A Story About Inspiring A Local Community To Become Entrepreneurial Using Lessons Learnt From IT Management Consultancy
IT management consulting is usually perceived as a technical endeavour in which consultants focus on bits and pieces. However, it primarily has to do with communicating and mobilising people within an organisation to change; the technical things will follow. The guiding principles to achieve this are: thinking about others and not yourself, being factual, communicating on multiple levels, showing empathy, and thinking out of the box. This article presents how these five principles were applied in different contexts to our software improvement consulting practice, but had the same effect; to inspire people to change.
Being an IT management consultant is fun and challenging. Contrary to common belief, it has to do mainly with interaction between people rather than with machines. In our practice we communicate to our clients about the quality of their systems and its impact on their IT costs. As a notion, “quality” is subjective. So, our job is to transform that into something tangible and then relate it to costs. Ultimately, our goal is to have an impact on our clients and mobilise them to change. An effective way to achieve this is by following and clearly communicating a set of guiding principles. These are explained below.
It is not about you, it is about them: In order for you to communicate your point and mobilise others to change, you need to first realise that you are not the deal breaker. In other words, a consultant is there for solving his client’s problems and not his own.
Be factual: In order to convince your clients you need to make a point with your pitch, and this should be based on information and knowledge distilled by their own data. A story, which is based on solid and fact-based analysis, will have much more impact than just expressing opinions.
Communicate on multiple levels: A goal or a vision needs to be shared to be successful. As IT consultants, we need to communicate with people on multiple levels and roles. For instance, our technical analysis and findings need to be verified and approved by the IT part of an organisation. This will bring us to a good position from which to provide actionable recommendations to the C-level executives of this organisation – from bit to boardroom.
Empathise with others: People are prone to enlist in initiatives led by those with whom they feel a personal attachment1. So, it is essential for us to understand what the real “pain” is for our client and try to speak her language. What is more, the provided recommendations need to fit within the context of the organisation in order to help them solve their real problems.
Think out of the box: One of the merits of being an IT management consultant is your freedom to think and present things from a new perspective. In that way you can challenge your clients to try to not think of the obvious things, but instead to try thinking beyond them.
However, these principles can be used in a different context and maintain their impact. The rest of the article presents the story of an event organised in a local community with the goal of inspiring people to become entrepreneurial. This event took place in Patras, a city in Greece, within the context of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). GEW is an initiative2 that runs globally for a week each November, and is powered by the Kauffman Foundation.
Bearing in mind the local people’s overall sentiment of doubt towards change, the challenge was to attract their interest and engage with them. Patras is the third largest city in Greece with a population of approximately 210,000 inhabitants and its port is the largest gateway of Greece to Italy3. Inevitably, the city has been affected by the financial crisis, reaching an unemployment rate of more than 24 per cent4. This is worse for the ages between 18 and 34 where unemployment reaches 50 per cent5. Also, according to the local Commerce Association more than 1,300 SMEs6 (small to medium enterprises) have closed down within the last year.
However, and despite the gloomy outlook, the question in the local community was and still is, “Can we really change things and how?” Trying to answer these questions was one of the compelling reasons for taking the initiative to organise the event “Think Global, Act Local: Global Entrepreneurship Week in Patras.”7 But, in order for an event to inspire people, one needs more than just speakers, audience and promotion in the press. It primarily needs a vision and a set of guiding principles that will serve it.
The vision: For the last thirty years it was more typical for young people in Greece to expect to find a job in the Greek public sector than to start their own businesses. So, the vision that had to be communicated was that of entrepreneurship as a means for change. The goal for the event was to inspire people and make them consider that becoming entrepreneurial could help them to transform their lives.
The guiding principles: As explained above, the source of inspiration in our case was the lessons learnt from my practice as an IT management consultant. Below, I present how these principles were applied in order to organise the event.
It is not about you, it is about them: As said, it is important to understand that when serving a purpose, your own person is unimportant. What is more, and if a person wants to increase their influence to others, the best way is to give it away. For that reason, the organisers avoided presenting themselves and the companies they were working for as examples of entrepreneurship. Their belief was that their contribution to the community should be to organise the event and let others present themselves and their achievements in order to set the example.
Be factual: In order to inspire people to become entrepreneurs one needs to set them the right examples. For that reason, all of the invited speakers were actual entrepreneurs, people with an idea, and the faith that led them to build their businesses based on it. What is more, each of the invited speakers was representing one of the business sectors that are in the interests of the local community. These sectors are agriculture, technology, retail, tourism, services and culture.
Communicate on multiple levels: No man is an island, let alone an entrepreneur. There are associates and institutions that can be of value, helping one realise one’s goals. For that reason we organised a session in which the supporters of entrepreneurship were invited to present their ideas and experiences.
Empathise with others: People are prone to enlist in initiatives led by those with whom they feel a personal attachment8. For that reason the selected entrepreneurs were part of the local community. In other words, local entrepreneurs were used in order to inspire local people. More specifically we invited an olive-oil producer, a technology start up, the owner of a local patisserie, the owner of a local CD store, a hotel owner and the director of the municipal theatre. Each of them had an interesting story to share with the audience. For instance the olive-oil producer told of how he decided at the age of forty to leave his profession as an accountant and revive his father’s business.
Think out of the box: One of the invited speakers was the director of the municipal theatre of Patras. Strangely, in Greece, culture is not perceived as a business enabler let alone as a means for entrepreneurship. One of the questions we received before the event was why we invited someone who was an “artist”. The answer was that if through culture we attracted more tourists for the city, this would have an impact on other sectors as well.
What is next?
They say anyone can come up with a vision and communicate it to people. The hard part is to hold this vision9. For that reason, and as a next step, we are in the process of establishing a local association for young entrepreneurs in Patras. The goal for this would be, at first, to support young entrepreneurs in their first steps and help them network with other communities either in Greece or abroad. What is more, there are more initiatives taking place in the community. For instance, the local Chamber of Commerce is collaborating together with the local university to promote innovation by helping spin-offs network with other entrepreneurs and present their work to investors.
About the Author
Yiannis Kanellopoulos provides C-Level management advice on software intensive systems. He works for the Software Improvement Group (www.sig.eu), a management consul-tancy firm based in Amsterdam. Yiannis leads the firm’s branch in Greece and is responsible for the services delivery as well as for developing the business in the SEMEA area. Yiannis holds a PhD from the Manchester School of Computer Science.
1. James M. Kouzes, “The Leadership Challenge” 2. http://www.unleashingideas.org/about
4. Hellenic Statistical Authority: http://www.statistics.gr/portal/page/portal/ESYE/PAGE-themes?p_param=A0101&r_param=SJO02&y_param=2012_09&mytabs=0
5. Hellenic Statistical Authority: http://www.statistics.gr/portal/page/portal/ESYE/PAGE-themes?p_param=A0101&r_param=SJO02&y_param=2012_09&mytabs=0
8. James M. Kouzes, “The Leadership Challenge”
9. Bob Burg and John David Mann: “It’s not about you: A little story about what matters most in business,” Portfolio Penguin, 2011.