Michelle Mone - Here's how to make Britain a 'nation of shopkeepers' again
Michelle Mone has been asked by David Cameron to revitalise small British business, in a role reminiscent of Mary Portas' high street scheme. Ramona da Gama offers some tips for success
Lingerie boss Michelle Mone has been appointed as David Cameron’s ‘entrepreneurship tsar’. She is expected to encourage benefit claimants, women, young people, disabled people and ex-offenders to become entrepreneurs, find out why people from disadvantaged backgrounds are no longer setting up small businesses and help Britain become a ‘nation of shopkeepers’ again.
So far, so encouraging.
But the question on everyone’s lips is this: will she be more successful than the government scheme to which Mary Portas’s name was attached? How can she succeed (albeit with an expanded brief), where the ‘Queen of Shops’ didn’t?
Portas was handed a similar role in 2011 – to carry out a review of the British high street, revitalise it and stop the rot (why is it always women handed the ‘shopkeeping’ roles?)
Except, it didn’t work. Ten out of the 12 towns selected by the Government to share in £1.2 million of taxpayers’ cash, as part of this pilot scheme, actually saw their high streets shrink.
Why? Portas says the Government was slow in releasing the funds and that she didn’t have control over the implementation of her plans.
However, growth is not only about money. It’s about having ‘transformational leaders’ – those who are able to create a vision for change and then guide that change, through a combination of inspiration, empowerment and buy-in.
Too often we believe that the fuel to creating growth and establishing successful brands is the finance. It’s really a lot more than that.
I sometimes wonder whether this previous Government scheme failed because local businesses and stakeholders were being ‘told’ what they should do.
People buy in to their own ideas – and as a result they will do anything to make them succeed, failure is not an option. But being told to implement someone else’s idea, makes it very easy to abdicate responsibility.
Indeed, some stakeholders have since blamed Portas, essentially saying ‘she failed us’. While former high street bosses and retail experts criticised the proposals in her report.
When writing her report for the Government did she truly listen to them? Was she confident in their ability to succeed? Did she work with all the stakeholders in those towns to understand their vision for growth, and ask them to set their own goals?
Were they asked what training, coaching and other personal development skills would be needed, to implement the strategy? Were they coached to understand what to do to avoid the pitfalls and challenges on the way.
Did she really identify with their fears, challenges and aspirations for the future? And then when the Government implemented her report, did it do the same?
Successful people such as Mary (and Michelle) are appointed by governments to share their thinking. Politicians believe that what they did for their own businesses; they can do for others.
In my opinion, they are too far removed from their humble beginnings. Even those with the best intentions, have a tendency to sit in their ‘ivory towers’ telling others what to do and how they themselves came to find success themselves (a model that won’t work for everyone).
The ideas they come out with are so far removed from those at grassroots level that most of the stakeholders rarely believe in them.
It’s very easy to talk about success; but very hard to achieve it. Failure of schemes like Portas’ happen because those leaders tell, and don’t ask. They don’t empower, they don’t get buy in from the people they need to implement it on the ground, and more importantly they fail to understand the needs of those they are trying to help.
Michelle Mone’s new role is to help those in our society who are most disadvantaged, particularly small business in deprived areas. She’s a real success story, having left school at 15 and now worth a reported £20m thanks to her lingerie company Ultimo. I believe she can also succeed in this role. But only if she puts the work in now.
Will she be able to truly speak to people on benefits? Or ex-offenders and young women who may feel that they have a rough deal? Is she now so successful that they will not, in turn, be able to relate to her?
Michelle’s lifestyle is far removed from those she will be trying to help. If she wants something, it’s easy for her to have it. Her greatest challenge, then, is to be able to change the mindset of those people she is going to be working with. If she wants to help Britain become a nation of shopkeepers again, she needs to help them believe they too can achieve the same privileges.
I have been coaching and mentoring entrepreneurs and SME’s (small and medium enterprises) at a grassroots level for many years, helping them to grow their businesses. I work on the Government’s growth accelerator programme. So, I really wish Michelle all the very best. I do want her to succeed and avoid the sort of criticism Mary Portas found herself at the receiving end of.
After all, wouldn’t it be fabulous give disadvantaged people in high employment areas in Britain, the self-motivation and tools to come up with great ideas and succeed in setting up their own businesses?
So Michelle, here are some tips for success:
Be a Transformational Leader
Identify with the stakeholders, create a joint vision with those you’re trying to guide and make sure everyone buys-in to it
Connect with their sense of identity
It’s easy for you to tell people what success means to you. But how will this relate to them? Ask them how they feel they can achieve it. Understand their fears and challenges. How they really feel.
To take ownership of their ideas by making them take responsibility for their own goals and successes
Success is about delegation, so put a support structure in place. Create a leadership team from grassroots level, who understand and believe in the vision for the programme, and who can be inspirational role models that those on the programme can relate to
Success is about time
Don’t rush into trying to make this succeed. Time will be needed to find those who are ready to join in, be trained-up and create short, mid and long-term visions for growth. Create a strategy before implementation. A step-by-step approach is much more likely to succeed
Ask don’t tell
It’s very easy to tell small business owners and entrepreneurs that success is about passion, hard work, and the big dream; being positive and focusing on the future.
But to help them succeed and create sustainable businesses we should be using coaching. So ask them what they are passionate about, how hard they are prepared to work, why they need to be positive, and how they think focusing on the future will help them. It’s easy to talk about it – not to easy to do it. This programme will only succeed if you’re prepared to help them to help themselves and truly dedicate yourself to helping Britain become a nation of shopkeepers. Good luck.