By Andrew Lester, Managing Partner, Carr-Michael Consulting

Patience is a virtue....discuss. So goes the exam paper. In business patience has its place in driving efficiency and effectiveness through careful planning and control. But in the increasingly fast paced 2011 economy, patience must not be confused with procrastination. Patience can be powerful and highly valuable when used with purpose. Patience as an excuse for decision avoidance is not powerful... it’s crippling. Where patience is another term for hope, we are often in trouble. Hope is not a strategy.

Many business owners and directors are not patient people. They don’t wait around patiently hoping for the market to change. They go out and make the change themselves. Taking initiative is the cornerstone of how many SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) got started and built great businesses. The trouble however is that once they are successful, companies have more to lose, making it more difficult to take the initiative the way they did originally. They become risk averse. In the recession most companies battened down the hatches to ride out the storm. The problem now is that whilst the worst of the storm has gone the market is still a long way off being buoyant. So how and when to take the initiative?

The pre-recession market has gone and will not return. Customers’ sense of value has changed. All new solutions, innovations and products are appearing to make sure that the market does not return to its pre-recession state. 2011 will be a critical year in defining what the new market structure will be — in every sector of the economy. Major shifts in commodity prices across all sectors are impacting costs. Previously uneconomic solutions are now seen as good value, driven by rising structure costs in established solutions. So 2011 is likely to be critical to all businesses in how they respond to the new market, not just for this year but for the medium term. Innovations tend to come in bursts, mostly as a direct result of recessions. These will impact all sectors and set the scene for the next few years.

Getting back to taking the initiative is easy to say but not so easy to do. The real message is to encourage all of your teams not to wait for permission but to push for efficiency and innovation all the time. But this needs to be controlled. Taking the initiative by definition means doing things differently and this can quickly lead to chaos and confusion.

Not waiting for permission encourages open thinking, connections across sectors and trends. This open thinking needs to be channelled into a fast paced process that manages initiatives whilst not losing sight of the day job (driving the cash). For many SMEs, getting back to taking the initiative isn’t that difficult. The key is to make sure they don’t drop the ball on the day job or get too side tracked by too many fun new ideas rather than focussing on the few that will be productive. One final point here: in taking the initiative make sure you use the whole team, including key trusted suppliers and any new recruits. Those who came up with good ideas in the past may not be the ones to do so in the future.

Please feel free to comment by contacting me: andrewlester@carr-michael.com - Andrew Lester is Managing Partner of Carr-Michael Consulting, specialists in growth management and business performance improvement.