector – about efficiencies and productivity – rather than how to inspire and lead passionate people.

There is a danger that ‘good management’ will quash what is excellent about social enterprise.

What suggestions can you offer about good management practices that help to keep the passion of social enterprise alive either when recruiting, acquiring or just in day to day management good practice?

How can you be rigorous in pursuit of your mission without being ruthless in your day to day management?

Management, Dragons and Apprentices – RealityTV

It is no surprise that management and entrepreneurship ‘Reality’ TV (think ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘Dragon’s Den’) is so dark. Good people being fired on the strength of their performance on one task; entrepreneurs being humiliated by ‘Dragons’ because they are not experts in their product or service AND in how it should be marketed AND in the financial history and planned future of their cherished business.

The truth is that programme makers are simply not able to make good management and entrepreneurship ‘dramatic’ enough to get win viewing figures. So instead they focus on the dark dramas that so many of us love to watch unfold.

What impact do these programmes have on our perception of what entrepreneurship and management are as professions? If viewers believe that ‘Reality TV’ portrays reality then it is little wonder that neither are seen as ‘‘careers’ of choice for many and that that levels of entrepreneurship remain stubbornly low.

Exhortations such as ‘we will work until we bleed and batter the hell out of everyone else’ are hardly a clarion call for effective recruitment.

In my day to day work I regularly meet managers who are at their happiest when they are dealing with a crisis, damping down a fire, or sacking underperforming staff – because they really believe that this is what good managers do to make things better – a belief that may be fuelled, at least in part, by ‘Reality TV’. The impact that they have on organisational culture and climate is disproportionate.

The truth is that good management, progressive management, is about the day to day development of professional working relationships.

    • It is about coaching and developing people so that they contribute more fully at work.

    • It is about giving and receiving feedback (NOT ‘You’re a shambles! You’re fired!’).

    • It is about developing and sharing values that can lead to sustainable success.

    • It is about managing underperformance in a way that is rigorous and caring, but not ruthless.

And the same is true for entrepreneurship.

Both are about building effective teams, where individuals can express their unique personality, skills and traits in support of a team endeavour. But this is a slow, beautiful, human and creative process – more like gardening – than the high drama of the Reality TV shows.

This is the work of the Progressive Manager.