The Entrepreneur Speaks: Stephen Archer

Stephen Archer of Spring Partnerships talks about how to develop creative entrepreneurs.

Stephen Archer is an entrepreneur, business analyst and Director of Spring Partnerships.

Stephen has been running his own businesses since 1990 including 10 years as founder, owner and MD of Archer Young Marketing (AYM); and of Spring Partnerships since 2003. AYM was sold to his management via an MBO in autumn 2000.

He has consulted for CEOs, boards and senior management of FTSE 100 and multinational companies including Nestle, GE, KPMG, Carlsberg and Oracle amongst others. His main areas of expertise are commercial and marketing strategy; leadership and culture for high performance organisations.

Here, he talks about how to develop creative entrepreneurs.

How to develop creative entrepreneurs that accelerate your business performance

Small businesses can often struggle to encourage and achieve creativity and innovation within their organisation. It is too easy and common for employees to get bogged down in daily activities with little time for anything else or to look above the parapet. However, for a small business to grow, it is essential to have continuous new ideas and fresh perspectives in order to keep one step ahead of the competition.

This is especially true in the hugely competitive online world where new online businesses start up every day, as well as fall by the way side.

In today’s fast paced digital environment, businesses need to have a different mind-set than in previous generations as they can no longer rely on one great idea – they need to continually innovate, improve and develop their products or services. If they do not do this a competitor will do it for them, stealing their customers at the same time.

Encouraging employees to think more like entrepreneurs can bring enormous benefits to the bottom line, and is one way that organisations can ensure a steady flow of better ways of doing things.

Every individual in a company has the potential to be creative, original and even entrepreneurial, companies just need to adopt a different approach to leadership and people development and cultivate a culture where innovation and creative thinking is encouraged, supported and rewarded.

Here are some ways small businesses can encourage employees to become more entrepreneurial:

Support people to implement their innovations – remember no idea is a bad idea and business owners should always be encouraging employees who come up with new ideas, even if they may not be workable.

Remember to act on suitable ideas and encourage staff to follow through - once people can see that suggestions are being taken seriously and that the managers are listening, then it will encourage others to think more creatively. If not people could wonder what the point is and not bother.

Don’t ask employees directly what they are going to do to solve a problem - this pushes them to make a judgement which leads them to use the left brain which has a narrow spectrum. Instead, ask them what they could do or what they might do, as this encourages them to think of possible ideas, and tells them that you don’t expect them to come to the right answer straight away.

Employees should be treated as customers and friends - the best innovation can come from co-operation between employees – this is an effective way of bringing out entrepreneurs. Identify and appoint innovation ‘champions’ around the business. These people will be the leaders on innovation development and manage the process. They must drive the culture.

Make it clear to everyone that a business must move forwards - NEVER stand still. Even businesses lucky enough to have patent or intellectual property protection must continually innovate their products and services and seek to acquire more advantages to remain competitive.

The customer is always a good start point for innovative thinking and should be a central focus for the whole business - the customer and their relationship is central to business success. Do not rush to copy some competitors’ ways of caring for customers (e.g. automated telephone services!). Work with your teams to develop new ways to engage with customers in a way that customers want. They will repay you over and over.

Know your competitors. Competitors of all kinds are the minimum benchmark for which to aim. Matching a competitive offering is rarely going to suffice – always ensure you are moving to stay ahead and offer something your competitors aren’t. Look at every weakness in a competitor’s offerings and operations and use advanced brain storming tools such as ‘meta planning’ to develop and refine the winning concepts.

Any business function can innovate- whatever type of business or business function, whether it’s HR, finance, customer service, legal etc. – every team can innovate. An innovation culture that embraces all the functions will be a better joined up organisation.

Take inspiration from others - some of the best ideas and simplest innovations are from businesses that have already had such a drive or survived times of stress. Copy best practice, as sometimes copying is the best route. However, copy it, and then improve it. Look at how the Japanese destroyed the UK motorcycle industry, they copied the UK and made the products better.

Get people to think the unthinkable - many businesses suffer from internalism and parochialism. This stunts growth, innovation and saps energy. Assume that your business could be killed off by new entrants to the market or new innovations – people or technology based. Get people to think the unthinkable, develop thinking around scenarios that may seem unrealistic. Remember, in 2007 the idea that several banks would fail was unthinkable.

Lastly, companies must look forward, not back all the time - create a ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t do’ culture. There are no ‘buts’; only ‘yes and’, no problems only solutions.

Encouraging employees to think more like entrepreneurs can bring out their creativity. This leads to innovation and new ways of doing things and new potential revenue streams. All businesses are started by an entrepreneur and having entrepreneurial thinkers as employees will ensure continued success as the company grows.

12 February 2016