In the last issue of Workforce Learning, I focused on how organizations can prepare for the growth cycle ahead in our recovering economy and offered three scenarios for how the recovery may play out. In the weeks since, I’ve done a more analytic survey and asked nearly 150 professionals from more than a dozen different DC-based organizations: “What will you do differently once the economic recovery seems to stabilize?”
A number of themes emerged in the conversations. Clearly, the dependent relationship people have had with their employers has been severely challenged during the last 12 months. In fact, large, seemingly stable organizations like county governments have been implementing forced furloughs and reductions in workforce. The old belief that large organizations offer stable future economic growth is all but gone.
But here is what raised an eyebrow. The number of people who expressed a desire to go out on their own and start their own business was staggering.
This may seem counterintuitive, especially after months of economic strife. But the impetus to start ones own business is not economic — it is to gain a better control of their future. Certainly, when you are an entrepreneur, your success and failure resides on your own actions and tactics, not the actions of management far removed from your sphere of influence.
This lack of control and the frustration it brings was aptly illustrated for me in a conversation I had with a manager in a large corporation who was obviously upset about the mandatory furloughs and pay cuts his organization was implementing to ward off the need to terminate staff.
He wholeheartedly supported the notion of everyone sharing the economic burden in order to save jobs, but was angry that the cut backs were the result of his company losing a major contract to a competitor. His gripe: “I don’t know what leadership did to lose that contract. I have no say in how they go about bidding on work. All I know is that if they mess up, we all suffer.”
Having been my own boss for the last 12 years, I’m obviously a big advocate of self-employment. But the decision to start up your own business is not one to take lightly. For those contemplating the leap, you’ll find information below on things to consider before quitting your day job.
Whatever 2010 brings, I wish you and yours only the very happiest of holidays. We’ll check in again in the New Year.
Warmest wishes, Alice
ALICE WAAGEN TO HOST JANUARY 5 WEBINAR
ExecSense Webinars has hired Dr. Alice Waagen to lead a webinar on the topic: “Leadership Skills and Strategies for the HR Executive.” Register here today: www.ExecSense.com. For details, call 415 453-3003.
ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS
What are the five competencies you need to succeed?
By Dr. Alice Waagen, President & Founder
I love to talk about being an entrepreneur, for when I made the leap from the corporate world to founding Workforce Learning in 1997 it was one of the most exhilarating, yet traumatic decisions of my life.
In the dozen years I’ve been out on my own, I can tell you that I’ve learned a lot about myself, the people I work with, and life in general. But perhaps the most fascinating discovery is that the characteristics and qualities that it takes to succeed as a business owner are the same sets of competencies I advocate for managers within organizations. Following is a list of five things you can do to prepare for life as an entrepreneur – while you are still collecting a paycheck.
FIVE COMPETENCIES EVERY ENTREPRENEUR MUST MASTER
1. Leadership. When you are on your own, you need to think independently and make decisions quickly without a lot of input from others. Look for opportunities to chair committees or lead projects that require a lot of complex decisions. Keep a log of all decisions you make in a week and assess what went well and what you would do differently. Actively seek opportunities to work independently, especially in situations where you need to motivate and direct others for whom you have no reporting authority.
2. Communication Skills. To succeed on your own, your writing and speaking skills must be top notch. If your current job does not give you opportunities to speak and write, look at joining Toastmasters or other groups that will give you public speaking experience – and productive feedback.
3. Project Management. Hosts of skills fall under this category, including the ability to manage complex projects effectively and allocate scarce resources. Conducting project debriefs or after-action studies should be a regular part of your work. Make a list of your successes so you can review what worked well. And keep the list of things that did not work top of mind so they are not repeated.
4. Financial Savvy. Unless you have a background in finance or accounting, this is the one arena that will challenge you the most when you run your own business. Seek out programs that offer advice for and build up your knowledge of financial basics. If you have budgetary responsibilities in your current job, make friends with someone in finance and have them tutor you on the intricacies of budget management. Or, work out an arrangement so you can hire that person to help you with your accounting when you launch your new firm.
5. Self-knowledge. This is possibly the most important competency, for entrepreneurs are only successful when they have a very clear assessment of their real strengths and blind spots. Take as many interpersonal assessments as you can, such as MBTI and DISC. Use this knowledge to strategically plan how you will achieve your goal, and take time to consider how you will augment your weak areas with outside help.
I’ve always been a big proponent of volunteering, mostly because I believe it is the right thing to do. But when launching your business, your work as a volunteer can benefit your new business by helping you build your professional network, in addition to growing your capabilities.
By taking a planned and goal-driven approach to your personal development, you can bolster your value internally while simultaneously preparing to strike out on your own. This gives you a Plan A and a Plan B and some real options in managing your professional future. Good luck!
DECEMBER BOOK REVIEW
How GenY Entrepreneurs are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways you can Profit from Their Success
by Donna Fenn
Review by Alice Waagen
I find myself pretty skeptical these days that yet another business book can present new ideas that have not already been churned out by the prolific business press. It is a tribute to the quality of Donna Fenn’s book on GenY entrepreneurs that I read it cover to cover, taking notes and sharing her ideas with others in my network.
Fenn’s book stands out from the pack in a number of unique ways. First, her writing style is clean, clear and absent from the usual jargon and clutter. It makes sense, because she is a career journalist specializing in small business trends, so not only does she know her subject area well, she communicates it in an engaging manner.
The premise of the book, as reflected in its subtitle, is how young entrepreneurs succeed by challenging a lot of the conventional “wisdom” offered by the traditional business gurus. Fenn does not overplay the generational theme but aptly uses it to illustrate the main themes of her research into successful GenY startups.
Her “8 Critical Lessons,” are based on the unique differences business leaders under the age of 30 bring to the table. Shaped by events of their generation, these young “upstarts” truly have added new and innovative approaches to creating new companies.
Each of the lessons is the focus of a chapter and every chapter is illustrated by a number of businesses. I found the diversity of businesses a compelling feature of the book. Yes there is the classic tech start up but also nonprofits, retail, hospitality and others.
Although the business protagonists featured here are young, the lessons identified apply to any business startup, regardless of the age of the entrepreneur.
Certainly, Upstarts is a book for business leaders, and I found it to be inspirational and uplifting to read about individuals challenging the odds, questioning the established way of doing things and taking risks. Like I outlined above, entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart – but this book helps you realize that going out on one’s own to make a mark in the world can be more than a dream.
Many thanks to the organizations that hired me in 2009 to help them master the art of good management. Here’s to a fabulous 2010 for us all!
- American University
Topic: Managing Performance
- Social Security Administration
Topic: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- Envision EMI Inc.
Topic: Leveraging Interpersonal Influence
Topic: Creating a Respectful Workplace
- Drug Enforcement Administration
Topic: Delegating: Developing Others through Shared Work
- Department of the Interior
Topic: Delegating: Developing Others through Shared Work
- National Trust Community Investment Corporation
Strategic Planning Retreat
- US Civilian Research and Development Foundation
Strategic Planning Retreat
If your organization needs assistance with any of the topics outlined above, or would like to brainstorm on topics that would serve your needs, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.