Are you a Pioneer or a Settler?

By October 7, 2013Uncategorized

Anyone who works with me knows that I am always in the process of starting up businesses. Even in those businesses I work with which have been around for a while, I’m always coming up with new ideas. I think that’s because in the great American stories about ‘how the West was won’ there were always pioneers and there were always settlers. There were always those who were up early, out in front chomping at the bit to be breaking new ground, making new discoveries and forging forward. There were also those, a big part of the team and just as important, who were coming on behind and making sure that all the things that needed to happen to secure the ground, to make it habitable and fruitful, were done.

In short, pioneers broke new ground and settlers made it work. There were always both because they belonged together. For me, one of the greatest learnings has been the recognition that I am a pioneer. Whether I’m working on my new start- up or in a more established business, I am a pioneer. And all pioneers need settlers.

One of the biggest challenges when you first start up is drawing together that small group of people with divergent skills and getting the team to work together. It is even harder if you alone are that team! Larger companies use dozens of psychometric tools to help their teams work together but by far the hardest thing to work on is the battle that you have waging within you when you are the team…

One tool I have used throughout my career to help me to sort out the wood from the trees, to make decisions on what to pick up and what to let go of, is on the wall in my office and it’s a poster that says:

Is it within our culture . competence . capacity?

I have this up as a warning for the pioneer within me, because I am always the one who sees the opportunity in everything and the exciting route ahead around every corner.  Out of every opportunity that presents itself, the pioneer in me has to say no to the majority – but how do I decide? I ask those three questions. Is this new direction within our culture/competence/capacity?

Let me illustrate with one example…

Three potential ‘C’s’

Years ago I was invited to tender for a sandwich contract. It was a reasonably large one and I was interested. Each sandwich had to be costed at a level which meant we either cut staffing and used zero hours staff or used products which were at the horse end of value. In those days my company’s strap line is ‘where good food and people matter’ so it was not within our culture – I said no.

We were invited to open a cafe in a prison and to work specifically with a high risk category of offenders. My team are trained and skilled at working with homeless people. It was not within our competence – I said no.

We were invited to take on a new build theatre catering offer. Six outlets with 1000 covers (seated customers) in all. It was 300 miles away from our base. We could have done it, easily, but just now it was not in our team’s capacity and could have broken them – I said no.

In established businesses and in start-ups, the pioneer in me always needs a guide to show the way to go. I find this one the most useful. I hope you do too…