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

Getty
Show Hide image

Former Irish premier John Bruton on Brexit: "Britain should pay for our border checks"

The former Taoiseach says Brexit has been interpreted as "a profoundly unfriendly act"

At Kapıkule, on the Turkish border with Bulgaria, the queue of lorries awaiting clearance to enter European Union territory can extend as long as 17km. Despite Turkey’s customs union for goods with the bloc, hauliers can spend up to 30 hours clearing a series of demanding administrative hoops. This is the nightmare keeping former Irish premier John Bruton up at night. Only this time, it's the post-Brexit border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and it's much, much worse.   

Bruton (pictured below), Taoiseach between 1994 and 1997, is an ardent pro-European and was historically so sympathetic to Britain that, while in office, he was pilloried as "John Unionist" by his rivals. But he believes, should she continue her push for a hard Brexit, that Theresa May's promise for a “seamless, frictionless border” is unattainable. 

"A good example of the sort of thing that might arise is what’s happening on the Turkish-Bulgarian border," the former leader of Ireland's centre-right Fine Gael party told me. “The situation would be more severe in Ireland, because the UK proposes to leave the customs union as well."

The outlook for Ireland looks grim – and a world away from the dynamism of the Celtic Tiger days Bruton’s coalition government helped usher in. “There will be all sorts of problems," he said. "Separate permits for truck drivers operating across two jurisdictions, people having to pay for the right to use foreign roads, and a whole range of other issues.” 

Last week, an anti-Brexit protest on the border in Killeen, County Louth, saw mock customs checks bring traffic to a near standstill. But, so far, the discussion around what the future looks like for the 260 border crossings has focused predominantly on its potential effects on Ulster’s fragile peace. Last week Bruton’s successor as Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned “any sort of physical border” would be “bad for the peace process”. 

Bruton does not disagree, and is concerned by what the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights might mean for the Good Friday Agreement. But he believes the preoccupation with the legacy of violence has distracted British policymakers from the potentially devastating economic impact of Brexit. “I don’t believe that any serious thought was given to the wider impact on the economy of the two islands as a whole," he said. 

The collapse in the pound has already hit Irish exporters, for whom British sales are worth £15bn. Businesses that work across the border could yet face the crippling expense of duplicating their operations after the UK leaves the customs union and single market. This, he says, will “radically disturb” Ireland’s agriculture and food-processing industries – 55 per cent of whose products are sold to the UK. A transitional deal will "anaesthetise" people to the real impact, he says, but when it comes, it will be a more seismic change than many in London are expecting. He even believes it would be “logical” for the UK to cover the Irish government’s costs as it builds new infrastructure and employs new customs officials to deal with the new reality.

Despite his past support for Britain, the government's push for a hard Brexit has clearly tested Bruton's patience. “We’re attempting to unravel more than 40 years of joint work, joint rule-making, to create the largest multinational market in the world," he said. It is not just Bruton who is frustrated. The British decision to "tear that up", he said, "is regarded, particularly by people in Ireland, as a profoundly unfriendly act towards neighbours".

Nor does he think Leave campaigners, among them the former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, gave due attention to the issue during the campaign. “The assurances that were given were of the nature of: ‘Well, it’ll be alright on the night!’," he said. "As if the Brexit advocates were in a position to give any assurances on that point.” 

Indeed, some of the more blimpish elements of the British right believe Ireland, wedded to its low corporate tax rates and east-west trade, would sooner follow its neighbour out of the EU than endure the disruption. Recent polling shows they are likely mistaken: some 80 per cent of Irish voters say they would vote to remain in an EU referendum.

Irexit remains a fringe cause and Bruton believes, post-Brexit, Dublin will have no choice but to align itself more closely with the EU27. “The UK is walking away,” he said. “This shift has been imposed upon us by our neighbour. Ireland will have to do the best it can: any EU without Britain is a more difficult EU for Ireland.” 

May, he says, has exacerbated those difficulties. Her appointment of her ally James Brokenshire as secretary of state for Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign she understood the role’s strategic importance. But Bruton doubts Ireland has figured much in her biggest decisions on Brexit: “I don’t think serious thought was given to this before her conference speech, which insisted on immigration controls and on no jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice. Those two decisions essentially removed the possibility for Ireland and Britain to work together as part of the EEA or customs union – and were not even necessitated by the referendum decision.”

There are several avenues for Britain if it wants to avert the “voluntary injury” it looks set to inflict to Ireland’s economy and its own. One, which Bruton concedes is unlikely, is staying in the single market. He dismisses as “fanciful” the suggestions that Northern Ireland alone could negotiate European Economic Area membership, while a poll on Irish reunification is "only marginally" more likely. 

The other is a variation on the Remoaners’ favourite - a second referendum should Britain look set to crash out on World Trade Organisation terms without a satisfactory deal. “I don’t think a second referendum is going to be accepted by anybody at this stage. It is going to take a number of years,” he said. “I would like to see the negotiation proceed and for the European Union to keep the option of UK membership on 2015 terms on the table. It would be the best available alternative to an agreed outcome.” 

As things stand, however, Bruton is unambiguous. Brexit means the Northern Irish border will change for the worse. “That’s just inherent in the decision the UK electorate was invited to take, and took – or rather, the UK government took in interpreting the referendum.”