New brooms sweep clean… a common refrain for hobbies, new appliances, but as our research shows, applies to entrepreneurs too.
It is widely accepted that entrepreneurship training – the equipping of individuals with knowledge and skills for launching and operating business ventures - can increase entrepreneurial activity, resulting in more start-ups and higher business performance. However, the positive “motivational” effects of training usually wear off over time. We cannot assume that because we have sent participants for entrepreneur training and they come back on a “high” that the level of motivation will continue and they would continue to create viable business activities.
My team – Michael M. Gielnik of Leuphana University of Lüneburg; Rebecca Funken of Nanyang Business School; Kim Marie Bischoff of Hochschule Fresenius University of Applied Sciences – and I examined the post-training process. We asked, what factors influence the extent to which trainees’ motivation will continue to remain high over time; and by doing so, sought to explain and link the short- and long-term effects of entrepreneurship training.
We studied a group of participants over an extended time-frame of 32 months. 227 participants at a university in Nairobi, Kenya, attended a 12-week entrepreneurship training programme. Besides attending lessons to learn the principles of doing business, participants also had to start operating a real business within the 12 weeks of training. Businesses they ventured into included selling cakes, dealing in computer accessories or used clothing. Participants presented the progress of their micro business during weekly sessions and received feedback from the trainers; they then had the opportunity to refine their behaviour in the following weeks.
Our study assessed the participants four times – the month before the training; the month after the training; then, 12 months and 16 months later. We measured them in terms of entrepreneurial self-efficacy (competence and mastery), passion and business activity.
Our findings showed that while most members displayed a high level of motivation immediately after training, the positive effects of training tend to decay - and with it, business creation. What differentiated the participants who continued to generate business activity was that they continued to display a high level of passion, even months after the training. This passion was the central driving force, energising them to work hard and persistently towards their business goals.
A reading of such participants’ profile revealed three main characteristics about how they developed and sustained their entrepreneurial passion:
They engaged actively in their domain. During the training, once they had a business opportunity, they worked on implementing the idea. Participants assembled the necessary resources, made the first sale, and generated profit during the training. By being actively involved in developing their business, they experienced continuous progress. The associated intense positive feelings from progress and goal accomplishment became gradually internalised and part of their identity.
They believed that they were good at what they are doing. The time and effort spent on building their business enhanced their skills, which translated into higher competence, which in turn increased their confidence in their abilities. The higher performance also meant the participants were more likely to invest into their business, or create a new business. They were passionate because it was a domain in which they had experienced success and believed they could excel in.
They displayed a high sense of feeling of mastery and control of their domain. They were confident in their ability to accomplish tasks, such as identifying and exploiting business opportunities, and of managing a viable business. This deepened the belief that they were good at what they are doing. They were passionate because they felt they had control over the activity or domain they are engaging in. People with this mastery are more robust and better able to deal with setbacks. Correspondingly, people low in self-efficacy become despondent when experiencing setbacks and give up more easily.
In simple terms, the feeling of “I can do it”; “I am doing a good job”; and “I am in control” is vital in continuing to generate passion for the business venture, and continued motivation to generate more activity.
Our findings have theoretical implications for the entrepreneurship training.
Entrepreneurship training only offers a temporary high. It provides a kick-start in initiating passion but dwindles over time. The decline in passion is detrimental for business creation in the long-term. Effective training programs need to consider the post-training processes that help participants to keep up their motivation over extended periods of time.
The concept of deliberate practice might be useful to understand and design effective entrepreneurship trainings. Deliberate practice enhances skills, which translates into higher competence and high performance, which in turn increases a person’s confidence in their skills, which in turn meant the participants were more likely to create new business activities.
In any discipline, training can only be the first step - a transfer of some knowledge and some hands-on practice at best. For significant business creation to materialise, entrepreneurs have to get their hands dirty, keep doing, and in the process, keep learning. Only then can they become better at what they do. When that happens, they gain the confidence of doing the job well; and over time, gain the sense of mastery and control. It is a recursive circle to achieve high performance, maintain passion, and business creation.
The old adage of 1% inspiration 99% perspiration still applies.
About the author
Marilyn Ang Uy is associate professor of strategy, management and organisation at Nayang Business School, NTU Singapore.