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42. Tom Peters searching for small business excellence in tough times No 4

Tom Peter’s & Robert Waterman’s third precept from In Search of Excellence was focusing on Autonomy and Entrepreneurship, where he believed that many large US corporations at the time of the book were failing. For Peters this was about giving product or market champions their head, with a degree of authority and responsibility. Within policy guidelines he wanted to see these managers allowed to progress their projects with minimum interference, allowing them scope to excercise some creativity and entrepreneurship. Autonomy and entrepreneurship is what small business is all about, so surely this is not relevant to them?

Well, I think it is. Sometimes owner-managers are the worst at giving their staff (or if they do not have staff, those to whom they outsource work) guidance and and letting them get on with the job. They sometimes expect others to think in the same way that they do, but without being clear on what they are trying to achieve. Or they fail to listen to others’ ideas, or meddle as they are trying to progress their work. Small businesses are often just as slow as large ones to take full advantage of the skills and the abilities of staff, of the ideas and perceptions that they bring. And the ‘not invented here’ syndrome, the unwillingness to accept anyone else’s ideas, is just as prevalent in small as large organisations. Is this you? If so, time to develop some new habits?

Entrepreneurship is about seeing opportunities and being prepared to take some risk to exploit that opportunity. That is how small businesses start – and hopefully sometimes grow into large ones. In a large company, the shareholders own the business, and encouraging staff to take risks when they do not stand to benefit proportionately from those risks is difficult. But the same can be true for staff in a small business: I am paid to do whatever; if I go a step further which I think is right to do for the business, will I be thanked or fired for it? Does the fear rather than the opportunity take priority in your business? Can you get more out of the resources you have by supporting them more and giving them more scope? Not for all, but for many businesses giving more scope may bring significant rewards.

And to take this one stage further, sometimes owner-managers do not give themselves enough scope to be entrepreneurial, allowing themselves to be so tied up in their day-to-day roles that they do not have the freedom to meet the right people, have ideas and/or to take them forward. In today’s competitive market conditions, doing exactly what you did yesterday may not be enough to survive or thrive, and new opportunities will open up, which, if you are not looking, will pass you by. The most entrepreneurial usually thrive better than most in tough times. Are you giving yourself enough scope?

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