“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.