Small businesses are like big businesses – there are lots of moving parts. The upside of small is the ability to be nimble; these organisations can respond rapidly to changing market conditions, quickly identify and take advantage of opportunities and relatively easily make changes to address operational issues. The pace is often frenetic – adjusting, adapting, fighting fires and patching systems on the run. The downside of the smaller size is limited resilience; there is greater dependence on key resources and less cushion when performance stumbles.
The challenges our small business clients face are often general in nature – we hear from our clients that: “we’re not doing as well as we should be doing” or “we’re working hard but we never seem to get to a stable place” or “a business this size shouldn’t take this much effort to run”. In these organisations the business elements are so intertwined and interdependent that it can be hard to change one thing without the scope quickly becoming ‘everything’, which can feel overwhelming.
In these organisations our support typically involves a full organisational review. We start at the top – making sure that the organisation’s purpose is clear, that the strategy supports it, and that the people are aligned with it. From there, we assess the degree to which the systems and operational processes enable the strategy. Interventions include financial support, leadership team coaching, systems or process improvement, and communications management.
Strategy (typically the domain of management consultants) and culture (firmly organisation development terrain) are not always addressed in parallel but to us they’re different sides of the same coin. A strong culture (however that’s defined – happiness, motivation, commitment, respect), is worthless without a strategy to focus energy. Equally, a solid strategy without willing, able, enthusiastic support from the people who implement it, is a strategy that is doomed to fail.
“We know what to do – why aren’t we doing it?” This is a common question preceding a culture intervention. A strong culture is not an organisational nice-to-have; when people feel good about the work they are doing, enjoy it, and find some sense of meaning, then the need for tight controls, detailed performance management mechanisms and onerous oversight is significantly reduced. Organisations with healthy cultures spend time finding out what their people need, those with poor cultures spend resources finding out what their people are doing. Our model asserts that the culture of an organisation is driven by the behaviours of its leaders, so our support typically includes work with the top leadership team, as well as behaviour change interventions at all levels of the organisation.