Productivity is one of the great challenges of economic development – how do we raise the level of productivity in individual businesses and across the UK as a whole? Through the work that I have been progressing on a sport and physical activity growth plan with Innovas for Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership and Leicestershire and Rutland Sport, I have been thinking about the links between sport and productivity.
I know when I am really busy, taking time out for a 30 minute run, reinvigorates me and allows fresh thinking. I am more productive than I would have been, had I sat at my desk for those 30 minutes. Even if it is just a walk round the block we often feel better for that fresh air and moderate exercise.
But this is not often talked about as a key factor in business productivity. Productivity is considered in terms of business culture, management approaches, processes and systems, ICT and the buildings in which we work. However for most of us, our health drives our productivity and sport and physical activity are key determiners of our physical and mental wellbeing – and how we perform each day.
In speaking to many stakeholders about the sport and physical activity growth plan, there are lots of people out there seeing this relationship and trying to push it forward through engaging businesses and persuading them of the positive impact on the bottom line. It has yet to take hold with businesses more broadly but lots of initiatives are happening. More measurement of impact is needed to generate greater engagement.
Colleges are seeing sport as key in supporting greater employability – it offers leadership opportunities, work experience and motivation to young people. This is another way of seeing greater productivity in the economy overall – engagement in physical activity – and skills development.
It feels to me that despite the barriers of there being too many initiatives and engagement is always difficult, looking at sport and physical activity to add value to the economic growth of UK PLC as well as the health of the nation would be a worthwhile step to take.
Which are the best questions to ask to add value? Through Inspiring Partnerships, I am committed to offering a new insight or connection at each meeting. As an external partner, organisations are seeking new insight and expertise from me. The best value from my recent coaching experience with Bird Table is the fellow participants and coach asking me challenging questions. I hope, that in economic development, I offer information and insight but so often the best way to work is to ask the right questions and the staff, within the organisation, are then empowered to find the solutions to their dilemmas and ones that they are best placed to implement.
The trick then is being able to ask the best questions and often that is about having a fresh perspective. It is also about really listening and immersing yourself in the topic and your client’s issues. I am developing some key content to ensure I explore all bases with clients and ask the best suite of questions to provoke thought and new solutions. I’d be keen to have your feedback as the definitive list emerges. The current questions are:
- Engage positively. To have a external partner look at your work is a challenging process and can be uncomfortable. To make the most of the feedback, any officers engaged need to be thinking positively. Recognise the effort that has already been applied, use respect, humour and teamwork to move the content forward.
- Understand the story first – ask the officers to summarise the work so far. The story from their perspective is critical and the element they are aiming to deliver. This gives them the opportunity to share ideas and lead the discussion.
- Always ask open questions – don’t ask questions that require yes or no answers but ask why, how, when will that be delivered? Challenge the participants to think really hard about the activity they are planning.
- Challenge assumptions – how did you reach that conclusion? Can you develop that further? What is the natural conclusion of that? What is the impact?
- Ask, don’t tell! Avoid giving solutions – help the the participants find their own solutions. How can you solve that? What is the first step? Who needs to be involved to move that forward?
- Don’t feel pressure to fill the silence. Thinking time is vital. Let people answer the question and don’t fill the void. The question is a tool to provoke an answer that is owned by the person developing that answer. It may take time.
- The stupid questions are great – they are often the questions that need to be asked. Why do you do that? “Because we always have” comes the answer. It needed to be said but only someone external can say it.
- Being a devil’s advocate is another route? Ask the “what if” questions to really stress test a proposal. If that wasn’t funded, what would happen? If you can only do half of that project, what would you do?
So that’s my 8 tips on questions to get the best value from a discussion. What do you think?
I have never visited Northern Ireland but have been inspired this week by some of the great work that is going on supporting start up businesses. I have been lucky enough to being doing some research for a local authority on best practice to achieve high start up and low failure rates and was directed to look at Belfast.
The dimensions of good practice in business support must include:
- Supporting a culture of entrepreneurship – developing a visible presence – online and physically, local champions, developing multi-sector business growth based partnerships, working with education and training providers
- Training & information – utilising what is already available and co-ordinating it effectively, maximising online access, face to face groups and the 1:1 offer, recognising some groups may need different help e.g. social enterprises, women
- Finance – access to finance is key and may include a range of grants and loans of finances, terms, signposting, knowledge of finance, presentation skills in seeking finance – working with both supply (banks etc) and demand side (business)
- Space – business need office or work space, virtual and real incubators can have a supporting role and focus on a specific sector
Belfast City Council have an excellent online portal for advice and support http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/business/businessinformation/startabusiness.aspx
They offer a range of approaches including mentoring, workshops, visits, business plan development and networking events. It feels like there is something for everyone!
They have specific approaches for craft and food, high growth businesses and with Undergraduates aiming to become entrepreneurs. The website has a great case study of Lily Pink Bakery and how her business has grown from a hobby with support of the Market Start Up programme.
In the city centre, they have the City Business Hub open 5 days a week as a drop in point and also offering hot desking, advice and conference and meeting accommodation alongside a workshop programme.
Signposting to finance and business plan development is a part of the advice and information package.
It feels like such a “can do” and “business friendly” approach – I’m off to find a flight!
Have a great week!