We're in a new Dragon's Den economy

Employers need to realise this.

As the new series of Dragons’ Den starts, creative ideas and business innovations are once again entering our living rooms every Sunday night. From the genius to the outright insane, budding entrepreneurs pitch for their business and battle in the den to get that all important investment. But this process is not just confined to our TV sets, it is happening all over the UK. With the government investing more money into its Start-Up Loans scheme, the prospect of starting your own business and becoming an entrepreneur is increasingly stronger.

At this year’s World Economic Forum, entrepreneurship was regarded as a major factor that will improve economic prosperity and employment figures. Economic studies from around the globe frequently link entrepreneurialism with rapid job creation, GDP growth, and long-term productivity increases. However, it is not just start-ups, new business ideas and government funding that should lead and support such initiatives; existing organisations, particularly larger global enterprises must also encourage entrepreneurial spirit within in order to succeed in today’s challenging economic and trade environment.

Currently, businesses face two dilemmas: they need to make their operations as efficient and cost-effective as possible to run better, while embracing and investing in innovative technologies and processes to drive growth and run differently. These are intrinsically linked, as savings from operational improvements are essential to fund investments in new areas. And, as leading business heads and political figures agree, it is people who will help overcome these problems and boost the economy.

But where does a business begin to tackle these challenges? Firstly, they need to carefully assess the wealth of creative talent throughout their organisation across all geographies. They can do this by having a strong performance management process in place that monitors and records employee progress, key successes and areas for improvement. Organisations can use such information to map specific skills to certain projects, while identifying top performers.

Secondly, it is about being more proactive. Promoting innovation and an entrepreneurial culture internally is imperative; from suggesting new product lines and innovative business ideas to identifying new niche markets to target or ways to foster greater teamwork, employees should be able to share and voice their opinions and work with the right people to develop them.

One way of enhancing this entrepreneurial spirit is to try and maintain a start-up culture – decentralised and proactively pushing opportunities and accountabilities further down the organisation (otherwise known as a bottom-up approach). This will help encourage new and existing talent to stay within the company long-term. If they can spot opportunities to really make a difference and be adequately rewarded then they are likely to flourish, much like the winners in the Den.

Adopting and promoting this type of culture is really the way forward. You can not manage talent centrally; you have to give employees the reins to run with specific projects and ideas. For example, businesses could create their own Dragons’ Den by running competitions and projects for individuals or teams to brainstorm new ideas and then present them to the Board. Good ideas can come from anyone within the organisation - it shouldn’t be confined to senior management. However, it is important to remember and make clear that entrepreneurship and innovation does not necessarily need to be the next big idea that will completely change the business. It can be a small incremental change, which is revolutionary and undoubtedly creative in its own right.

Ambitious individuals can also be given the chance to develop their own businesses within the larger enterprise – a model that has worked incredibly well at Cognizant. We restructured our business along three new horizons – traditional service lines, more recent service lines and entirely new areas we wanted to invest in. In forming the latter, we encouraged employees to develop business plans for new products and services, many of which we are now funding. While Cognizant’s process does not make for as good viewing as Dragons’ Den and there are not large piles of cash in the meeting room, it provides the entrepreneurs the opportunity to present ideas and secure investment. This strategy gives them the opportunity to adopt an entrepreneurial role and the freedom to launch and grow a part of the business by themselves. For employees, having this type of empowerment while benefiting from the existing support, client base and infrastructure of the wider business is hugely appealing. They can gain the satisfaction that their ideas and management processes have impacted the business in a positive way, and they have an opportunity to develop and grow their ideas themselves but do not need to put their livelihood on the line by starting an entirely new venture.

Business leaders need to create a work environment that prides itself on its people and skills and uses them to best effect to innovate, increase growth and compete in challenging economic times. If employers limit the opportunities for entrepreneurial talent, employees are likely to take their ideas elsewhere or even start their own businesses. Undoubtedly, more start-ups will boost the economy, but I believe existing companies can really contribute further by encouraging innovation within their organisations. They just need to make sure the entrepreneurial culture is shared and understood by everyone. It is a case of encouraging employees to declare "I’m in", rather than "I’m out".

James Caan. Photogaph: Getty Images

Sanjiv Gossain is the SVP & Managing Director at Cognizant

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.