The RISE: A Tool for Fostering Entrepreneurship in Human Service Settings
By: Dr. Thomas S. Lyons, PhD
Michigan State University
R.I.S.E. -Readiness Inventory for Successful Entrepreneurship
In the business world, it has been known for some time that companies that want to be successful in the highly competitive global economy must be constantly reinventing themselves through innovation. This requires that they develop a culture of creativity, continuous learning, openness to new opportunities to add value for their customers, and risk tolerance through effective risk management. This is the only way these companies can sustain themselves and grow in the challenging economic environment in which they operate.
I would argue that, essentially, the same is true for human service delivery organizations, whether they are structured as nonprofit or private. They, too, must sustain themselves financially, while at the same time striving to expand the reach of their mission to more clients. They must operate as social enterprises that seek out new opportunities to benefit those they serve, effectively manage risk, and find new sources of revenue. In short, they must think and act entrepreneurially.
I have long contended that being successful as an entrepreneur is more about the mastery of a skill set than it is about possessing innate traits. Research tends to bear this out. Furthermore, skills can be developed; innate characteristics cannot. Those who hold that entrepreneurs are born to play their role, leave society little choice but to try to “pick winners” and support them. Unfortunately, experience has shown that no one – including venture capitalists – is very good at consistently picking winners. It is better to take a development perspective, one in which we strive to build a motivated entrepreneur’s skill set so that he or she can build and sustain their enterprise.
To do this, we need to be able to assess an entrepreneur’s skill set – to understand which skills need developing and which do not and to determine what that entrepreneur’s overall skill level is so that we can connect them to assistance that matches that skill level and their needs. With this knowledge, the entrepreneur can be coached to advance their skill level up a ladder of skill development to ultimate skill mastery.
The Readiness Inventory for Successful Entrepreneurship (RISE) is a web-based tool that permits a skills assessment that establishes a skills baseline and a means of tracking skill development for an individual entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team. It employs a proven communimetric approach to measurement that utilizes the communication between an entrepreneur and their coach to quantify skill level at any point at which the assessment is conducted. It measures 30 individual skills within four skill domains:
- Business Management Skills – the skills required to manage the structure of the business;
- Process Management Skills – the skills needed to manage the processes of the business;
- Relationship Management Skills – the skills needed to manage people in the business and outside of it; and
- Transformation Management Skills – the skills required to effectively manage change.
The measurement system allows for establishing numeric parameters on individual skills and on skill levels. This makes it possible to track progress in individual skill development, skill development within domains, and overall level of skill across all 30 variables.
The assessment, itself, is easy to navigate and can be done from anywhere. I am frequently asked if the RISE assessment can be taken by an individual entrepreneur on her or his own. My answer is always that this is possible, but I highly recommend against it. The RISE can tell you where your entrepreneurship skills need developing, but it cannot tell you how to develop them. If the RISE is taken with a coach – either together or separately with a comparison of results – the entrepreneur can receive the guidance needed to actually improve their skills.
The RISE is being used in a variety of settings, among them human service delivery organizations, and interest among ventures in this industry continues to increase. These social enterprises might be small startups or very large, established organizations. However, they share two major challenges that limit their growth and, in some cases, jeopardize their sustainability: (1) Because their leadership typically comes from the helping professions and not business, they tend not to be entrepreneurial in their thinking or acting and (2) They are so focused on their mission to serve clients that they often neglect their own professional development.
An example of an effort to address both of these challenges is that of Community Services Group (CSG), a 1,500-employee nonprofit behavioral health organization on the East Coast, that piloted the RISE as a professional development tool. CSG serves 19 counties in Pennsylvania providing comprehensive mental health, IDD and children’s services. The pilot began as a six-month test of the tool and continues today. Thirteen entrepreneurs (prospective leaders) and ten coaches (their supervisors) have participated so far. These participants came from a variety of service areas and management roles across the organization. The goal of the pilot has been to determine the impact of a standardized entrepreneurship skills assessment tool on the development of leadership skills and business acumen within CSG.
As Nate Lubold of CSG notes, engaging employees and supervisors with the RISE was not easy at first because they initially were unable to see how the skills measured by the tool were relevant to their day to day work. This is a common first reaction by folks in human services. They find it hard to think and talk about themselves in any way other than daily tasks and job descriptions. Thinking and talking about themselves as leaders (and entrepreneurship is a form of leadership) is difficult.
However, once participants became accustomed to the RISE, they found that it provided a solid platform for thinking and talking about themselves as the entrepreneurs they could be. It did this by providing both a structure for the conversation and a common language. Nate has shared some direct quotes from CSG pilot participants with me:
- “It’s helped us hone in on specific skills entrepreneurs would need in order to be successful in their new roles. It’s also helped us look at areas where possibly strengths/skills aren’t currently prevalent and then decide if those skills are definitely vital to the role…e.g. prioritize areas for development.”
- “It was helpful to have a conversation with my supervisor about my RISE – helped me to better understand where he sees my areas of strengths and weaknesses are, in some cases this was different.”
- “Helped me to identify training opportunities that I should look into.”
- “I did like the questions of the RISE. I like the fact that it focused on the business and fiscal side of the world.”
- “Gave me an opportunity to have an open and honest discussion and to put a focus on development activities and be more prescribed with an effort to make improvements.”
I have asserted that human service delivery people are social entrepreneurs, who must balance social sensitivity with business sensibility. The RISE is a tool for allowing that to happen by helping users to understand what true entrepreneurship is, to think and talk about themselves as entrepreneurs and leaders, and to give frame and focus to their efforts to develop these skills.
To learn more about the RISE and how this TCOM Tool can fit into your practice, contact Dr. Thomas S. Lyons at