Leaders of SME’s biggest problems

Our research shows that leaders who are responsible for a business, or business unit with between 100-250 employees are facing similar problems.    Whether it is a fast growth business that has the owner leading the business, or an established business with an established senior management team, many leaders are ready to make a step change in performance and are facing similar challenges.

Lack of clarity

For many businesses, the last few years have been a struggle and now their is an optimism for the future.  Leaders are ready to make a step change and are looking to the future.  However, many are unable to explain what that step change looks like, or what the vision and strategy is.  The world is fast changing and leading in uncertainty now needs to be part of the strategy, but lack of planning means that businesses are wasting time, energy and resources reacting or jumping from initiative to initiative.

Too Many Priorities

SME’s have an advantage in that there are fewer layers of authority and the senior managers are able to pull up their sleeves and get stuck in when required.  This is now causing them problems as getting in the detail and essentially operating at a level down means they are not looking from the leadership level, and on the horizon.  The result is that everything becomes a priority and the business feels chaotic and unstructured.  Leaders need to set the priorities for the business and allow Managers and experts to solve the day to day problems that inevitably arise.

Ineffective Leadership

Leaders are telling us that to prepare for the future they need their managers to step up.  Managers are telling us that the leaders won’t let go and allow them to step up.  Because everyone has been operating at a level down, it requires everyone to step up and delegate and empower those below them in the structure.  It means trust and delegation, empowerment and a coaching approach.  Shifting from doing to leading, directing to developing, excluding to including means organisational development.  Leaders understand this but are struggling to ride the waves to achieve it.  They must steer their ship to navigate the choppy waters through change, and they need to be clear on what the direction is and why for their people to feel safe.  It starts at the top.

Inattention to results

Many leaders find that they are focusing on the wrong measures.  Those that set plans focus on bottom line results such as turnover, orders, cash flow and profitablility.  This is a good measure of business performance at the top, but it doesn’t measure operational health.  The old practice of handing targets down from the top to the bottom often don’t translate into meaningful targets, and with ever changing priorities it is easy to lose focus.  Shifting from broad 12 month targets to continuous performance management will help leaders in creating an high performance and adaptable business.  Projects or operations would be monitored and reviewed monthly or quarterly at the least.  One to one or team conversations about performance, problem solving and continual improvement become part of the culture and attention is placed on results.

Lack of execution

In our diagnostic sessions we hear that the inattention to results is manifested in lack of execution.

  • Lack of accountability and follow through of projects or assignments
  • Strategies are developed but loosely followed through
  • Lots of meeting talking but never committing to action
  • Leaders doing the doing not focusing on strategy, monitoring or execution
  • Annual appraisals over continual performance management
  • Employees don’t understand the strategy or plans so focus on the hear and now
  • Stuck in a cycle of reactivity and firefighting – everyone likes to be a hero

With our experience, we advise Leaders to stop directing and start leading.  We work with them to slow down and gain total clarity on their vision, mission and strategy, and then to formulate a plan to execute.  From this place they can develop an organisation that will be able to deliver, rather than treading water just to stay afloat.

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