Five Takeaways from the EO @ Harvard Entrepreneurial Strategy Program

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Wendy van Ierschot - angel investor, keynote speaker, entrepreneur and thought leader on the human side of business
 

Every leader wants to keep learning from the best. And it’s a big plus if you can do that learning in an inspiring environment. That’s why I was delighted to take part recently in “EO with Harvard Business School Executive Education: Inspiring Entrepreneurial Strategy”, which was designed for members of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs. EO helps leading entrepreneurs learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and connections to experts.

The program was so effective, in so many ways, that I decided to try to boil down the plethora of insights I picked up in it to five takeaways and to share these here. I think any manager, entrepreneur or founder can benefit from them in one way or another. So here goes.

Takeaway 1: Focus on the speed of learning

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos used one indicator for success in his sources: the speed at which we learn. The faster we can learn, he believes, the better we will be able to meet our clients’ needs, the happier our teams will be, and the higher our brand value. Of course, this is all much easier said than done.

Here at VIE People, we’ve decided to make it possible to measure the speed at which we learn. How we will do that we still need to figure out but focussing on fast learning is what we are doing already.


Takeaway 2: Develop all the entrepreneurial roles you need in order to scale up your business

John Kotter and Abraham Zalaznik have posited four entrepreneurial roles that they say are crucial to success. It’s important to determine who needs to play which roles in your business, and in what sequence. (Everyone will eventually need to master all of them.)
In the start-up phase, the Operator/Controller and External-Relationship Builder are crucial. Later on, when your most valuable player flies the coop without warning, the Mentor/Capability Builder and Innovator/Strategist roles will help your company survive and thrive.

Kotter & Zalanik’s Four Roles for Business Success

 


Here at VIE People, we will be focusing each day on building capabilities within the organization, and on its strategy. At the moment, my own time is eaten up by management tasks or by having coffee with nice, friendly and often inspiring people who operate outside my focus areas, so I can try to help them. Just as often, I spend a lot of time also being nice, but not really helping that much at all.


Takeaway 3: Look for what is changing in patterns and trends

Instead of focusing on what is happening in the world in order to be able to anticipate and understand patterns and trends, the focus should be on what is changing in those patterns and trends?—?not quite the same thing. Indeed, it’s not the same thing at all. In human resources (HR), for instance, looking at what is happening now means, among other things, being aware of, and having a solid grasp of, the new HR technologies that are being or will be developed. By contrast, understanding what is changing in the underlying HR patterns and trends means being able to see that more and more developers and tech people are focusing their attention on this domain, which has historically been run and supported primarily by psychologists and administrative staff.

This new focus on ongoing change promises to bring about a major shift that will increase acceptance of HR as a general matter.


Takeaway 4: Top-notch learning makes all the difference

Top-notch learning is crucial both to me and to my staff. When I worked for Shell, I enjoyed the Young Managers Program at INSEAD in Fontainebleau. And in a way, the Harvard Program was a continuation of this journey. I’ve also realized that learning from the best is making a real difference to the ways in which VIE People is growing and developing. It can be a big investment?—?but it’s well worth it.


Takeaway 5: Inclusiveness is a resource opportunity

The value of inclusiveness may not be so evident to many entrepreneurs. But one area in which it has proven its value is in decision-making. Consider, for instance, two mini-scenarios:

  1. You’re a project manager, and you think the daily stand-up should focus more intently on the backlog of unresolved issues. You kick off the stand-up one Monday by saying as much, and everyone nods and not much changes.

  2. You think the stand-up should focus on the backlog, so you say so, but you also add, “So what does everyone think? Am I missing something? Is there another approach we could be taking? Any and all ideas are welcome.” And after a brief but intense discussion that turns into a mini-brainstorming session (so the stand-up runs over), it turns out that, while focusing on the backlog is all well and good, what’s needed is much greater clarity around ownership of tasks, and a tighter focus on deadlines. The team acts on its own insights and a lot changes for the better. When you agree on that, again ask: who sees a different angle to this challenge

  3. In mini-scenario 2, it’s not that the focus on the backlog, which you more or less gavelled through all on your own in 1, was entirely wrong?—?it’s that it was woefully incomplete. And this meant that it remained unclear what the fixes were, and how they could be best be implemented.

At VIE People, we now make sure that inclusiveness is a watchword at meetings, both internal and customer-facing. And let’s be clear: it’s not (just) about being nice?—?it’s also about making meetings more effective in identifying feasible solutions.



Oh, and one more thing, in addition to the five takeaways above: A program such as EO with Harvard can be counted on to offer a plethora of insights. Insights encourage reflection?—?but what counts is what you do next. Follow-up?—?crafting and implementing effective solutions?—?is key. Watch this space for more on that score.

In the meantime?—?and in the spirit of inclusiveness?—?we’d love to hear from you with your own insights, whether these have been prompted in part by any of the above takeaways or are based on your own experiences or both.

In closing, I’d like to acknowledge, and thank, the following members of the Harvard faculty whose insights formed the basis for the above takeaways. The links will take you to each professor’s page at Harvard Business School, so you can find out more about the work they do.

  • Lynda M. Applegate, Professor of Business Administration. Lynda’s research and publications focus on the challenges of building new ventures and leading radical business innovations in the face of significant industry, technological, capital market, and regulatory turbulence.
  • William R. Kerr, Professor of Business Administration. William’s research focuses on how companies and economies explore new opportunities to generate growth.
  • Frances Frei, Professor of Technology and Operations Management.
  • Her research investigates how leaders create the conditions for organizations and individuals to thrive by designing for excellence in strategy, operations, and culture.
  • Shikhar Ghosh, Professor of Management Practice, and successful entrepreneur for the last 20 years. Shikhar has been the founder and CEO or Chairman of eight technology-based businesses. Business Week has named him one of the best entrepreneurs in the US, Forbes has called him one of the ‘Masters of the Internet Universe’, and he’s been featured in Fortune as the CEO of one of the 10 most innovative companies in the United States.

Wendy van Ierschot
Angel investor, keynote speaker, entrepreneur and thought leader on the human side of business

Wendy is one of Europe’s most prolific angel investors in HR start-ups. She believes that all companies can achieve a success culture at the crossroads of Adaptive HR, HR Tech tools, and personal development. She brings this vision to life as an entrepreneur with her various companies and shares her insights in her keynotes.

wendy@viepeople.com

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