Building Sustainable Societies

When we think of Sustainable Communities, we need to look at the intersection of the traditional domains of entrepreneurship and public sector fields. Entrepreneurs can do amazing things to solve development challenges like unemployment, job creation, health care, and refugee management – here are some great examples by Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, The Abraaj Group, Ruwwad for Development (Ruwwad Al-Tanmeya) and Beacon of Hope (UAE). Read the article posted here:
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Navigating Personal Change: Leadership

2 Weinheim

One of the toughest things to do is navigate change. First of all,  very often, we don’t know what the final destination is. Second, we probably don’t have a clue how to get there. In life, when you are a young unattached adult, you have ample opportunity to explore, as adults with responsibilities (family, organisational and friends) it becomes harder and this becomes a significant source of stress.

What are some signs that change is needed? First of all be in touch with your feelings. If you are unhappy, if you lose your sense of wonder at small things and can’t find a moment when you feel peace…perhaps these are signs you need a change (even if it scares the living daylights out of you)! Yes I have heard of the “If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it” theory before but the indicator is  your feelings. Your feelings are perhaps an  innate call to ask you to rediscover your purpose and without this – you are really adrift in a sea of humanity.

Sometimes health, personal family conditions, financial conditions, or work itself are all reasons that trigger a desire for change. One of the most challenging things you will have to face is be ruthlessly honest that the outcome you long for is really in your best interests. Too many times short term thinking leads to long term pain. Relationships are fundamental to happiness so you have to evaluate what matters and why.

Next comes the change itself…from a management point of view there are three types of change. You can read more in this McKinsey Article . I have adapted this because you can’t keep personal and professional lives separate as hard as you try as they tend to creep into each other’s space. I suggest go through the stages sequentially if you have the luxury of time as they cause minimum disruption this way.

  1. People remain the same but objectives change:

You give yourself new tasks like sky diving, eat more healthy, joining a gym. My experience has been  that these “diversions” are often  temporary as you never got to the source of why you needed the change in the first place. Does it make you happier? I had a friend who put herself first is all situations. She regularly “treated herself” to little indulges because it was a reward for a tough day. This for me was a bit strange but then I realised I had spent a great part of my life chasing and trying to catch up with responsibilities leaving me exhausted and tired. I wrote a list of what made me happy. Movies, books, walks, travelling etc and now I reward myself. I spend the time in the airport reading (not catching up with email). I make time for a movie and put the phone on silent (I could have been in a meeting) and I linger over dinner with the kids. In fact, during my busy career days, the kids grew up and now I am pleasantly surprised at the mature  discussions we can have on business, politics and their lives! It leaves me fulfilled.  Once I made these changes on the personal side, I could look at work and do exactly the same. I learnt to say no, prioritise and limit meetings with no purpose. I have still too many goals but I love what I do so that is half the battle!

2. You adjust your existing mindset and change some behaviours:

Learning is part of this. An occasional training, a break from a tense situation to reflect and weigh positives and negatives is important. To learn you need time and commitment. I thought I was busy with too much work, it turned out I kept myself busy to avoid taking decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading and love to learn new things but the greatest pleasure was from formal learning environments where I could see an outcome  and I met people – I learnt vegetable carving (and use it for parties), a new language (research says it keeps the brain young) and some more subject areas. I spent more time with mentors who challenged me and provoked me and taught me skills. On my own I was plodding along learning. Surprisingly my career is on track with a renewed focus in my personal life (happiness spills over). I have found one thing in life – no experience or education is wasted. I also found to create a mindset change I needed to take time to understand other’s point of view. This did not mean we could converge on a decision but it meant I had a better perspective of where they were coming from which is vital in negotiations in inter-cultural setups.

3. You change your mindset and the people around you and change your behaviours for the new goals:

This is harder as you have to influence others….and it takes time (we are talking years so you need to have sufficient reinforcements to not give up hope)! Sometimes things happen. Traumatic events – death, relationship breakdowns, health issues, career minefields …and you have to give yourself time to come to terms with the situation, to help you cope or even to make new friends who are willing to accept the new you. I have found employees struggle in one  work place and move to another and become over achievers. It was a new context with no past to taint their future that allowed them to spread their wings and fly. It often means expanding your friend circle or at least relooking your old ones more closely. Find your champions and the people who will cheer you on. You need them to help you get to your finish line.


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The Leadership Skills An Entrepreneur Needs to Scale Business.


Leadership is an ability to motivate, influence and lead people in and outside an organization towards a common goal or purpose. It can be learnt or it’s inborn. As a quality, leadership is constantly evolving and for an entrepreneur different leadership characteristics must come to play at different stages of the business growth as presented in Figure 1. I thought I’d explain why these are important leadership skills as an individual you need to be aware and develop.

Stages of Growth

Exhibit 1: The Greiner Model of the five stages of growth[1]

The Skill of Creativity

You cannot start the entrepreneurial journey without the skill of creativity. Sure, maybe many other people have had an idea similar to yours but how you will make it work, convince others of its potential and get people to fall in love with the possibilities is a creative process. If you look at the evolution of the iPod, it was a creative destruction process where Apple brilliantly combined several industries (a music library, computer technology, design) together to reinvent the concept of listening to music.

Leadership at this stage needs you to communication creatively and create strategy. You will have to constantly make do with limited resources and still find ways to make things work (bootstrapping), you will need a minimum viable product, find ways to pivot, basically find ingenious ways to make your idea feasible. More importantly you will have to find your investors and engage them. If you are looking outside your circle of friends and family, you have to catch a potential investor’s eye and help them see an opportunity that only you can grab! Many investors don’t have more time than for a “5 second” pitch.

Gallop[2] in their publication, Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder[3] came to the conclusion that great entrepreneurs are creative thinkers. They “see” things other normal people can’t. And thier vision also gives them the ability to persevere even when others don’t believe there is any purpose to the pursuit.

Interestingly there are differences between Asian leaders and their western counterparts. In a recent HBR Blog, Lagerberg (2014)[4] stated that out of 3400 business leaders surveyed in 45 countries, nine in ten ASEAN leaders believe creativity is important, compared with just 57% in the EU; while 85% of ASEAN leaders think intuition is important, compared to only 54% in the EU.

You cannot survive as an entrepreneur if you cannot be creative – whether it is fire-fighting, bootstrapping, pitching or just giving yourself and your stakeholder the inspiration to go on.

The Skill of Direction

Where are you going? Are you able to point the way? Where do you get your direction? Vichare[5] has a great list to help you find your sense of direction: gut instinct, data analysis, customer validation and mentorship. When you are in the first phase of growth, you are exploring options. While you may know what you want, you still have to be able to articulate your direction in measurable goals. One of the challenges of growth is that direction may get redefined as circumstances may change, more investors come on board, resources change and YOU change.

To have direction, we need a great sense of orientation –: where am I and in which direction am I heading? Bird’s study in 1988[6] found that the entrepreneur’s intension at the inception of an organization set the stage for organizational outcomes like survival, development and change! You need to be ruthless in weeding out multiple prospective businesses as there is just one you! Ask yourself, what makes the most financial sense? What will give you great returns and a long-term market advantage? Once you find yourself financially profitable you can explore more related opportunities. I am a firm believer in synergy. In our research, one of the VCs we approached said “What I have learned after reviewing 19000 startups, meeting over 4000 companies and over 100 investments there is no formula for investment at the seed stage because there are no numbers and tractions for us to look at but the team is everything. If you can measure what they are speaking about and express it in numbers then they are up to something”.

Direction is not just financial objectives, it means limiting your target market (not necessarily geographic markets) so you get maximum spillover, it means articulating this “vision” into a short one sentence with numerical objectives that can be measured and yet are inspiring and achievable. Your employees must know where you want to go. This is not easy. Many Founders (like many managers) don’t know where they are going and confuse employees as they only know what they don’t want. This will lead to low morale. Another VC in our research said, “They [plans] don’t work. A plan again is just guidance, I mean you have to look at your costs that you can’t change, which is your fixed cost. …as long as you can cover your fixed cost, everything else beyond that is your extra effort. Hence though it seems the “plan” itself is not important, the details that go into the plan and how they are communicated are very crucial.”

The Skill of Delegation

You are only one person and unfortunately you will become more inefficient as you handle more responsibilities. The key to building a great organization is delegation, delegation, and delegation! This means hiring or collaborating with the right team! A recent study we just concluded found that the team was an important factor in deciding investor funding.

To build a great team, here are some tips:

  1. Know your weaknesses and hire people for their competencies! You will be surprised inspired people will work for equity! Paul Brown[7], author of Sweat Equity, says “Overqualified people should be hired for each new position, as the company experiences rapid growth. The temptation is to hire cheap.” If you want to know how to balance diversity and similarity in an organization, Smith and Hou suggest redundant heterogeneity where core and second tier teams have same levels of heterogeneity[8].
  2. Make sure every employee believes in your vision (so you have to have one). Believing in a vision is not the same as hiring similar minded people. Research shows diversity is great for strategy so mix up genders, have different skills and backgrounds and have an organizational culture of respect! A study from University of Michigan and Cornell University found that gender diversity companies had 30% better results from IPOs[9]. Just diversity alone made organizations smarter according to Scientific American[10].
  3. Trust your employees but don’t be frighten to have formal performance appraisals. Make sure these are mutually agreed goal posts.
  4. Teams will change as you will require different competencies as the organization evolves. Don’t be afraid to take the tough decision!
  5. Delegation does not mean you have no responsibility – it is still your business and you are accountable to the various stakeholders you work with!
  6. Ensure you invest in good governance to track money and business relationships. It will save you a lot of headache later.

The Skill of Coordination

As you grow in size, you will find silos developing in your organization which leads to inefficiency, miscommunication and loss of trust. Booz, Allen and Hamilton[11] found that at a corporation level only 20-40% of R&D research results successfully ended up on a corporation’s product or service portfolio. Without a vision and strong long-term objectives, as an organization you will find your self disorganized, pursuing too many ideas and depleting resources. If you are a small company, you will find yourself burnt out.

To take better decisions between your diverse teams and key decision makers you need to coordinate[12] between various personalities, cultures, expertise, countries, across management levels and with the intent of facilitating common communication. It is not about putting together an agenda or a weekly scheduled meeting! When there are transformational changes in an organization, you need more than clear objectives and direction, you need a structure to help manage decision making. Too often paralysis sets in through too many meetings that have no outcome except frustration! Sound familiar? However face to face meeting give you access to intuitive information as a study by Forbes Insights[13] confirmed when their respondents said the second most important benefit (77%) of face-to-face meetings was the “ability to read body language and facial expressions”.

A McKinsey & Company Global Survey[14] found that during change, those leaders who created a sense of ownership for their frontline staff showed a 70% percent success rate for transformations. When they allowed their frontline employees to take initiative for change the success rate increased by 1% to 71% but when transformations were coordinated through top and from the bottom, the success rate increased to 79 percent. Gallup[15] found that over 87% of the global work felt that they were disengaged. In a survey of 20,000 employees from 500 organizations, peers, not money was the primary influence on employees and a great motivator according to the 2014 TINYpulse Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report[16]. You need to invest in the creation of a strong corporate culture which embeds your values and vision for the future.

The Skill of Collaboration

According to David Archer[17], one of the authors of   ‘Collaborative Leadership – Building relationships, handling conflict and sharing control.’ collaborative leadership can be defined as “the type of leadership required to get results across internal or external organisational boundaries”. It is about developing working relationship through mediation, influencing, engaging others, agility, patience and empathy. Research by ESI International[18] states that 65.5% of teams feel if they worked more collaboratively they would be more successful.

Strategic Alliances help[19] manage scare resources, get quick access to knowledge, open markets, reduce risks, increase competitiveness and create opportunities a small firm may not be able to do on its own. However as a leader you must know the success rate of international strategic alliances is 30%-50%[20]. PwC[21] state the reasons for failure range from legal issues (14%); poor working relationships (40%) or flawed strategy and business plans (46%).

Robson and Bennett[22] found in their study on collaboration that SMEs could increase turnover through collaboration with or getting external advice on business strategy and staff recruitment from suppliers (at national and international level), customers, lawyers and business friends/relatives. An important part of collaboration is networking[23] whether it is informal or formal relationships. While this is a skill that is useful at all stages, the stronger your relationship, the more access you have to finding opportunities, securing resources and gaining legitimacy which lead to survival and performance. Many leaders forget due to time commitment to network. Face to Face meetings still were the best way to network according to Forbes Insight! Strategic alliances are increasing by 25% pa accounting for as much as 30% in terms of organizational revenue and value, but success rate hovers at 40% or less.[24].

If you as a Founder intend to lead your company into growth and maturity, you need to update your leadership skills. Surprisingly very few Founders were successful as CEOs once their companies went public.


[1] Greiner, L.E. 1972, ‘Evolution and revolution as organizations grow’, Harvard Business Review, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 37-46.

[2] Badal, S.B. (2014), “Great Entrepreneurs Are Creative Thinkers”, Business Journal, August, Available:

[3] Clifton, J and Badal, S. B. (2014), Entrepreneurial StengthsFinder, Gallup Press, New York

[4] Lagerberg, F (2014) HBR, dated 6 June, Available:

[5] Vichare, S (2014), “Entrepreneurs Compass: Where do you get your Direction from?”, Inc 42, Available:

[6] Bird, B. (1988), “Implementing the Entrepreneurial ideas: The Case for Intension”, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 442-453

[7] Brown, P. B., (2013),“Entrepreneurs: Delegate Before You Have To, Say Your Most Successful Peers”, Forbes, Available:

[8] Smith, E. and Hou, Y. (2015 ), “See How the Right Diversity of Skills Can Help Your Team”, Available:

[9] Markowitz, M (2011 ), The Case Against the All-Male Startups, Inc, Available:

[10] Phillips, K (2014), “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter”, Available:

[11] Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Corporate Incubators: Exploiting a Company’s Intellectual Assets, Insights, Vol. 6, No. 3, Available:

[12] THE STRATEGIST’S CHANGE (2014), Think Act, Roland Berger, Available:

[13] Forbes Insights. (2009), “Business meetings: The case for face-to-face, 2-3”, Available:

[14] McKinsey & Company (2010), “What successful transformations share: McKinsey Global Survey results, Insights & Publication”, Available:


[16] “The 2014 TINYpulse Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture Report”, Available:

[17] Archer, D. (2013), “What makes a collaborative leader?”, HR Zone, Available:

[18] ESI International (2011), Available:

[19] Aldakhil, A.M. and Nataraja, S. (2014), “Environmental Factors and Measures that Affect the Success of International Strategic Alliances”, Journal of Marketing and Management, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 17- 37, Available:

[20] Kalmbach, C. Jr., & Roussel, R. (1999). Dispelling the myths of alliances. Retrieved from on 24/09/2013; Kang, N. & Sakai, K. (2000). International strategic alliances: their role in industrial globalization. STI Working Paper Series, 1(5), 2-48.

[21] PwC (2014), Available:

[22] Robson, P.J.A. and Bennett, R.J. (2000 ), Business Advice and External Collaboration, Small Business Economics, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 193-208.

[23] Elfring, T. and Hulsink, W. (2003), “Networks in Entrepreneurship: The Case of High-technology Firms”, Small Business Economics, Vol. 21: 409–422,

[24] Hughes, J and Weiss, J (2007), Simple Rules for Making Alliances Work, Harvard Business Review, Available:

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What Do Investors Value in a Personality Brand?

According to a study by the McGill Consulting Group , a venture backed entrepreneur has a 30% chance of success, a first time entrepreneurs has a 18% or lower chance of success (keeping in mind 90% of new products fail). These numbers may decrease keeping in mind cross-border investments. In 2014 Global M&A touched USD 3.5 trillion, Global Private Equity was USD 561.9 billion, Venture Capital was USD 87.75 billion while companies just raised USD 249 Billion in global IPOs. As a young global entrepreneur how can you ignore the global opportunity for financing and future success? More academic studies are finding a correlation of an entrepreneur’s success with an international orientation. But what are investors looking for in terms of a personal brand? While western investors prefer investing in similar contexts, there are more opportunities in emerging markets – what are they looking for? While for mature businesses, the Business Plan and Idea are a must, in many new ventures, it is the person behind the idea that is the key differentiator between success and failure.

This recent study of ours was initially funded by the Abraaj Group, and looked at what attracts AI or VC funding from a personal brand point of view. This was a collaborative study between the University of Wollongong in Dubai, Zayed University and Emirates Aviation and came from our love for the topic. Was there anyway that we, as academics could teach future entrepreneurs a better way to project their brand and hence get vital seed funding? We spend a lot of time teaching students how to write a strong business plan (there are enough books written on this) but what about other factors that may be intangible and hence harder to capture or teach?

In a study of investment criteria, Kollmann and Kuckertz (2009) find that experience and credence contribute to 80 percent of the weight age in the screening stage (except for investment fit which is 60 percent) and 50 percent at the evaluation stage (except for investment fit at 30 percent). Lot more than a business plan! In a Middle East context, many of our students are shy and won’t project their “strengths” – some cultural reticence here.

We studied 71 transcripts of stories by entrepreneurs and investors of sessions held at the Celebration of Entrepreneurship during the launch of, which identified 12 qualities of the entrepreneur brand personality investors said they were looking for. We then followed this up with a survey which asked venture capitalists, angel investors and private investors listed on largest investor internet directories: Angel List, Crunch Base and VC Gate – how important they thought the quality was (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Importance of the Criteria


The results for the top five qualities are presented in Table 2.

Table 2: Top Entrepreneur Brand Characteristics

Characteristic (Extremely Important: Very Important)
Integrity (80%: 19%)
Willpower/Commitment (64%:30%)
Passion  (55%: 38%)
A-Team (54%: 34%)
Willingness to Learn  (48%: 42%)

Source: Balakrishnan, Michael and Murtaza (2015)

Various words were used to highlight this trait: “honesty”, “transparency”, “trustworthiness” and “governance–driven”. For an investor who commits a sizeable sum of money, integrity is a very important factor, especially as the risk increases with cross-border investments. One VC stated that the entrepreneur should have “…unyielding, unrelenting, unassailable, unquestionable and unequivocal integrity… They must have their focus on, yes, the business plan; but getting there, the planning process (being) right; …. there is no … compromise on integrity. No shortcuts. There is no capacity for …. you (to)… do things in a manner which not completely transparent and governance driven. You cannot avoid that focus even from the beginning.” Another senior member of government stated, “Creating a brand name for yourself… for me, is about integrity, it is about quality, it is about truthfulness, it is about who you are, what you deliver”.

This characteristic was highlighted as “a great way to spark the interest from a potential investor…” Another investor commented “If you make a better person out of yourself it’s because of you, it’s not because of the others, and it’s not at the expense of others…” Trust is found to be a significant factor for starting SMEs that pursue “Schumpeterian” opportunities (Troilo, 2010 ). How did investors realize this in their short pitch sessions and during their meetings with potential investment opportunities? They caught on this through minor discrepancies. One investor had said of a potential client that he had asked him how he calculated the market potential, which was obvious that he did not know. The issue was not that he did not know, that was OK, it was that he lied about a simple thing. The investor said this relationship was not going to work as he would not be able to trust him with his money even though he knew the opportunity for the project was huge. And even worse, the investor reiterated, the entrepreneur did not know on what his assumptions were based.

Many startups do fail when trust is lost between founders. But even worse, at later scale up stages – this “trust” needs to be translated into good governance and policy. Documentation prevents fraud and also helps monitor vial processes. In regions like the Middle East where crisis is a way of life, where multiculturalism and government fluidity means changing policies – this becomes more vital to win investor trust especially if they are from more western backgrounds. Keep an audit trail, be honest – everyone fails and while you can’t know everything you should know vital business stats required to succeed.

This was described “as faith in yourself [when there is no reference]”. Other common definitions were “stubbornness”, “mind fitness”, the “desire to get things done” or the ability when confronted with a roadblock to “figure a way” to proceed.

How do investors figure out you have willpower or you are committed to your cause? First answer is that they will be looking to see how much of your own money you have invested into your “idea”. Why would a stranger put money into something you will not invest in yourself? Your commitment is shown by how much you have invested as resources – time, money and effort into your “big idea”. Very few entrepreneurs can document this. Another reason you did want to document your investment is that it will decide how much capital you require and how many people you’d have to hire. Most entrepreneurs discount their time, which creates havoc for working capital management later on.

Second answer – willpower is the ability to overcome adversity. Many investors had faced times where they thought they failed and what kept them going was mind over circumstance. An investor needs to know you have what it takes to succeed; you wont give up at the first sign of a roadblock and declare bankruptcy! Strangely at the early start-up stage it is the perseverance that counts – how did you pursue the investor to get an appointment, how do you follow up, the stories from your past that show you are not a quitter. Yes your degree, your pedigree (who you know), and your idea all help. But the investor is betting on you – the person.

This was the most fascinating word for me because as one investor and successful entrepreneur of a global company said – “But at the end of the day what do we as investors back? It’s the look in the persons eye, you know, the passion in their heart, their ability to see right from wrong, their ability to focus on hard work, their commitment to make it happen.” Most investors who were themselves entrepreneurs felt strongly that this was an embedded quality of a person. “You can’t teach this…you either have it or you don’t,” one exclaimed. But another offered a proxy for passion – “Excitement”.

The look in a person’s eyes? How do we teach this? Is it internal motivation? Over a decade of teaching and mentoring young salesmen – this is something that grabs you. It is not the gift of gab, it is the look that radiates from you – that shows someone’s soul is burning with the idea. That he will not rest till he succeeds, that he loves what he does and this is personal (the stories you tell back this statement up). This is why many entrepreneurs have a challenge letting go when their firms grow too big. But this is another quality altogether. Passion is contagious – it comes across as your love and belief in what you do and when this excitement rubs on your investor – you have a shared cause! Of course – you can translate what you want to do into value for your investor too. This means researching what is important for your investor. There has to be alignment – or (go back to quality 1), you will fail or be very miserable in a relationship where there is no commonality.

A person with passion will take risks that normal sane people will not. He will put his ego on the backburner and approach those who he considers are the right investor again and again, because he believes they have the right fit. He knows his business and he knows his investor. He knows his impact. You need all three. And you know he is passionate by the team he inspires to follow his idea. Which brings me to the next point.

Too often we tend to hire like-minded people or subservient people because it is simpler. Simpler yes – but it can lead to group think and failure. When an experienced investor (you’d rather have investor experience on your side) invests his money in your idea, he wants to reduce the risk of failure . A strong team ensures success since (1) there will be days everything goes wrong – and they a team member can help pick up the pieces (2) you cannot be an expert in all business disciplines so it frees your time to do what you love most and (3) the opportunities to scale will increase proportionately and time to market is often critical in success – so every hand is helpful.

One Silicon Valley VC who we interviewed eloquently justified this, “You’d rather have an A-team with a B-idea than a B-team with an A-idea. Cause the B-team will screw it up. It’s great if you have an A-team in an A- market, and A-product and A-plan. Never happens. So what are you going to sacrifice? The team that is creative and adaptable, innovative, they will figure it out …Getting to plan B”.

An A-team can increase adaptive capability, leveraging off the strengths of each member. Additionally, each person has its own network, which makes the cumulative social network much larger than a single individual. A study by Hauser et al., (2012) finds that new ventures with productive matched teams overcomes barriers to internationalisation more easily than single person start-ups. Another important point in this is that a VC rarely funds a full project, which means the larger the combined network, the more access to capital. One of the respondents emphasized this aspect in his comment: “What I have learned after reviewing 19000 startups, meeting over 4000 companies and over 100 investments there is no formula for investment at the seed stage because there are no numbers and tractions for us to look at but the team is everything. If you can measure what they are speaking about and express it in numbers then they are up to something.”

Willingness to Learn
Investors are mentors. They bring a lot of experience to new ventures having often learnt through the school of hard knocks. They often have a huge resource of networks and that may mean specialized knowledge and opportunities to open new doors. They want to know the entrepreneur is “teachable” – and this would also translate into being able to adapt when things go wrong, not repeating same mistakes and seizing new opportunities when present. One investor said “If you think of investors as a source of cash, you are missing the point. It’s very rare that all start-up needs (are) cash. And if that is true, that is great. But they tend to be in some other form, of networking, guidance, mentorship expertise, and that where it’s harder to find a match.” Another said, “For me it creates more of a personal bond, vulnerability and openness because there is a little bit of coaching involved in the entrepreneur, mentor-angel relationship. And the question is that is this person coachable? ‘

Many investors will begin a relationship with tight control and as the entrepreneur proves teachable and gains their trust, will reduce the frequency of the meetings and updates. I think it is important to realize, especially in a Middle East context, you don’t lose face when you don’t know how to deal with a situation. More importantly – you need to find the balance. Most investors are extremely busy and perhaps don’t want to be flooded with silly problems that you can solve through your own research. Make use of the investor contacts to find support networks and make sure you acknowledge that this was a valuable resource from your investor. Often the second and third round funding can come from these networks and you want a great reference and reputation going forwards.

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A New Year! New Business Plan!


Planning is about having a map to where you want to go. While it is easy to say where you want to go, it is harder to specify what you have to do to get there and predict how much time it will really take to get there. This is why great strategists are so rare and so valued in the marketplace. They don’t just articulate, they don’t just draw you a picture, they make it come alive!! And this is one reason a lot of big consultancies are being partially paid on the implementation of the plan. So as you go into the New Year (2015) and we face another year of unpredictable challenges, if you are a person of influence – what type of organisational planning do you do?

When it comes to businesses there are three types or organisations that plan:

Type 1: Clueless or Follow-the Herd

It worked so far so let’s push for more of the same: These organizations are very sales driven. They will never think of submitting an annual budget less than the previous year. They push and call these “Stretch goals”. Sure employees need to be supermen and women, which means do more for less. Sometimes they are lucky, markets grow and they reap the benefits and so do the people in the organization – by being in the right place at the right time. But the problem is when things go bad, the people involved never had the capability so it becomes a blame game, cover our footsteps and lets jump ship. This is an organisation mired in mistrust, limited growth opportunities and no long-term continuity (always throw out the old and begin anew). They suffer from “Meeting-itis” a chronic condition of an overdose of meetings where everything gets discussed and recorded in detail but nothing gets done! Unfortunately these organisations make up a majority of the market place!

Type 2: Creative Adapter

For these organisations, every day is a challenge. They get up and begin with “lets see where we are going and what we can do!” These organisations are normally early start-ups with great ambition and not too much baggage. They honestly don’t know what works and so are open to experimentation. Each day is one of exploration. They have lean mean teams where everyone can do a little of everyone else’s job and they are work-a-holics. While this is great in the early years and maybe even successful; for more mature firms this can be an issue especially if this is the cultural norm.The critical issue for these firms is replication. If there is too much experimentation AND they don’t know what works they don’t know what succeeds. They also are so lean and mean that they don’t have the time to mentor and train. This may lead to issues in governance as things grow too quickly as the processes are not put in place. This can limit scale and at some time the energy in the organisation runs out. It flat-lines.

Type 3: The Strategists

These companies have foresight and plan. These are my favourite companies. They have a long term trajectory of sales and profits but more importantly they plan for resources and identify necessary conditions required to achieve the plan. They plan not just for the next year but they look into the future, 5-10 years in advance. Hence they know how to commit to resources NOW. They don’t follow the “Lets hire when the sales come in”. They hire for the sales to come in. They don’t wait for the market to grow, they grow the market. Their culture is based on communication, collaborate and co-ordinatation. These companies embrace management principles of effectively and efficiently. It’s not about how much time you spend in the office, how many hours you clock or when your boss leaves but how much work you get done and how effectively. It is not always about the paperwork to make employees “earn” their salary, it is about paying to use talent and hence optimising their role of contributing to the organisation.  It is about taking risks and accepting the fallouts of the consequences. It is about being open as diversity of people and ideas improves plans! It is about rewarding  great mentors (as opposed to rewarding  fault finders).

So wish you all a wonderful New Year and may this year be one where as one world we work towards creating a positive change in the 7+ billion people on this planet we call home.

Posted in business process, culture, leadership, productivity, sales, Strategy, top management, work culture | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Are you an Influencer? – Here are some things to think about.

An influencer is a person who has the ability to act like a force producing desired effects on the actions, emotions and  opinions of others around them. Ideally the force should not be coerced. So if you are stripped of all your powers associated with your position – are you still able to influence?

  1. Do you have the ability to influence others? What would be the purpose?

A study of 27.4 Million Yahoo users found that maybe the traditional models of influence overestimated its power with regards to peer influence by 300–700%. The researchers in question, attributed this to homophily (like attracts like) which according to them explained over 50% of the perceived behavioral contagion. So the question above needs to be modified to say – are you able to influence others who are not like you? Especially in the workplace, organizational culture can sometimes be a great motivator to encourage conformism in behaviors and attitudes! But to succeed in a diverse organisation that spans the globe – you need to influence more than similar people.

If you want to influencer others – what is it that you want to influence? Their actions, their way of thinking or do you want an emotional response? Sometimes this means you need to be prepared to role model what you want them to do. There was a time 20 years ago (maybe still) that most aspiring new bankers would adopt golf because it was a hallmark of success. Was this because their senior managers played golf? Did it help networking and open the doors of influence? I quote from a woman of influence, “It’s still a great business skill to have,” she said, “and it might be even more helpful as a woman in business. I get a lot of invitations to play on scrambles teams, and I’ve made a lot of business connections and relationships because of golf.” Golf put people from different organisations and levels on a neutral platform (the golf course) and gave an opportunity to dialogue.

With social media there are many visualization tools you can use to look at your networks. In fact till recently LinkedIn had an awesome tool called IMaps which they discontinued in September this year. These tools can give you an idea of your networks, but not necessarily how far you can extend your influence. To break into new communities of networks you need to find a way to engage with their influencers. But before doing this you should ask your self why you’d want to do this? Networks are like brain cells, if you don’t use them, they die down.

  1. How far is your influencer reach? Increase your spheres of influence.

With social media there are many tools available to measure your “influence” – like the Klout Score (below). If you are an academic, we look at citation numbers. As a politician it the votes that count and maybe the bills you pass. As a leader…..I’m really not sure. There is an interesting paper by LeMay and Ellis that focuses on qualities of  leaders for implementing initiatives like healthcare: scanning, planning, focusing, organizing, aligning/mobilizing, implementing, inspiring, monitoring/evaluating. Other important factors are employee engagement (Harter et al., 2009) and communication skills (Attridge, 2009). This sounds great but are these skills enough to influence people virally?

A study by James Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis shows that personal influence is a short-range phenomenon that can dissipate entirely at three degrees of separation. They found this was applicable to feelings, health and behaviors like generosity! Over 20 years they studied 5,000 individuals and found happiness is contagious to three degrees, lasting up to one year. The results of who you can  influence by being happy is also very interesting. In order of impact:

  • for next door neighbors – 34 percent increased chance of being happy;
  • a friend living within a mile has a 25 percent;
  • siblings living within one mile have a 14 percent increased chance;
  • a friend of that friend experiences a nearly 10 percent chance of increased happiness; a co-resident spouse experiences an 8 percent increased chance;
  • and the friend of *that* friend (3 degree) has a 5.6 percent increased chance.

Luckily sadness does not mimic happiness! You can read more in their book “Connected” or listen to their TED talk. Also this study did not talk about employees. All the above people have a relationship with the influencer. So with your employees – do you have a relationship? What type? Obligatory (Siblings and spouse – which we take for granted) or more like the friends and neighbours (we do have fun with them occasionally and more open to helping). Think about it.

If you want to influence enough people so that your idea goes viral, you may need to ask a few questions. How homogenous is your network? If it is full of similar people, it maybe a disadvantage. Great leaders are comfortable in a variety of settings and with different people. They fail when they lock themselves in ivory towers as they reduce their spheres of influence.

  1. How can you create influence? Communication is key!

In her TED talk, Nancy Duarte shares tips on how to structure great talks – on how to change the world with an idea. Communication is the key and the way you do it is by incorporating presentations with a story. She recommends having a three act structure (Beginning, Middle and End). Making the audience the hero of the story (as opposed to the presenter). The presenter is merely the mentor helping the hero into his adventure (adopting the idea). The presenter structures his presentation between What is and What could be, using the resistance to the idea to narrow the gap for adopting the idea, modeling the response he requires from the audience, and using a variety of presentations modes. The final part is a call to action ending in a world of new bliss (your vision which hopefully by now most of the audience shares) – and the audience is part of the solution. Ingrid Sundberg’s blog has some great ideas (borrowed from dramatics – see Figure below).

Storytelling has always been one way to call people to action. Using metaphors, repetition and putting the idea in relevant terms to the audience makes all the difference. It must be different, according to Seth Godin – I guess – simply put it must transcend the banal. Part of this means giving hope…seeing what could be. Edi Rama, who as a mayor of Tirana (now he is Prime Minister of Albania) tells of how he changed a challenged neighborhood by instilling pride in his citizens by transforming public spaces with ….paint. Other leaders have done the same – whether it was social change, organizational change or nation-level change. And you don’t need heaps of money!

To go viral according to Youtube’s Kevin Allocca (in this TED talk) you need three key ingredients:

  1. Adoption by a tastemakers (an influencer picked it up),
  2. communities of participation (the people have to engage – can’t be one way communication)
  3. and unexpectedness (transcend the banal – cut through the clutter)

And there are tricks to catch attention. You need to keep the idea simple and short. You could lose 44% of your audience in the first 60 seconds according to a survey published in The New York Times. The message must have social currency. It must connect with the audience and get reaction that have similarity, reciprocity, and authority according to Dean Rieck  in his article on Social Proof.

There are many examples of viral movements– like the Arab SpringFerguson, Hong Kong, etc. Hashtags  according to Suey Park are statements  “…to remember we are not alone — or crazy — but instead part of a collective struggle.” But with a lot of things that go viral, timing is everything and sustainability is where the power is. Is your influence long-term?

We all have the capacity to influence. Some us us want to change the world for the better. It is not easy, you will make mistakes but if you believe in what you are doing, you will gather momentum and create great change.

Posted in Employees, Entrepreneruship, Influence, leadership, Networking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Corporate Responsibility: How values can guide your organizational activities

So much has been said on stakeholder management, corporate responsibility (CR), CSR and community impact that it can fill volumes of books. Still something is missing even though there are more standards available to guide new start-ups like the GRI, the UN Global Compact, OECD Guidelines for MNEs, ILO Conventions, ISO14001 and the ISO 26000 Standard on Social Responsibility. Below are some key issues that you might like to consider whether you are a startup or you want to embed CR to create  societal impact. So can your corporate responsibilities reflect your organizational values? Perhaps these questions will help:

1. Is your CR and CSR related to your business purpose?

I often find a disconnect, between firm activities and firm business. Perhaps for greater synergy you need to find a connect between the things you do (marketing activities, CSR etc), the things you sell and the things you embrace as part of your culture. Here is one example.

If your business is related to finance or better still banking – do your teach children financial responsibility? Have you as a CSR initiative sponsored children’s accounts? Yes, it is a loss of revenue but these could be your future customers and if you think of it as a CSR initiative maybe the cost is justified? HSBC encourages MyMoney a bank account for children aged 7-17 and the opening account amount can be as little as £10. Debt is a big problem for the younger generation currently. According to Moody Analytics in a recent WSJ report, the millennial generation (adults under the age of 35) have a savings rate of negative 2%! When your define your corporate responsibility, it is also about creating synergy and having a razor sharp focus about what is important to you.

Sometimes there is conflict of interest among a portfolio of products. One of my students brought this up in my class and she was spot on. For example Dove  promotes real beauty and the need to embrace yourself as you are. One of their commitments is Dove Self Esteem project which was started in 2004. I quote from their website: “Dove global research shows: Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and anxiety about appearance begins at an early age. 6 out of 10 girls are so concerned with the way they look, that they actually opt out of participating fully in daily life – from going swimming and playing sports, to visiting the doctor, going to school or even offering their opinions. At Dove we believe that women and girls of all ages should see beauty as a source of confidence, not anxiety. And when women and girls choose not to participate fully in life, society as a whole misses out. So we’re on a mission to help the next generation of women develop a positive relationship with the way they look – helping them raise their self-esteem and realize their full potential.” Fantastic! Love this. But then another product of theirs is Fair & Lovely  which focuses on becoming fairer to be more confident (interesting must read blog by Pradipti Jayaram) . Both are from the same company.  Unilever has tried to counter balance this crticism with the Fair & Lovely Foundation which since 2003 till date has given 1000 scholarships.

2. Do you practice what you preach? Is your CR applicable closer to home?

Corporate responsibility starts at home – in your own company. This means your employees. Nestle has as part of its performance appraisal a feedback from subordinates called “Nestle’s Practice What you Preach” or “Walk the Talk”. This is better than a 360 feedback because it comes back to values. If your organization values recycling, as an employee or manger – do you? If you say your products are made from disadvantaged communities do you also work with them actively rather than just procure? Do you employ if feasible, the disadvantaged, intern employee children, champion women, commit to families etc? Research shows loyal employees are great brand ambassadors! 

3. How deep is the impact with your communities?

During the Great 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Toyota was faced with crippling costs and an impossible situation – further most parts for Toyota’s North American-built vehicles came from about 500 suppliers in Japan. Mr. Fujio Cho is the Chairman of the Toyota Motor Corporation and he addressed us in Nagoya shortly after. My respect for the company went up considerably as he announced how Toyota survived this difficult time – by managers taking a paycut (unheard of!), employees working on 50% salary to ensure their entire staff could be employed (not a single retrenchment!) and focussing on rebuilding supply chains and their community of suppliers whose businesses were destroyed by the tsunami. They succeeded in doing all this and more that year! (OK I know about recalls but that comes from chasing market share – another blog). Enriching communities is not just outward! This was the  bottom up approach. One of Toyota’s guiding principles in times of crisis is “genchi genbutsu”, or “go and see.” As senior managers ideally it would be great to understand if your impact is superficial or deep, and more important if your business impact is  positive and sustainable for communities you interact with.

4. Is your CR long-term focussed?

We can’t solve all the world’s problems. I think social responsibility is really about a long-term focus and being relevant. I’d recommend reading this great article by Michael Hobbes about the unintended negative consequences of doing good. Doing good means you are not creating a dependency, keeping your paradigm relevant to that place and culture and it means empowerment of the community you are targeting. Remember some change is generational and needs commitments of a lifetime. Also money is the easiest thing to give, much harder to give are your employees time, and skills. How committed as an organization are you? I love some of the work Aramex has been doing with Ruwwad. Fadi Ghandour, Founder Aramex and Ruwwad explains what they did with a marginalized community and how they also sparked entrepreneurship to create change. Amazing – but I love the fact that many champions and volunteers in the community come from Aramex. It took time to win trust with the community and Fadi was particular that the ownership for the projects needed to come from the community. Aramex CEO Hussein Hachem states “We are part of the fabric of society, we are on the ground, we are local.

So next time you decide as part of CSR to sponsor a school, think how long do you want the kids  to go to school? If you stopped the next year – do they have to stop? What was the purpose of sending them to school for one year? Wasn’t that more cruel to let them experience something they cant experience again? Get involved as an organisation – your commitment to values means you live, breathe, and operate on these guiding principles.

  1. Finally does your CR create ripples?

In a previous book I wrote about turning simple CSR activities into  Corporate Community Engagement and Empowerment activities. Communities could be both internal and external. Engagement and Empowerment can look at people (individuals, societies, governments, industry, local – regional-worldwide) and environment (physical workplace, ecological, mental). Corporate Community Engagement and Empowerment metrics can be defined at following levels: (1) individual empowerment or collective empowerment (2) immediate impact or sustainable impact (3) behavior change or attitude change.

There is a need to look at engagement because to help at the community level you need to understand the challenges of the community and be able to come up with relevant solutions. Empowerment was important because if the goals were  short term, in the long-term, we would no you won’t be  able to change attitudes. Behaviors are easily modified with incentives. Attitudes take education, but they will last long-term not only modifying behaviors for this generation but influencing the next. This requires corporate dedication. While financial metrics is important we still have no measures for corporate heart, and this will be the pulse or driver of change. Down with CSR – up with Corporate Community Engagement and Empowerment! Remember the ripple only begins from the point of impact and then spreads outwards!

Posted in Corporate Responsibility, CSR, Doing Good, Education, Entrepreneurship, leadership, leveraging competencies; competitive advantage, PEOPLE MANAGEMENT, purpose, Social Reponsibility, Stakeholder Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment