What is the futureSME Visual Strategy

Visual strategy works because seeing is believing-1“The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Peter Drucker, a man who knew a thing or two about management theory and practice. We are currently hearing some commentators speak of the  green shoots of economic recovery, which beckons some crucial questions for small to medium enterprises (SME). Are they in the right position to avail of the economic recovery? Are the managing directors and senior managers busy creating their company’s future, or are they stuck in fire-fighting mode? LEAP’s Mike Gaffney explains why a lack of clarity regarding business goals could be the biggest threat to recovery for many SMEs, and how the futureSME visual strategy methodology can solve this problem. But what is the futureSME visual strategy?

Mike why is it so hard to apply proven business theory to business practice?
A good friend of mine who has been in business for many years, said to me ‘Mike the theory is fantastic but how do I work around my lack of discipline?’ In essence the challenge he is faced with is that he has certain ways of doing things, some effective some ineffective. He has certain habits and his management team work around his habits, to the detriment of bedding down best business practices and disciplines in the organisation. So the challenge is to build the disciplines and practices independent of the managing director of the company.

What exactly are best practices?
There are literally hundreds of business methodologies, tools and techniques that can be applied to business. Recently LEAP commenced collaboration with futureSME, a European-wide research project, whose purpose was to right-size proven business methodologies that have worked in larger organizations, and make them applicable to the SME sector. The futureSME methodologies are a very effective way to enable organisations to apply disciplines, and develop new habits through application of those disciplines, that bypass the nuances of the senior people in the organisation, particularly the owner.

In terms of best practice what are business owners doing wrong?
The biggest challenge they have is keeping a strategic focus and how to develop the business on an on-going basis to make sure the business is progressing.  The owner is in fire-fighting mode, the senior team are in the same place. There is no head space to ask are we doing the right things, and can we do things better?  There is plenty of energy and commitment by the team, but there is a lack clarity and a corresponding lack of application of best business practices.

So how can the MDs and management teams help themselves to change their behaviours? They have to develop new habits, and the best way to do that is to apply methodologies that fit easily within the business. Over time these methodologies will engender new disciplines, and new ways of conducting their business which will lead to a positive cycle of improvement.

Is futureSME a one-size-fits-all model for SMEs?
Through futureSME a foundation programme has been developed with the specific intent of pulling business owners, and senior managers, away from day-to-day operations. It uses visual strategy mapping as a key component in getting them to see their business in a new light. To develop disciplines regarding strategy in a visual manner that helps to create momentum in a more productive manner than the current ad-hoc, fire-fighting approach.

Is visual strategy mapping something new?
It’s not new but what futureSME has done very well is bundle a number of different methodologies into one strategy map, with a supporting implementation plan as well. This bundling of existing methodologies is right-sized for application to the SME, so after just 6 half-day workshops there is a clear on-the-wall visual strategy for their business. Clear goals are identified with specific actions attached to each goal; again it’s on the wall, its visually alive, which ensures that the MD and the management team can’t dodge the bullet of implementing the strategy that has been defined.

How will futureSME benefit company owners and senior managers out there?
The number one thing the leader has to provide is clarity. The visual strategy map provides that clarity. Where we go with the business, how are we going to get there and who does what. It’s not just a compelling vision, we also go through the business model canvass which addresses every business dimension from customer segments and types, to channels to key resources, activities and partners.

But we do a very rigorous appraisal of where the business is as well. We clarify where the business wants to get to, we get the decision makers to commit to clear values and a mission statement that is real and not just aspirational. Then back up that top level with specific goals that will progress the company to achieve this vision and support those goals. What are the actions, who will do them and by when?  It’s a very powerful mechanism to keep the wheels of the business turning towards an agreed vision for where the business needs to get to within a stated time-frame.

So it’s about helping businesses thrive in the long term?
Absolutely, if all you have been doing for the last five years is fighting to survive, there comes a point where that’s all you understand. All the habits and disciplines are built around how to survive. How to thrive can get lost, because the training regime and best practice habits are not geared for growth.

 We forget and underestimate that the human brain is a self-patterning system. It will see its perception as reality. If it perceives things are a certain way and has to stay in survival mode, it will never look for a broader perspective in terms of opportunities to grow. Companies that have gotten this far are now in a good position to avail of the growth opportunities that are making a faint appearance on the horizon.


In interview with Des Kirby
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Self-Awareness Tools and How to Avoid The ‘Brent’ Factor

David_Brent_111For many decades psychologists and business leaders have observed, practiced and preached about effective business leadership. The result is a wealth of tools and materials to help guide the development of business owners and managers. Here LEAP’s John Raftery explains how freely available online tools can help you play to your strengths, and become a genuine leader as opposed to a David Brent-style caricature.

John, what does self-awareness mean in practice?
The key components of Emotional Intelligence are self-awareness, motivation, self-efficacy, empathy and social dexterity. But in order to develop the other four key factors in emotional intelligence you must start with the foundation which is self-awareness. Without self-awareness you won’t know what issues to address, you won’t know what your strengths or weaknesses are. So the key component in success is to build a high level of self-awareness.

The trouble is that’s not easily achieved; there is no formula or quick fix for building self-awareness. It is something that is developed over time. It’s about reflecting and understanding yourself at a deeper level and that can only be achieved through maturity and growth. We all meet people who have high levels of self-awareness and we meet people with very low levels of awareness.

How do you build self-awareness?
How you build self-awareness is a challenge. One thing you can do is to spend more time reflecting on your behaviour, your day’s output and trying to understand other people. The best way to do it is to devote more time to personal development. That means along with the technical skills that people learn on the job, you’ve also got to do some soft-skills training as well.

You have to look at personal development like communication, negotiation and listening skills, personality profiling and understanding the various personality profiles. There are lots of different tools out there. ; some are free tools and can give you information relating to your personality type. You can learn a lot from them if you reflect on the results and take things on board. If you complete a number of these tests you may begin to see a certain consistency which helps you to articulate who you are more effectively.

There are lots of good books out there too. A lot of good work has been done by Martin Seligman about authenticity and identifying what the drivers are in our personalities, and trying to achieve success in life and re-prioritise what we regard as success. His book is called Authentic Happiness and he’s been a big influence. Daniel Goleman’s book on emotional intelligence is also a very powerful one in terms of trying to understand yourself.

HR Managers and Profiling Tools
A lot of HR managers use Myers-Briggs for personality profiling. What I’m saying is that self-awareness is about reflecting on your behaviour and trying to understand yourself better, and there are tools and reading materials available to help you do that.

But business leaders and managers can take it to another level. Tools like performance management systems have in-built behaviours to help you develop your capabilities as a manager or leader. Tools like the 360 degree feedback can be useful in understanding how other people view you. Sometimes there is a disconnect between how other people view you and how you see yourself.  People often view themselves one way but present themselves to the world another way, and that indicates there is a problem. It indicates a low level of self-awareness.

Is there a danger of someone reading personal development books forcing themselves to act a certain way according to what they’ve read, but the ‘act’ is at odds with their authentic self?
Yes that’s a big issue. It reminds me of the character David Brent from The Office, that’s exactly what he represents; somebody who has a very low level of self-awareness. He has an image of himself as being very smart and clever. He has obviously swallowed all the management development books but it’s come out all wrong, and that’s why we find Brent so funny. He actually does represent that type of character that believes one thing about himself, but behaves in quite the opposite way. So that is a danger of course, we’ve all met those Brent types in our working lives.

But we also meet very genuine and authentic people. There is a difficulty here in defining someone who is authentic, orto give a formulaic answer to the question of what is authentic. But when we meet genuine people we know instinctively that they are genuine people. The greatest compliment you can pay someone is to say that they are genuine. One of the biggest insults is to say someone is harmless. It means they are ineffective, they have no influence or authority as they go through life.

Genuine and Authentic Behaviour
But in relation to genuineness, another word for it is congruence, where your behaviours fully reflect how you view yourself. So if you view yourself as trustworthy then you are absolutely trustworthy. But sometimes we behave in opposite ways to how we see ourselves. To be consistent in your behaviour, regardless of what situation you’re in, is really the sign of being genuine and authentic.

When the pressure is on you don’t suddenly revert back to type. You don’t dispense with proper behaviour, you don’t decide that manners are no longer necessary because you’re in a rush. Your behaviours have to be consistent irrespective of the environment, because the environment changes all the time. To be authentic means you stick to your beliefs and that your behaviours, and your view of yourself, are totally consistent. That’s how to build trust, you do what you say you will do. Self-awareness is key to all that.

John Raftey, executive coach, LEAP, leadership

John Raftery
Executive Coach




Interviewed by Des Kirby
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Sales Targets Are Vital but Managers Can’t Stay in Survival Mode

Tricia Cunningham business advisor at LEAPThe Challenge
Since 2008 it’s been a rough ride for small to medium sized businesses. Economic recovery has been painfully slow, and for many business owners and managers survival has been the name of the game. But as LEAP’s Tricia Cunningham points out, there is an inherent danger in companies remaining in survival mode for too long and not focusing on what they need to do to move beyond this stage in the development of their business.

Tricia what are managers telling you about the challenges they face?
Simply put, the greatest challenge managers face is delivering results in a way that keeps a team motivated and individuals committed to delivering results, month after month. In these times there is huge pressure on businesses to deliver results. Everybody has to stay focused on targets, take the eye off that and the business slips. However, as well as focusing on that, managers are realising that they need to stop for a moment and consider how we are achieving results.

You can achieve results in a way that builds a strong team, ensures people are working with you, and that people remain motivated and committed to the organisation. It doesn’t mean that results slip. At the moment there seems to be a heavy emphasis simply on the results. Managers are working to achieve results not recognising that, in the process, people are finding it overly stressful and chaotic. Practices are scattered, there is poorer communication across divisions and across team members. Everybody is focusing only on what they need to achieve themselves, because this is what they are being measured on.

There is such a focus on the business and what they’re being measured on that they’re not asking themselves am I doing it the right way? Am I doing it in a way that is drawing on the strengths of others, or in a way that ensures information is communicated to other departments? All of those good practices are being ignored to some degree as managers focus exclusively on targets. The impact of course is that there is duplication of work, or opportunities are missed, or people are drained to the point of being unmotivated and unable to contribute effectively.

Why do you think managers lost focus on the ‘good practices?’
They lost focus because the pressure is on businesses to deliver, particularly in the last number of years. Companies are under severe pressure to be competitive and reduce costs, to increase customer numbers and margins. All of those factors are at play and they are very important. But when we focus exclusively on those things, we lose sight of some of the good things that have helped build the organisation to the level that has allowed it to manage through the difficult times.

There is a danger that companies will achieve targets, but realise too late that many of the good practices that could allow them to move beyond survival mode and into success mode, have been lost. If they don’t get back to those good practices, they will remain in that survival mode mentality where it’s just about the targets. They forget the other vital areas like how the team is functioning together, and communication between departments.

Was this a conscious decision by companies?
No, it wasn’t conscious. What happened is that businesses had to get leaner and more focused because things got so tight. There was no fat allowed so it got trimmed back to the bare essentials. Organisations acted as though it didn’t matter if people were happy or not. Their mind-set was I have to get the numbers or the business will close. I have to increase customers and margins and cut down our costs.

Cutting back and being very lean became the sole driver, but some managers stopped asking themselves an important question. Are we still maintaining good working practices? Practices that will allow us to achieve the numbers in a way that keeps people motivated and involved in the business, and will help us therefore move to sustainability and not simply survival.

We have had 5 years of an economy in survival mode. Are any companies you work with showing signs of becoming more conscious of good working practices again?
There definitely is a move towards wanting to look at this area again. Companies are recognising that they have some really good people who have stayed with them, and worked hard for them to try and survive through difficult times. Now they are thinking, if I am to keep this person long-term I need to start looking at what I can do to develop the person and keep them engaged with the business.

Long term businesses won’t succeed if they keep the disciplines of survival mode; it’s not good for the business. In that mode they’ll never get the business to the next level as the skills that got them through the survival stage are not necessarily the skills that will get them to the next stage, which is about success. So they are recognising there are things they need to start doing to develop their skill sets to get them to the next stage.

With that in mind what’s your advice to SMEs in terms of managing teams?
Managers have to hit the pause button. They have to figure out the best ways to achieve results, so start looking internally at the organisation and start addressing three key questions.

1. Are we building strong collaborative teams across different functions?
2. What are we doing to improve communication across different functions?
3. What are we doing to keep people involved and motivated so they are able to be more productive and achieve results?

We’d like to hear your thoughts on the issues raised here. Please leave your comments in the box below.

Interview by Des Kirby
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