Entrepreneurship Skills for Growth-Orientated Start-Ups – By Michael Oludare
Fueled by the mass adoption of digital technologies, the globalization of markets, and demographic shifts, the world of work is rapidly changing, hence very instructive to growth-oriented start-ups.
The days of learning as one distinct phase of life are long over; today, talent must commit to continuously developing new capabilities and knowledge. In particular, entrepreneurs must continuously upskill to ensure the success of startup ventures. A Harvard University study found that as much as eighty-five per cent of job success comes from having well‐developed people-centered capabilities – what we have often called “soft skills.” Given how critical they are today, a better term is “power skills” – as technology continues to automate more routine parts of work, a higher premium will be placed on talent who can effectively communicate, collaborate, and lead teams. In view of the critical role that small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) play in any nation’s economic development, it becomes imperative that startups leverage such power skills to optimize business performance.
Technical skills, involving the use of knowledge and tools to complete high-level tasks, will always be an essential component of work. But the ways we work are also shifting rapidly, as technologies like artificial intelligence automate routine parts of work and practices like citizen development demystify practices like coding which were previously only accessible to those with highly technical skill sets.
In this new paradigm, it’s simply table stakes to master the technical side of work; even more crucial is cultivating enduring human-based capabilities and creativity. Such power skills profoundly shape how an individual interacts with others and achieves their goals. Think of capabilities like leadership and strategic communication that can’t be easily automated by machines. After all, no matter how advanced computers become, they still lack the ability to rally a team around an inspirational shared vision in the face of challenges. Although the mastery of technical and people-based skills alike are necessary to successfully perform and advance in the marketplace, the acquisition of hard skills is too often over-emphasized at the expense of other skills that may be more challenging to quantify and measure, like resilient leadership.
In a bid to help growth-oriented startups navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship in Africa, The Project Management Institute (PMI) collaborated with The Tony Elumelu Foundation to create a six-part series on “Idea to Reality: Project Management for SMEs”. The fifth installment of the masterclass session titled “Idea to Reality: Power Skills” explored a range of power skills that helped organizational leaders and teams stay focused, engage, drive efficiency, and produce business value.
George Asamani, business development lead, Africa at the Project Management Institute (PMI) was a facilitator for this session. He shared from his wealth of knowledge as an industry expert offering project solutions that develop skills, drive efficiency and deliver impact to institutions across sectors on the continent.
He reiterated the message that successful project management requires more than the mastery of technical skills; it also requires a special set of skills to align the deployment of all resources toward the desired goal, achieving set objectives.
To buttress his point on the often overlooked yet strategic impact of power skills, he examined relevant power skills using Porter’s value chain – a framework that breaks an organization’s activities down into strategically relevant pieces. The primary activities of Michael Porter’s value chain are inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing and sales, and service. The goal of the five sets of activities is to create value that exceeds the cost of conducting that activity, therefore generating a higher profit. He further stressed that incorporating soft skills such as negotiation, business ethics, strategic thinking, adaptability, resourcefulness, creativity, persuasion, tenacity, emotional intelligence and logical thinking into activities on the value chain provides a source of differentiation and competitive advantage for startups.
In a data-driven world, power skills have been somewhat de-emphasized. This is a grave mistake when it comes to project management, where a combination of skills is necessary. Now more than ever, due to unprecedented workplace evolution and complexity, the future of the workplace requires agile, change-ready teams—led by strong power skills including collaboration, empathy, creativity and innovation. Power skills allow entrepreneurs to apply their technical understanding within the context of a particular situation.
The Project Management Institute has developed the Talent Triangle, a model for the ideal project manager skill set that includes a mixture of the capabilities needed to succeed. The talent triangle focuses on the areas of leadership, technical project management, and strategic and business management. Each part of the triangle is of equal importance. “When you consider the challenges of the unpredictable nature of entrepreneurship and the technical skills versus power skills debate, you realize that technical skills are not enough neither are power skills. You need both to thrive on your entrepreneurial journey” said George Asamani, he further revealed that “people are a startup’s most valuable commodity. You get more value in your business when you diversify your team by adding complementary power skills.”
Although many of these power skills derive from innate ability, the organization culture plays a considerable role in developing it. Growth-oriented startups should develop employee soft skills with the requisite training as this will help increase overall business performance – and ultimately deliver a higher return on investment.
This piece was contributed by Michael Oludare from Lagos