Entrepreneurship Skills for Growth-orientated Start-ups

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Rebecca Ejifoma reports that in a bid to help start-ups navigate the complexities of entrepreneurship in Africa, the Project Management Institute collaborated with The Tony Elumelu Foundation to create a six-part series on “Idea to Reality: Project Management for SMEs”

Fueled by the mass adoption of digital technologies, the globalisation of markets, and demographic shifts, the world of work is rapidly changing.

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 up skill 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 optimise 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.

Collaboration

In a bid to help 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 organisational 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.

Porter’s Value Chain

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 organisation’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-emphasised. 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.

Talent Triangle

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, as 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 organisation culture plays a considerable role in developing it. 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.

Project Management Institute

Project Management Institute, Nigeria is a professional project management membership organisation in Nigeria that has over 700 members and was founded in 2005 with members from all facets of projects and from all industries.

As one of the world’s largest not-for-profit membership associations for the project management profession, PMI Nigeria holds events at major cities in Nigeria and is active in promoting project management to industry and government organisations.

Their professional resources and research empower more than 700,000 members, credential holders and volunteers in nearly every country in the world to enhance their careers, improve their organisations’ success and further mature the profession.

PMI’s worldwide advocacy for project management is reinforced by globally recognised standards and certification program, extensive academic and market research programs, chapters and communities of practice, and professional development opportunities.

Tony Elumelu Foundation

The Tony Elumelu Foundation is the leading champion of entrepreneurship in Africa whose objective is to empower women and men across the continent, catalysing economic growth, driving poverty eradication and ensuring job creation. They believe the private sector’s role is critical for Africa’s development and that the private sector must create both social and economic wealth.

Founded by African investor and philanthropist, Tony O. Elumelu, and representing his personal commitment to creating a new generation of entrepreneurs, through his investment company, Heirs Holdings, the foundation is active in all 54 African countries.

Accordingly, their mission is implemented through programmes, research, communities, advocacy and convenings, including the annual TEF Forum, the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in Africa, and TEFConnect, Africa’s digital hub for entrepreneurs. The foundation leverages its strong relationships in the public, private and development sectors to drive its mission of creating prosperity for all.

In 2015, the foundation launched the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme, a $100 million commitment by Tony Elumelu to empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs over 10 years. Building on the programme’s success and its unique ability to identify, mentor and fund entrepreneurs across Africa, the foundation is increasingly sharing its robust delivery platform and working in partnership with institutions such as United Nations Development Programme, the African Development Bank, the International Committee of the Red Cross, GIZ, and United Bank for Africa Plc, to create meaningful and permanent impact across Africa.

Thus far, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has trained, mentored, and funded over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs across 54 African countries through its Entrepreneurship Programmes, and provides capacity-building support, advisory and market linkages to over 1million Africans through its digital networking platform, TEFConnect.