Threading the Needle: SME Prosperity

Peter Tulau, Director of AltoPartners Australia

In the current race for business success, SME’s can sometimes have a torrid time as they try to adapt and prosper in challenging environments. There are relentless demands for innovation and growth and for many globalisation creates cost pressure and margin squeeze. There is the ongoing revolution in technology which impacts pretty well everything and particularly the way roles are created and deployed.   

More than ever before there is a need for a heightened awareness to stay afloat in turbulent waters. If you get it right, you may seek to move to another level via acquisition or IPO which in itself will provide another dimension of challenge. If you get it wrong, your position may be compromised. Throw in risk management, onerous legislative and regulatory compliance and the odd domestic labour relations issue and you get the full picture.  

 

How do best practice SME’s cope with this:

Best practice SME’s are first and foremost lean and flexible. This does not mean they sail close to the wind with an eye on the cost line and a proneness to jump in any old direction. They carry no fat, but roles have been designed to create a degree overlapping capability in team members. They know their key people will contribute at 120% both within and between roles in a culture which supports this approach. This creates priceless business momentum.   

Best practice SME’s are usually less hierarchical in structure and decision authority, less likely to provide lifelong careers and job security and given this flexibility, they can respond and reorganise to maintain or gain competitive advantage. They are more team-based and collaborative and engage in continual communication.    

They know how to walk in the customers shoes and see the world from their perspective. They don’t get seduced by their own marketing. This enables them to identify just what constitutes value for the customer and forces them to be more attuned to their own competitive requirements and business strategy.

They are also more time pressured and geared to achieve in the moment, but they are aware of inertia traps. They continually scenario plan further horizons. They invest in technological competence which reduces geographic constraints as they extend their reach and capability.

How do best practice executives excel in this environment?

Best practice executives intuitively get the environmental change and challenges outlined above. They adapt to market changes faster, develop new products and services more quickly, improve processes to maximise efficiency, operate more efficiently to keep costs lower, tend to win in head to head competition and respond rapidly to changing customer needs.

Temperamentally they have plenty of “think and do” in their makeup as in reality there must be outputs, but this is cloaked in high levels of influencing capability and adaptiveness. They know how to build relationships, communicate, provide support and adjust to change. For them territoriality and ego associations with title, level and role are not really relevant. They tend to not be linear / sequential thinkers. They have high levels of “motility of attention”  and can juggle turbulence whilst remaining focussed on business goals. They are confident in their ability and the portability of their skill set.

Best practice SME leaders come in many forms. They could be people engagers, thought leaders, positive agitators, rousing innovators or creative thinkers. Whatever their origins, orientation and formal position in the organisation, they have a passion for leadership which manifests as strong personal motivation and job satisfaction which in turn, leads to excellent engagement and executive team performance.

A major driver of SME business success is their ability to secure and develop a cohort of talented executives who can lead, engage, build culture and shape the business over the longer term as new challenges and opportunities arise.

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