Road to Damascus

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. Denis Waitley

road to Damascus

The Business Gateway says it isn’t performing and Scottish Enterprise is on the rack over the Intermediate Technology Institute (ITI) initiative. What’s happened?

What do business, politicians, Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway have in common? They all want to build a strong economy based on successful companies generating wealth and jobs. Each in their own way invests in Scotland.

A piece in the last edition of Scot-Buzz started me thinking; always a dangerous thing… Where might things be going right? This is a tad different to the usual strident cry for investigation, retribution and reorganisation. Of course it’s important to get to the bottom of screw-ups, and we don’t want to see them reproduced in future. Do we also want to get to the bottom of successes and ensure they continue and adapt to the prevailing environment?

On September 10 it was reported that ‘Scottish Enterprise cash delivers five-fold return’, great news. Then, along with the good news, some painful history.

A somewhat buried body

Err, that’ll be the Intermediate Technology Institutes (ITI) project…

On June 9 this year a report indicated far from wondrous performance in The intellectual property plan that ran out of ideas. Ouch! And looking further back the story was making headlines in March. For some reason the information didn’t cause trouble at the time.

Doubtless the ITI problem would have been re-interred if it hadn’t cropped up as a new political hot-potato; reported by Bill Jamieson last week. There is a so far overlooked matter, they say, of £230 million of investment achieving a return of £600K in the ITI projects. And a political voice demanding an investigation by Audit Scotland. It is worth noting is the ITI project ended in 2010.

Alive and not (yet) buried

Then, as political storm clouds gathered, Business Gateway reported it is performing less well at attracting businesses than last year. Could this have something to do with 300 small firms in limbo for 18 months or so, unable to justify promotion (my word) to Account Managed status with SE?

Oh dear,’ you may say.

Wonderful,’ I say.

Business Gateway held its hand up, owns a problem and says it has plans fix things. Isn’t that a critical factor in being business-like? Facing the actualité and doing something about it.

Rumbling along on a road to Damascus

Judging by the wee political frisson reported by Bill Jamieson, a further transformative moment could be on the way for both Scottish Enterprise and, potentially, Business Gateway. This could be destructive if it becomes a full-blown political turkey shoot. Alternatively it could provide a positive and continuing catalyst for openness, ongoing improvement and further change. Who say SE haven’t been on the road to Damascus for a while (Assad notwithstanding).

What do I mean by Road to Damascus? …a blinding revelation or event that changes a person or organisation for good. That could be a vicious politician driven bloodbath wasting oodles of human energy, driving an organisation to the logic of cover-ups and worse. Or, could it be an opportunity to get even more on top of delivering the best possible service for our country.

Cynical friend

I bounced my thoughts off a person I know and trust. She said: we’ve had the trams, we’ve had the Scottish Parliament building and this is just another public sector financial screw-up. They’ll expect us to accept it and move on. She’s not happy and cynical a stakeholder who needs to be convinced. I don’t think she’s alone.

SE and BG exist to stimulate commercial enterprises from start-up to high growth, profitable, job-creating undertakings. They push the fundamentals of business creation and growth. Only recently, BG produced a Business Gateway App for the iPhone and iPad to help individuals and companies get on the ladder. At first glance it appears to be a handy helper. Neat idea, thanks guys.

Do SE and Business Gateway know how?

Could it be that by simply applying their knowledge to themselves these agencies can (perhaps already do to an extent) fix the problems which lead to failed projects like ITI? Reading some of commentary, there are criticisms and concerns out there, that suggest there are gaps in some of the metrics and mechanisms, and ‘avoidances’ here and there. These can be fixed.

One can’t escape the fact that £230 million is a big number, spent with a hiding the facts whimper, not a splendid bang of success. However, the events are in the past: 2007 when a reportedly tough reorganisation took place (and a run up to that), and, 2010 when it mostly stopped. What lessons have been learned already? What action is ongoing to ensure it won’t happen again?

The political demand for audit

Of course, it’s right our politicians are concerned to investigate and learn the lessons of failure and so on. It’s kind of surprising that the ITI horse appears to have started galloping in 2007 before finally bolting in 2009. The timing of the demand for scrutiny is interesting to say the least. How many of the original perpetrator s are still in SE?

If the decision is to go ahead with a full audit, can this be tempered by a reluctance to throw high performing babies out with the ITI bathwater. Can the circle be squared? Of course it can.

Punishment all there is?

My point, here, is not to focus solely on punishment. Let’s stimulate and challenge these organisations to be effective in their response to their market place as any viable commercial business needs to be. They evidently apply such criteria to others: their elite Account Managed businesses and the 300 not-so-high performers stuck in their ‘pipeline’ for 18 months and more.

As Steven Vass reported in the Herald in March this year:

Paul Lewis, managing director at SE, who has responsibility for the commercialisation programme, said performance had significantly improved in recent years, and added: ‘The return on our investment [in terms of 1wider economic impact] is now expected to exceed £8 for every £1 into new companies for the 10-year period up to 2017.’

I can’t help wondering how the key performance criteria break down between now and 2017. What outputs, measures and milestones are in place? What changes are in hand to support the 300 businesses stuck in limbo? These and other key issues can be clarified and nailed to masts, backed by clear, honest and timely reporting.

Can we support and defend Scottish Enterprise and Business Gateway as they become the embodiment of what they espouse? I can’t wait to see.

First published in Scot-Buzz September 2013

© Mac Logan

Mac Logan lives near Dunfermline. He is an author with wide experience in business, start-ups and organisations. For may years he specialised in OD, Team & Personal Development… he cares more for results than theory. He writes The Angels’ Share thriller series, published by Fantastic Books Publishing, and will soon release a series of non-fiction books on the human realities of work and performance.

You can contact Mac here. Follow Mac on Twitter: @MacLogan_writes

1 What is ithis? How is it measured? Is it clearly understood and accepted by the stake-holders… including the public?