19/09/2014

By Jayne Archbold, ‎Director of Strategy & Corporate Communications, Sage


As businesses move from the ‘S’ to the ‘M’ of SME they slowly change the way they operate – and if they don’t, they can run into ‘growing pains’ that can steal focus from where it’s needed. Although the mix of people, processes and culture that makes up each business is unique, all businesses face common challenges as they grow.

Certain best practices apply across all businesses when they’re managing the expectations, of staff, customers and suppliers, managing change and maintaining the technology behind it in order to bridge the chasm that lies between a successful small and medium sized business.

The challenge of growth

Right now, start-ups and small businesses are widely associated with entrepreneurialism. They are seen as movers and shakers in a world hooked on The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den where innovation is often the engine of business growth. This environment tends to welcome and nourish experimentation (for which also read ‘risk-taking’), because failure to innovate often equals failure to survive at that stage of the business life.

However, as small businesses become more successful and grow larger, taking on more staff and as a consequence, organisational complexity, it’s more often fulfilment rather than innovation that becomes the top priority. In the large organisation, often popularly thought of as lacking entrepreneurialism, there can be great opportunities for individuals to make a huge difference, yet embedded corporate process and hierarchies can mean that innovation is stifled.

So the challenge for many businesses is how they become a mature company without stifling innovation. The answer lies in managing three critical business areas: their people, processes and technology.

People – attracting top talent

I believe that businesses getting into the mid-size bracket offer the best of both worlds. They need to innovate to stay on top of a competitive marketplace, meaning they welcome entrepreneurialism and innovation at all levels of the business in order to differentiate themselves. They are still small enough to remain agile – and yet also large enough to command scale and opportunity. These companies offer direct access to the board that can translate into personal career progression on a level that businesses of different sizes (both smaller or larger) may not be able to offer.

Today’s workforce is evolving, fast Generation Y have a different outlook. They work hard, expect more and aspire highly. Generation Y employees expect to be treated as individuals, demand flexible schedules, want feedback and want to be heard. They value and aspire to attributes such as expertise, knowledge and teamwork. They also demand up to date technology and the ability to manage their own information and communication – as they do outside of work.

Growing businesses have to meet the aspirations of this generation. But attracting talent to a business only half the challenge. Organisations need to retain that expertise to allow them continued growth, expanding and competing.

Processes – embedding success in the fabric

Growing small businesses can offer an alternative path to the fossilised large organisations of today: ‘intrapreneurialism’. That is, they can retain the entrepreneurial spirit of their start-up stage as a larger business. Growing businesses that graduate from the school of start-ups and mature into a larger organisation where business processes is a vital part of future growth rather than a brake, retain that talent and drive in their DNA.

Engagement and retention are top priorities, yet rather than focus on engagement surveys, look at engagement from a holistic standpoint. The work environment, management practices, benefits and recognition programs, career development, and corporate mission all contribute to engagement. As businesses seek to attract and grow Millennials, they need to re-imagine employee engagement in an integrated way. Rather than survey annually, the right mind-set and new tools allow businesses to monitor engagement continuously. Employees are no longer looking for a career, they're looking for an experience. The growing business needs to ensure employees have a rewarding, exciting, and empowering journey by harnessing that enthusiasm throughout every process and allowing feedback to create change.

Thanks to social tools like LinkedIn and Facebook people can find new jobs in a heartbeat. This means employers need to provide internal talent mobility and career growth within the business to keep passionate staff focused. Ensure the business facilitates talent mobility, including open access to internal positions, employee assessment tools, interview guides, and leadership values that focus on internal development.

If you cannot make internal mobility easy, good people will go elsewhere.

Technology – the platform for success

In the modern business long-term growth relies on a backbone of tools and technology which help employees manage and share information. Choosing the right technology can mean the difference between losing out to the competition or an agile, active workforce that can meet challenges head on and discover solutions collaboratively.

Software engineering, energy and life sciences, mathematics and analytics, IT, and other technical skills are in short supply. The problem is no longer one of hiring top people or recruiting better than your competition. Now businesses need to source and locate operations around the world to find the skills they need to keep growing. Expand sourcing and recruiting to a global level. Locate work where you can best find talent, and build talent networks which attract people around the world.

With rapid growth it’s natural to fall into business and technology ‘silos’, where parts of the business begin to talk in different languages, and operate using different tools. To keep growth on track it’s important to take back control with the right tools like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is the equivalent of building strong foundations, preparing the organisation for whatever comes its way, wherever it’s operating.

For sustainable, long-term growth, it is imperative to protect business momentum by staying compliant and being prepared to act as soon as challenges arise. Regular reviews of processes and easy access to intelligence go a long way in maintaining control of the business.

So with a continual look to the business’ people, processes and technology, the growing business can sail through to midmarket size without facing growing pains of de-motivated staff, unmanageable bureaucracy, siled teams and unworkable IT. It’s a challenge – but it’s the most worthwhile challenge a business faces in its journey to longevity and success.