We’ve worked with more than 700 senior managers in Small to Medium Sized businesses (SMEs) in the last few years, and found a number of issues common to all. We would like to share our Top 10 with you.
The single, most important difference between successful businesses and also-rans is the quality of the senior team. The skills shelf-life of new and experienced managers is becoming shorter and shorter. If we don’t widen and deepen our management skills base our competitors will take our customers and newly appointed managers will outperform experienced ones.
Whether you’ve been in the management role for years, just taken on a new management position, or aspiring to become part of that senior team, these tips are ESSENTIAL. If you can answer these questions you’ll be well on the way to becoming a professional manager in a successful business:
1. Know Your Numbers - Are you commercially numerate?
Do you know the difference between mark up and margin? Can you justify every request for additional resource with a sound business case? A cash flow forecast and a return on investment? If not, you must! Finance is NOT just for the accounts department. If you can’t do the numbers, you can’t do the job.
2. Get Out and About - Do you know what "good" looks like?
Many senior managers working in small to medium sized businesses spend all their time at the coal face. They don’t understand what is happening in their industry sector, what their customers are doing and what competitors are planning. Join an industry group, or set one up, visit customers to find out what their future needs are, see how other businesses are run. The expertise you’ll bring back to your own business will be invaluable.
3. Moving From Team Member to Senior Manager - Can you get out of the friend zone?
A difficult challenge for many newly appointed managers is in the change in relationship between themselves and colleagues who are now direct reports. You used to be one of the gang, and now they report into you. How do you handle that? You must move into a more professional relationship without destroying the trust and support, previously enjoyed when you were part of the team.
4. Driving Change - Have you got a plan in place?
If the business is to grow, it must change and develop. To successfully drive change managers need a combination of planning and communication skills. Have you got a plan in place? What happens when things go wrong? Are you able to identify those who will support you? Challenge you? If you’ve still got your management “L” plates on, don’t try to become a change driving instructor!
5. Managing Risk - Should risk be avoided or managed?
You may think that a “steady Eddie” reduces risk. That’s wrong! The key isn’t to avoid risk, it’s to manage it. Ask yourself, how can you minimize potential downsides whilst maximizing the return? What safeguards should be put in place? What are the leading indicators that the risk is becoming too great?
6. Creating a Senior Team - Are you seeking to be liked?
The secret here is that senior team members don’t have to like each other. In fact, they probably shouldn’t! What they must do is value and respect each other. You should be asking yourself, do I understand what makes a senior team operate as one unit rather than an in-fighting, position juggling, group of individual power barons? Do I know how to control behaviors of those who have been in the “team” longer than me, but who act in self-interest? How do I manage the tensions which arise when new team members join and want things to change?
7. Managing People - Are YOU the jam in the sandwich?
Why is it that managers run out of time and direct reports run out of things to do? Is the culture in your business one of “delegating up”? Is it easier to avoid a decision by passing it up the line than make it and possibly make a mistake? If you’ve become a manager as a reward for being the person who got things done, how are you now going to delegate effectively? Despite your best intentions are YOU the jam in the sandwich?
8. Managing Time - Is your "door always open"?
Do you work in an open plan environment? Do you need to get in early and stay late in order to get the work done because your day is constantly highjacked by noise and nonsense? If you don’t manage and control, respect and value, your time, no one else will. How do you create thinking and planning time into a day which is already over full?
9. Managing Operations - How much waste is there?
How much time do you spend checking for waste? How much effort is spent correcting mistakes? How do you create a business which operates as efficiently and effectively as possible whilst driving out cost and duplication? Maybe there are business models and methods which have worked for others which can be applied to your business? Think about how much more your business could produce if waste was eliminated? And how in the world would you achieve that?
10. Selling - Are you bold enough to ask for the sale?
Whether you’re managing finance, operations, marketing administration or IT you’ve got a selling job to do. Whether it’s selling a new idea to your direct reports, persuading the senior team to adopt or adapt new methods, or directly selling to potential and current customers, good managers need to be able to sell. Can you recognize the buying signals? Can you frame the proposition in such a way that it’s hard to say no? Are you able to overcome objections whilst demonstrating a clear understanding of the issues blocking the sale? You need to be in a position to say YES to all of the above, you need to be bold enough to ask for the sale. If you can’t sell, you can’t manage.
About the author:
Marihelen Esem leads on the Essential Management Programme at Cranfield School of Management. In her early career Marihelen was the owner/manager of a number of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) which she built up and sold, including an advertising agency, PR consultancy, publishing company, jeweller and delicatessen. Marihelen was approached by Cranfield to lead the Business Growth and Essential Management Programmes, which she's done for over 20 years.