Tag: futureSME

We work mainly with business owners and managers in the SME sector and what we find in general is that they have a clear idea of what they want to achieve with their business, but what they don’t have are good methodologies in terms of implementing their vision for the business. One of the programmes we deliver is the futureSME and the management team programme. These programmes try to help business owners and senior management teams to deliver true leadership in the organisation. Any discussion about leadership effectiveness can be quite difficult to pin down. It’s about behaviour which is very hard to measure and values that can be difficult to articulate. At LEAP we have our own template that we go through with business owners. Here are 4 ways to increase leadership effectiveness.

1. Clarify the vision

The first thing we look at is the vision. We clarify what the leader’s vision for the company is by asking the question, ‘where do the leaders see the company going in the next two to three years?’ It’s about articulating that vision and finding a way to communicate that vision to the rest of the organisation.

2. Decide the purpose of the organisation

Once the vision has been established and clarified, we look at the core purpose of the organisation; what does the organisation represent and what do they want to achieve? I use the example of Ryanair distilling their message or purpose down to just two words – no frills. We try to help organisations to simplify their message and what it is they represent, so people in the organisation are clear about what behaviours and attitudes and standards are being set. That’s not just for the benefit of the staff but also to establish that sense of purpose for customers and suppliers as well.

3. Establish goals

Once we establish that purpose we look at the three or four primary goals that the organisation wants to achieve. Then we find a mechanism to articulate those goals particularly through visual management systems. One of the visual tools we use are Gantt Charts featuring various lines of action, where we assign work to people, in other words who is going to do what and when. It’s essentially a visual monitoring system , like a traffic light system to show what’s working and what isn’t. Green means the action is on target, orange means the action has been delayed or is still in progress and red is for tasks that have missed their completion date.

4. Measure performance

Another thing we try to establish is what the correct key performance indicators (KPI) are in the business. KPIs show the activities of team members and the level of progress in different areas within the business. One of the things I find working with companies is that they either have no KPIs at all, or they are measuring some KPIs but they are the wrong ones. The KPIs they are measuring are driving the wrong behaviours and activities within the organisation. That can greatly hinder a company’s performance and needs to be corrected as a matter of urgency.

So it’s very important that everything is aligned from the leader’s vision to the purpose of the company through to the goals, lines of action and KPIs. You can talk about leadership styles and the different types of leaders, but if you follow this clear methodology you can’t go far wrong.

 

leadership, leadership ireland, executive coach John Raftery is Senior Partner and Executive Coach at LEAP

 

Recently the Bank of Ireland approved €1.2Bn in new credit for SMEs in the first quarter of the year. But businesses need to stay in shape to qualify for loans in terms of structure and strategy, as well as being efficient in their daily operations. Business advisor John Raftery explains why focusing on the bigger picture is crucial for companies seeking funding to grow their companies.

John why is it important for businesses to be in good health all the time to access funds?

Many companies don’t think about getting themselves into the right shape until they want to access funds, or put themselves on the market to sell the business. I would argue that companies need be in the right shape all the time, right throughout their lifespan. By that I mean companies need a very clear set of performance metrics that drive the company’s performance. These KPIs need to be visible and shared with as many of the staff as possible, if not the entire workforce.

In order to get to that point quite a lot of work needs to be done to make sure you are measuring the right things i.e. your KPIs are the correct ones. This goes back to what I’ve learned from working with SMEs throughout Ireland; that information is assumed to be available but often the information is in people’s heads or it’s stored away on laptops or in spreadsheets. Various individuals have certain pieces of the information, but there isn’t one overall document or format containing all the information for everybody to follow.

A lack of focus on the big picture

A lot of companies are very busy with day to day operations delivering their products and services. This ‘busy’ environment results in a lack of focus on the big picture. I think innately companies know they need to address that issue. They are aware they need to be better organised and create more efficiencies and focus more on the bigger picture, and they need access to information more readily. It’s always in the back of their minds to do that but they never get around to doing it because day-to- day activities take over and a lot of firefighting takes place. One of the reasons so many companies end up firefighting problems is because they don’t take the time to stand back and look at the bigger picture, and get themselves organised and more focused.

What are the consequences for companies who don’t share information like KPIs?
The consequences are more and more inefficiencies, a lack of communication between people and tasks getting completed with the same issues and problems arising again and again. A lot of companies are solving the same problem repeatedly without ever taking the time to do some root cause analysis. Information is often misinterpreted; people assume that what they are doing is the right thing.

For example, I was working with a white goods company who had a team of engineers taking care of service repairs. But the information regarding each engineer’s call out performance was not relayed back to management. It turned out that the first-time repair rate of the engineers was very poor, somewhere between 55 – 60{aa1e4c34c9c0f46e0a1f04e30c2eb1b9efaea7a47ed6ca6f324476e114da37f4}. The company owner never took the time to step back and examine that first time call-out rate because he was too busy firefighting problems within the business. As a result there were a lot of issues around this from customer complaints to rescheduling of visits, wasted time and problems with availability of materials. The company was very busy but unless they share information and step back to analyse and understand that information properly, and understand the issues that are causing the poor performance, they won’t be able to find the right solutions.

So companies can appear to be very busy but they‘re busy doing all the wrong things.

Yes, ‘busy fools’ is a term often used to describe companies in that situation. I always get uncomfortable when I see a company whose staff are doing a lot of firefighting. Now firefighting may be understandable sometimes when a business is going through a particularly busy period, or something dramatic has happened to the business. But firefighting should only be carried out for a short period of time. Then it should be back to normality, back to the organisation’s disciplined behaviours by everybody in the business. Unfortunately some companies are firefighting all the time. Some people even derive satisfaction from firefighting; they say a good firefighter always carries his own box of matches. There are people who think of themselves as heroes – MacGyver types – who like dramatic solutions, rescuing a situation and pulling it out of the fire.

Company Culture

It’s all to do with the culture of the organisation. You can walk into some businesses and everything is very calm because it’s very well organised. People know exactly what they are about and what they are required to do. If you ask them to report on their activities they can articulate exactly what their roles and responsibilities are, and tell you the performance of their department in relation to the overall performance of the business. You go into other companies and they tell you their tale of woe, how busy they are and all the hours they’re working, how they can’t take a holiday, the stress etc. But they are all over the place, there is no central core in the organisation to keep them focused and no disciplined approach that gets them to report back on a regular basis.

What solutions can you offer companies that are stuck in firefighting mode?

Well LEAP has a product called futureSME which is a business solution developed by researchers at the University of Stratclyde using European Union funding. It takes the best practice methodologies of the most successful large companies from around the world and applies them to small and medium enterprises. The futureSME method is the ideal tool to help businesses achieve clarity about their current performance and their vision for the company.

The methodology is divided into two sections

1. Visual Strategy
The first section looks at visual strategy which is about creating a vision for the company, and understanding what the company mission is in terms of its values and behaviours. It also examines the business model by performing a SWOT analysis to help business owners and senior managers create a clear strategy for the business going forward, and understand what their priorities are.

2. Visual Management
Once that company vision has been clarified you can move to the second step which is about visual management. This is where you set four or five goals for the company and those goals have to be succinct and clearly articulated and, most importantly of all, they must be measureable. Without measurement the staff and management teams won’t be able to gauge if progress is being made or not. You then need to create lines of action which prioritize various activities of the company. You assign owners to those activities and set timelines for completion of activities and outcomes. You also look at what type of results those activities will bring you in terms of efficiencies or cost savings. You will then be able to measure progress against your goals by using those lines of activities. Most importantly you will be able to use KPIs that will tell you if you are on track or not. Visual management will allow you to see where you are successful, but also tell you where you are falling behind and who is responsible.

Management Discipline

Once you have a clear set of KPIs they will drive performance of the company. But what you really need to underpin all of that is management discipline. The management team should meet on a regular basis, weekly or monthly, to review overall performance using the visual management tools. They should review the same things each month like their sales pipeline, their customer service performance, financial performance, operations and staff performance.

You have to have a very disciplined approach to it so that you are continuously monitoring your performance and progress in relation to your goals. If you want to approach a bank to raise cash then the bank can see very clearly how the company is performing. They can see what its direction is, what its goals are, what its strategy is. Rather than deciding that you need money and then creating more work for yourself by developing some business plan on-the-fly to get funding from the bank. That is not the most effective use of people’s time.

Are companies more likely to qualify for loans if they provide evidence of a visual strategy?

Well it’s not the only factor. They also take into account the market the business is in, that also has an influence. But if you require the money for investment because you believe you can improve your business performance, then you will need to be able to articulate what your strategy is, what your current performance is, what your goals are and what you are tracking to measure those goals. So it’s not the only factor but it’s a vital one to get right.

Why should business owners contact LEAP before trying to access funds?

We help businesses get into the right shape so they can access the funds they need to grow. LEAP is the sole licensed provider for delivering the futureSME business model to companies in Ireland. We have an excellent record of transforming businesses particularly in the SME sector. The tools we use were designed specifically for SMEs, and we have a very experienced business team who have worked with a wide variety of companies around the country.

Money is not always the motivating factor that drives people in the workplace. Many people are motivated by other things such as praise, training and development opportunities, and taking on different responsibilities. Managers need to understand that offering financial incentives is not always the right way to motivate team members. On the contrary, sometimes financial reward systems create the wrong kind of company culture. In part 1 of this blog LEAP’s business advisor Tricia Cunningham explains the benefits of creating a merit-based culture where individuals are motivated by more than just money.

Tricia, how can managers keep team members motivated without financial incentives?
Managers face a difficult task in trying to keep teams motivated. It often feels like there is little they can do to motivate people. There’s a belief that staff only want more money – everything comes back to financial reward. Particularly in organisations where there are middle managers who have authority over financial rewards. But even leaders in organisations, given the times we have experienced, are probably not in a position now where they can randomly grant increases.

Motivation
And of course this raises expectations anyway when wages are increased for individuals. So for multiple reasons financial rewards for employees need to be given serious consideration before any commitment is given. If a manager links motivation to remuneration, there’s a feeling of helplessness, there’s nothing else the manager can do to motivate staff; that’s a myth. To explode that myth you need to remember that once people’s expectations regarding remuneration are addressed then money is no longer the motivating factor that we think it is. People look for other things to keep themselves motivated and very often those things are within the control of the manager. It’s about a manager shifting his/her thinking; the manager’s thinking needs to be focused on the employee:

1. Do you know the individual? Do you know what they like to do?
2. Do you know what their strengths are, what they’re good at, what they’re capable of doing?
3. Have you aligned their strengths to the results they need to achieve, or the requirements of the business?

Aligning employee strengths with business goals
When you align an employee’s strengths with the business goals and requirements, you’re more likely to have a motivated employee working on your team. Increasing somebody’s application of strengths by 5, 10 or 15 per cent will allow them to enjoy their job more than they currently are. The results will benefit the organisation and the individual. That’s a motivating mechanism within the manager’s control.

So think about the individual, their capabilities, their strengths and think about the results; align them and you will have the individual working towards a common goal that benefits themselves and others. Follow up with employees. Offer them praise when warranted. Remember “thank-you” and “well done” are important to individuals and motivate employees. Discuss obstacles they are encountering and work with them to remove those obstacles. Actively work to involving the employee further in the business. These activities will help you motivate your employees further. They are within your control and require no additional financial investment. They simply require an investment of your time, focus and energy.

Learn About Our Programme for Managers and Business Owners
Management Team Programme
futureSME

futureSME methodology for managers

Success in business depends on so many factors – clarity of vision, product innovation, great customer service, leadership, management capabilities, employee retention, new customer acquisition. Many business owners and management teams are aware that these factors are critical to success, but fail to implement performance processes that hold individuals to account. Accountability for delivering on strategic goals and objectives remains a critical issue for many businesses, particularly in the SME sector. John Raftery, business advisor at LEAP, explains what successful companies do differently, and how less successful ones can learn from them.

John, what do successful companies do differently?

I’ve been working with the SME sector for many years now, and one of the most successful things I do with them, in terms of impact is to give them a tour of a multinational company, particularly an American multinational. What they see there is a huge emphasis on clarity of purpose, measuring performance and accountability.

Visual Management

Multinationals are very clear on what their vision is and what they want to achieve. They get huge engagement from their employees through a lot of visual management systems. Their walls are literally covered in charts, graphs, timelines, value stream mapping, process improvement projects and so on. It’s all visual and it’s all there on display. What I find then when I go to less successful companies is that all the information is kept in peoples’ heads, on their laptops or on spreadsheets; it’s not visible at all. As a result there is no clarity about what the company is trying to achieve, there is no clarity about what the performance levels are, there’s no clarity about who is doing what, or what effect they are having. If KPIs exist at all they will only be kept by a few senior managers and hidden away on laptops and spreadsheets. We need to get them out there, we need them displayed, we need to get people buying into them, we need to get people understanding them, we need people taking ownership of them and delivering on them themselves.

Can big business practices work in an SME environment?

There is always a question of ‘how do we do this? Can we take the best practices of the successful multinationals and adapt it to our own SME environment? The answer to that question is yes, we can do it. The first thing people say is that it’s not suited to the Irish culture, but that’s totally untrue. One of the most successful countries in the world in terms of adapting to the American multinational culture is Ireland. The Irish workforce lap this up because it’s about engagement and communication, it’s about ownership and empowerment and teamwork. These are all the things that turn on the lights of the Irish workforce. But how do we do it then for SMEs? Is there a process, a method that can be undertaken to take these good ideas and implement them into a small company? And again the answer to that is yes.

The futureSME process

We have a process called the futureSME which is a well-researched, well developed process and its sole aim is to take the best practices from the most successfullarge multinational companies, and adapt them for the SME environment. It is a well-structured, well organised, well developed programme that undertakes to do just that. It’s delivered through ManagementWorks in the Management Team Programme and creates the culture of accountability necessary for success.

futureSME

Visual mapping strategies are at the heart of the business model known as futureSME, a methodology that extracts the best practices and disciplines in strategic management used by successful companies, and applies them to small and medium enterprises. LEAP is the licenced provider of futureSME in Ireland. Here LEAP’s managing director Mike Gaffney reveals why this model is working for business owners.

What is the Management Team Programme?
The Management Team Programme is a government supported business development programme as part of the Action Plan for Jobs, funded through ManagementWorks, to allow companies to focus on both implementing their strategy and developing their management team simultaneously.

Who is the programme for?
It’s for management teams, including the managing director, and as many of the managers that are critical to the decision-making process in the organisation should participate in the programme.

What areas of training and development does the programme focus on?
It focuses on helping companies build the business through a clear strategy, and also to ensure that operationally, the company is being run as a tight ship.

What are the methods used on the programme?
LEAP has been on the go for 14 years and our biggest challenge is finding the methodologies and developing disciplines that companies can work with long after LEAP have moved on. We use visual strategies and visual management tools that are at the cutting edge of strategy development, not just in the multinational sector, but in any sized business that wants to be highly successful and effective.

It’s well documented that we remember 10 of what we write. We remember 50 of what we see. However, we remember 90 of what we interact with. So the use of a visual strategy by key team members who interact, develop and validate the content of that strategy, is 9 times more effective than the normal approach to developing business plans.

Also the extended team in the organisation can clearly see through visual representation, where the business is going and where each of them is having a direct impact in developing the business.

Why should a business consider doing the Management Team Programme?
The simple answer is: “because it works.” Irish businesses are poor at thinking and acting strategically. Whatever chance they have of creating a strategic plan, their execution of it is very poor. The Management Team Programme takes away any requirement to have the expertise in-house in strategic thinking and strategic execution. FutureSME is a visual methodology that if applied, will change the functioning of your organisation, improving it incrementally on a continuous basis.

What feedback have you gotten from participants on the Management Team Programme?
The message is keep going. Keep engaging with our company and doing what you’re doing because it’s working. This programme would normally cost €7200, but with the governments support through the Action Plan for Jobs under ManagementWorks, the cost per participating company is €3500. That’s all in, for as many members of the management team as they require to attend the programme. It’s run in-house and it’s sharp and snappy: 6 workshops, typically delivered over a 12 week period.

Visual strategic management is driving company success

 

LEAP’s Tricia Cunningham explains the advantages for small and mediumTricia Cunningham
enterprises (SME) participating in development programmes using the futureSME methodology. This business framework was the result of an €8 million EU research project that was successfully carried out by the University of Strathclyde and tried and tested on SMEs across Europe.

Tricia, how does futureSME come alive in a business?

One of the critical tools that we explore in the programme workshops is ‘thinking as one brain.’ We try to get the leaders and managers to understand what they need to put in place to ensure the team are in sync, and implement this in the workplace. So the teams work through how they can develop the team to think as one brain, and understand what the guidelines are for managing team meetings effectively.  That way they can work through information quickly, succinctly and cohesively.

Meetings become productive and employees walk away from the meetings with a clear understanding of what has been discussed, what has been decided, and they are clear about any actions that need to be taken.

We also explore any issues of dissent; when you are trying to implement the visual strategy there are times when the team will encounter road blocks i.e. challenges that have to be overcome. We explore what you can do to ensure that those obstacles can be overcome.

Implementation is Critical

Many times in the SME sector you are working with small teams because there aren’t that many layers in the organisation. You have the business owner and key employees as opposed to a team of managers. But it’s still vitally important that these key people make it happen.

So the leader and the key people have to decide how they are going to work effectively together, to ensure the visual strategy comes alive and achieves the desired results. Having the visual strategy alone will not ensure success. Having the visual strategy, and working together as one brain, will ensure that you make progress in achieving your business goals.

How many workshops are on the programme?

There are 6 workshops on the programme; the first 4 are focused on developing the visual strategy, and also examining the leader’s role to ensure he/she is functioning properly as a leader in their business. Then we look at the roles of the rest of the team in terms of implementation. So the first half of the programme develops the visual strategy; the second half looks at getting the team on board and moving them along that strategy.

Is there any support system on the programme for participating companies?

Mentoring is an important element on the programme, so at the start of the programme we do a capability diagnostic to assess where the business is today, and that’s completed with the mentor. There are 6 mentoring sessions in total.

On the Business Leadership Programme  they are 6 mentoring sessions for each business owner, and on the Management Team Development Programme there are team mentoring sessions.  So you might have three people from one business and they will have one mentoring session after each workshop.

Why would you recommend this programme over others Tricia?

It’s based on intensive research on large successful corporations by the EU Framework 7 project . These programmes have been proven to work, they’ve been validated. They have been used by large organisations to succeed, and they have been translated in a way that is workable and practical in an SME environment.

It’s also different from other programmes because it comes with qualified mentors. They fully understand the futureSME process, they understand small and medium businesses, and they know what it’s like for a leader trying to transform their business.

They work closely with the participating companies. So you have that individual element in the workshops where people can exchange ideas, share their understanding, and then the individual can apply what they learn to their own company. That’s what makes the difference, and that’s what makes it so successful.

 

 

Mike Gaffney managing director at LEAPYou may wonder what the mentor’s role is when investing in a leadership and management development programme for your company, such as the futureSME programme. Managing directors need tangible results that will boost performance across all areas of their business, from daily operations to profit margins and market share. LEAP’s Mike Gaffney explains the role of the mentor on this programme and how it affects overall business performance.

Mike, what’s the purpose of a mentor on the future SME programme?

Well futureSME provides many proven business practices, tools and disciplines that can be applied to your business. The role of the mentor is to help the individual identify how to actively apply those tools to his or her given situation. Mentors are steeped in the best practices of futureSME and how they can be applied. They work closely with the owner to ensure they are applied in the most relevant and practical way to suit the particular needs of the company.

How does that benefit the company?

From the outset of the programme the focus is on practical application and tangible results.  This is a programme that uses theory to drive changes and secure results.  The mentor has that focus clearly in mind and ensures this is happening at each step in the process.  The mentor works with the owner to complete the company diagnostic at the start of the programme and again at the end of the programme so there is a clear comparison – evidence of change, evidence of improvements.  So mentoring is a critical component of the overall programme.

Is the mentoring process the same for every company, or does it differ by industry and size?

There are some common threads to the futureSME solution, like a visual strategy, and the application of visual management tools. The essence of futureSME is to enable the company to develop its strategic, managerial, operational and adaptive capabilities. What is applied to the organisation often depends on what is most critical to their specific needs.

For some companies, getting the operational side of the business right is the most critical issue. For others it could be having a clear strategy or better managerial capabilities. So the mentoring process is not the same for everyone. There is the same outline regarding the disciplines and practices that are put in place, but how they are put in place, and which areas are prioritised, is very much company specific.

What kind of ROI can a client expect from the mentoring side of the programme?

Business is tough for any organisation so there has to be real tangible benefits, be it increased turnover or profitability, increased market share or new customers. There has to be tangible business performance deliverables. The best example I can give is ourselves; LEAP has applied the futureSME methodology and we doubled our turnover in 2013 compared to 2012. So it’s important for any company engaging in futureSME that they clearly state what business performances they need to see improved, and how that will be measured. We are very comfortable with measuring the implementation of futureSME in a company against tangible financial performance, and other core performances, that the company determine.

 

Mike Gaffney managing director at LEAPA key aspect of great business leadership is recognising and negotiating new business opportunities, and that requires high levels of self-awareness. I asked LEAP’s managing director Mike Gaffney to recommend some reading material with a focus on personal development. His recommendation is one that the entrepreneur can use to increase both self-awareness and business profits.

‘Mike, any recommended reading for busy business leaders and entrepreneurs over the Christmas break?’
The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters. It is an entertaining, engaging and hugely insightful book. It’s an incredibly powerful mind management model that can help you become a happier, confident, healthier and more successful person.  The Chimp Paradox explains the struggle that takes place within your mind and then shows how to apply this understanding to every area of your life.

We talk a lot about business and leadership and improving your ability to deal with various situations. The Chimp Paradox explains how the human brain works in three basic parts. In each of us there is the reptilian brain of the chimp (emotional), the human brain (logical) and the computer brain (sub-conscious).  Understanding this enables you to recognise how the mind works, understand and manage emotions and thoughts, and manage yourself more effectively in stressful situations.

For example, it explains why when we are in traffic and a car cuts in front of us, the chimp within us jumps furiously up and down and beats its chest. Later on the human brain wonders why we got so excited about it. However, to avoid this, if the computer part of the brain has a pre-programmed calm response to the rude driver, the chimp can be directed by this pre-programmed response to relax and not get excited over a minor event.  Try it.

The book is about understanding this dynamic struggle inside each of us, and how to manage your own chimp, and how to use the chimp to protect you in dangerous situations. It’s an engaging read, both enlightening and humorous, and it does shed light on why we behave in certain ways, particularly when we’re under pressure and feel threatened.”

“You develop practical approaches to being more aware of the situations you are in…which is a much more mature form of leadership.”

Why do you recommend this book to business owners?keep calm and control the chimp
“Business owners are aware that how well they manage themselves is critical to getting the right outcome in their day to day activities. It is not always about being right themselves, it is about ensuring the right outcome is achieved. That can often mean allowing a member of the team to be the hero, as opposed to the leader always having the answers.  We know this intuitively, however it is difficult to change existing behaviours.  The Chimp Paradox helps you address this.

It teaches you how to set up warning signs for yourself; how to get over yourself and your sense of self- importance, and how to avoid always beating your chest like that inner chimp. You develop practical approaches to being more aware of the situations you are in, and how you can better manage those situations to secure the right outcome, which is a much more mature form of leadership.”

New dynamic programme for business leaders & entrepreneurs futureSME  – learn more here

 

“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Peter Drucker, a man who knew a thing or two about management theory and practice. We are currently hearing some commentators speak of the  green shoots of economic recovery, which beckons some crucial questions for small to medium enterprises (SME). Are they in the right position to avail of the economic recovery? Are the managing directors and senior managers busy creating their company’s future, or are they stuck in fire-fighting mode? LEAP’s Mike Gaffney explains why a lack of clarity regarding business goals could be the biggest threat to recovery for many SMEs, and how the futureSME visual strategy methodology can solve this problem. But what is the futureSME visual strategy?

Mike why is it so hard to apply proven business theory to business practice?
A good friend of mine who has been in business for many years, said to me ‘Mike the theory is fantastic but how do I work around my lack of discipline?’ In essence the challenge he is faced with is that he has certain ways of doing things, some effective some ineffective. He has certain habits and his management team work around his habits, to the detriment of bedding down best business practices and disciplines in the organisation. So the challenge is to build the disciplines and practices independent of the managing director of the company.

What exactly are best practices?
There are literally hundreds of business methodologies, tools and techniques that can be applied to business. Recently LEAP commenced collaboration with futureSME, a European-wide research project, whose purpose was to right-size proven business methodologies that have worked in larger organizations, and make them applicable to the SME sector. The futureSME methodologies are a very effective way to enable organisations to apply disciplines, and develop new habits through application of those disciplines, that bypass the nuances of the senior people in the organisation, particularly the owner.

In terms of best practice what are business owners doing wrong?
The biggest challenge they have is keeping a strategic focus and how to develop the business on an on-going basis to make sure the business is progressing.  The owner is in fire-fighting mode, the senior team are in the same place. There is no head space to ask are we doing the right things, and can we do things better?  There is plenty of energy and commitment by the team, but there is a lack clarity and a corresponding lack of application of best business practices.

So how can the MDs and management teams help themselves to change their behaviours? They have to develop new habits, and the best way to do that is to apply methodologies that fit easily within the business. Over time these methodologies will engender new disciplines, and new ways of conducting their business which will lead to a positive cycle of improvement.

Is futureSME a one-size-fits-all model for SMEs?
Through futureSME a foundation programme has been developed with the specific intent of pulling business owners, and senior managers, away from day-to-day operations. It uses visual strategy mapping as a key component in getting them to see their business in a new light. To develop disciplines regarding strategy in a visual manner that helps to create momentum in a more productive manner than the current ad-hoc, fire-fighting approach.

Is visual strategy mapping something new?
It’s not new but what futureSME has done very well is bundle a number of different methodologies into one strategy map, with a supporting implementation plan as well. This bundling of existing methodologies is right-sized for application to the SME, so after just 6 half-day workshops there is a clear on-the-wall visual strategy for their business. Clear goals are identified with specific actions attached to each goal; again it’s on the wall, its visually alive, which ensures that the MD and the management team can’t dodge the bullet of implementing the strategy that has been defined.

How will futureSME benefit company owners and senior managers out there?
The number one thing the leader has to provide is clarity. The visual strategy map provides that clarity. Where we go with the business, how are we going to get there and who does what. It’s not just a compelling vision, we also go through the business model canvass which addresses every business dimension from customer segments and types, to channels to key resources, activities and partners.

But we do a very rigorous appraisal of where the business is as well. We clarify where the business wants to get to, we get the decision makers to commit to clear values and a mission statement that is real and not just aspirational. Then back up that top level with specific goals that will progress the company to achieve this vision and support those goals. What are the actions, who will do them and by when?  It’s a very powerful mechanism to keep the wheels of the business turning towards an agreed vision for where the business needs to get to within a stated time-frame.

So it’s about helping businesses thrive in the long term?
Absolutely, if all you have been doing for the last five years is fighting to survive, there comes a point where that’s all you understand. All the habits and disciplines are built around how to survive. How to thrive can get lost, because the training regime and best practice habits are not geared for growth.

We forget and underestimate that the human brain is a self-patterning system. It will see its perception as reality. If it perceives things are a certain way and has to stay in survival mode, it will never look for a broader perspective in terms of opportunities to grow. Companies that have gotten this far are now in a good position to avail of the growth opportunities that are making a faint appearance on the horizon.