Creating resilient, confident and decisive SME leaders and managers
There comes a point in growing a business when the owner runs out of capacity to do any more than they are already doing. In order to continue to grow it is necessary to have other people take the load of responsibility.
Most of my clients are able to take a holiday without things collapsing around their ears while they lay on the beach. But the challenge of management is about growth and evolution as much as continuity. It is not enough to have people who can just hold it together. You need people who can spot opportunities, innovate and then make good commercial decisions. People who can step away from the hamster wheel and take a leadership view of the company. People who can inpsire and drive everyone, even their bosses.
The challenge of SME leadership
It wont surprise you that I believe developing people is the number one strategy for business growth. There are two reasons I believe this to be true.
Crowded markets where niches seem rarer than hen’s teeth, offer little opportunity for differentiation. There are plenty of other company’s out there that claim they can do what you do.
Cheap cloud based technology means that world class marketing, fulfilment, relationship management and finance systems are within every company’s reach. In fact there really is no excuse for any business not to be very good at this stuff now.
This means that the attitude and calibre of your people and their ability to innovate and evolve, may be the only point of differecne your company has. Of these people, it is the ones that you put in charge of others; your supervisors , managers and leaders that are key. They set the tone for motivation across the whole company and determine what things get done and how. What your customers experience is a direct consequence of the decisions they make.
So where do these mission critical vital people come from and how have they developed their leadership skills?
Most of my clients have at least one home made manager. As the company grows someone stands out as great at their job, good with customers and/or possessing a strong personality. They are given a ‘senior’ position and moved into management. They have a great deal of detailed knowledge about the company and its customers but where does their leadership style and skills come from?
They learn on the job (making a few well intentioned mistakes along the way) and apply a style of management that evolves from a blend of mimicking others and inspired guesswork. If they were joined from another small business I’m pretty confident that they still went through this well trod journey.
Some of my clients have tempted people from bigger companies. If you can afford their salaries (and if you are willing to offer equity) you may find the big company experience invaluable to make some of the leaps in thinking required for growth. For the individual there is the idea of freedom, autonomy and a politics free environment. But, more often than not, I have seen downsizers get frustrated with the smaller business environment. This can come from having to roll their sleeves up a little more than they expected, the absence of support functions to take care of problems or the chaotic and fluid environment that is the nature of smaller companies.
Most of my clients would acknowledge it is their responsibility to develop their managers. However much they intend for this to happen it rarely does. The pressure of workload means that there is little, or no, time available to spend training and coaching new team members. Even when time isn’t a barrier most entrepreneurs and business builders have better things to do with their skills and gifts than train and develop others.
Instead these key people are left largely to their own devices and after a while a few frustrating behavioural patterns begin to emerge
Decision Reluctance. In the absence of the skills and self-confidence to operate autonomously every decision gets pushed back up the line. Entrepreneurs tend to have a clear and strong (yet often inconsistent) idea about how they want things done. Yet they are not very good at explaining it to others. In fact, they often seem to need to see something go wrong before they can explain how it should have happened! The result is that managers quickly figure out that safest course of action is to ask before doing anything. This frustrates the owner and makes them wonder why they bother having managers.
Functional bias. Managers can fail to grasp how the whole business works and tend towards a functional bias, normally based on their own background. When they make a decision or act they fail to take into or communicate with the other affected parts of the business. This results in conflict which has to be resolved by, you guessed it, the owner.
Busy-ness. I regulalry see managers spending all their time dealing with errant transactions, customer complaints or staff issues. Instead of managing they become ‘super-users’. This is a sure fire sign of the absence of good delegation and management skills.
The first ninety days in role are crucial as to whether a manager can remain above the detail. I also have a sneaking suspicion that this is a comfortable place for some people and they may even secretly enjoy endless firefighting. The problem is the business will not grow and evolve as long as no time is devoted to innovation and improvement. The company slips into ‘hamster wheeling’.
Hamster Wheeling. It is easy to see how managers who are running on the hamster wheel get caught out. They fail to spot the opportunities and threats because they are not attending to the infomration and feedback that is right under their noses. This problem is made worse by the relentless change that characterises most market places. You are faced with the need for new types of skill amongst managers. They need to be able to move in a direction whilst continually adjusting course and be comfortable with the fact that many things they try simply will not work.
The good news is the data and tools required to be able to do this are available. The bad news is many managers are not equipped with the skills and confidence to operate like this.
Un-sticky change. A sure fire sign that you do not have sufficient managemenent skill is the inability to make change stick. Change is hard. It requires a combination of planning, process design, people skills and stubborness. People resist change and its rare to find someone with the persistence to overcome the gravity of inertia. A great manager stays the course until behaviours change and habits are formed. Instead what tends to happen is a change works for a few days (if you’re lucky) before people forget and default back to old ways of working.
Getting teams working. At some level most teams manage to get stuff done properly 80% of the time. The frustrations I see tend to be th eresult of little mistakes, oversights and as one of my clients says ‘the dirty workshop’. Managers should set and maintain standards of performance. Once small things are ignored and poor performance is overlooked, the rot sets in.
Conversely some managers get caught up in every little drama. Distinguishing between what is a genuine performance issue that needs to be dealt with and the petty whinges and squabbles that form a part of any team dynamic is a key leadership skill.
Sleeping Tiger Leadership Development program
Great business leadership comes from a blend of four things:
Commercial Awareness – the extent to which you understand how business works and how all the different activities interact with each other to deliver happy customers and good profits
Good execution habits – your ability to make plans and decisions; take focussed action and measure outcomes so that you can adjust
Your Connections – how well you build and sustain relationships with customers, suppliers, colleagues, your boss and your team
Personal Grounding – Your level of self awareness about who you are, what your strengths are and how you show up
I’ve been dancing around my handbag with the idea of creating an SME Leadership Development Programme for over a year now. The challenge I set myself is to find a powerful but affordable, relevant, all-embracing and simple approach to transforming supervisors, managers and directors in smaller businesses. I want it to
Pay for itself. I never set out to cost a business anything. My intention is that my work underpins or grows the bottom line whilst creating self managing and self sustaining people. People who can show up and function no matter what is happening.
Create lasting change. I don’t want old habits to creep back in once my work is finished. The challenge is that training, whilst a great vehicle for exploring ideas and sharing experiences, is not enough in isolation. It is the combination of training, 1-1 coaching and application in the workplace that creates lasting change. I want a programme that wakens the latent potential in people and creates a permanent shift.
Involve you. The prgoramme needs to engage those who manage the participants in the workplace. This enables them to provide feedback and progress reports.
I’ve finally found a solution I am happy with: a combination. It uses a combination oftechnology, small group training and 1-1 coaching. The programme is also built around measurable goals based on a business project that the particpant undertakes during the project.
I’m very proud of the prgramme I have come up with for you, and I am convinced it will work. So much so that I will guarantee it.
The Sleeping Tiger Leadership programme
This six month programme is designed for anyone whose role requires them to direct the activities of others. You may be a highly experienced manager looking to update and finesse your approach or you may be about to step into your first leadership role. Particpants will develop a unique mix of commercial understanding, practical execution habits and in depth self-awareness. They will access previous unfound levels of confidence and commercial acumen, allowing them to take more responsibility, make sound commercial decisions and contribute directly to the growth of the company. It is a blend of commercial and personal development that makes the Sleeping Tiger framework unique.
Participants will directly apply their new skills in delivering an agreed business and personal improvement plan that the owner / directors sign up to at the start. The business improvement plan will take the form of a project, agreed by the participant with their manager (examples include developing a marketing strategy, sales improvement plan, implementation of a new system, ISO accreditation or leading a recruitment drive). The work they do on this programme will use this project to bring all of the concepts alive so the participant learns while performing, instead of having to learn and then go back to work and figure out how to apply.
Each intake is limited to ten participants and they will work together to support each other and share their experience.
The programme includes
Four and a half days of small group training during which they will acquire new management skills and ideas. Their self confidence and capability will soar as they begin engaging and working with other particpants with different backgrounds and perspectives. The training content will give them a tool set for becoming self-reliant and focussed leaders.
Six one-hour 1-1 power sessions with me directly. It is during these sessions that I explore what is stopping them from accessing their highest levels of performance. Together we will confront their challenges in a way that allows them to confront the things that bloxk their perfomrance. These may be mental barriers, commercial awareness or a lack of action taking discipline.
Ten online business modules giving them a detailed and practical understanding of how business works. To complete each module they will have to pass a multiple choice test AND gather information about how all parts of their company work. If you want your managers to demonstrate commercial ‘common sense’ then they need to understand how the decisions and actions they take affect different parts of the company, and the company as a whole.