People management: training that is tailored works best
Achieving successful growth is never easy. Only one independent UK business in 3,000 makes a profit of £1 million a year or more. And, according to a recent Cranfield University School of Management report, Barriers to Growth, the growth prospects for Britain's owner-managed firms are particularly slight. The vast majority of these firms are small - 95% employ 10 or less staff - and most remain so. Research suggests that significant growth only ever occurs in 4% of owner-managed firms. Moreover, some 55% of owner-managed firms have no plans for growth.
Yet managed growth is firmly within the grasp of many more small firms, says Colin Barrow, head of Cranfield's business growth and development programme. Common barriers to growth include mismanagement, poor objectives, lack of strategy, inadequate planning and muddled marketing. The cause? Simple: many SME managers don't know what they don't know.
But management development training for owners or employees of even the smallest firms pays off. Cranfield's four-month business growth and development programme is aimed specifically at the SME sector and covers issues such as strategy, financial controls, marketing research and raising finance.
A study of participants on the 15-day, part-time programme reveals that two years after the course, their firms had grown four times as fast as comparable small firms in general and were twice as profitable.
Management development training may be good for SMEs but most managers can think of dozens of reasons not to bother, says Robert McClements of the Management Centre of the University of Bradford. To date, many of the development opportunities on offer have failed to address the specific needs of SME managers. To fill the gap between conventional short courses and the heavy commitment of a business degree, Bradford Management Centre this month launches Business Masters, aimed at SMEs.
This joint initiative between Bradford and District TEC, Business Link Bradford, fds Group, and Bradford Management Centre offers a 12-month programme for busy managers of SMEs employing up to 250 people. The programme's USP, says Mohan de Silva, head of economic regeneration at Bradford & District TEC, is that the learning will be entirely practical and tailored to the participants' individual needs. The course will cover 36 weekly, four-hour sessions during the year, with seminars on subjects ranging from strategy development to handling external financiers, visits to some of the region's top companies and networking events such as a business simulation game.
The volume of local interest in the course has surprised even its organisers.
But is it so surprising? SME managers have very specific needs and institutions that combine academic expertise with practical support and tailored learning offer a far more attractive proposition.
Judith Oliver is a contributing editor for Management Today.