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Microbusiness not micromanagement

Microbusinesses may not have a huge workforce or vast HR infrastructure. But with the right leadership approaches, they can still punch well above their weight and achieve outstanding business performance.

At micro level, it’s very much more about the individual leader. For good or bad, the organisation will take on the characteristics of that leader. They’ll set the tone in terms of how other people will behave and perform – whether their approach is a motivating one or not. And everything they do will spread to their team – their fears as well as their vision.

So leadership success in microbusinesses really depends on the maturity and emotional intelligence of that leader; their ability to be reflective, inclusive and to behave in a way that will engage and motivate people. In microbusinesses, the buck really does stop with the leader – there’s no other recourse, no other senior managers. He or she has a more immediate impact – so if they’re doing a bad job, employees have nowhere else to turn.

But this can provide an opportunity as much as a risk. A leader who has the knack of engaging and motivating people will soon find those people going above and beyond with their time, commitment and ideas. This kind of discretionary effort is something money can’t buy.

Good leaders have the humility to understand they don’t need to have all the ideas. They recognise that the best way to grow and innovate is to clarify their vision, values, standards, goals and objectives – then inspire people to come up with ideas and suggestions for achieving them, and give them the responsibility and authority to deliver. This applies equally to the smallest business and the largest multinational.

What do employees of microbusiness want from their leaders?

Essentially, it’s all about clarity. They want to know exactly what the organisation is all about, where it’s going and what part they’re going to play in it.

“’Thinking Big’ is our leader’s strategy,” says Petra Cook, Head of Business Support at Specialist Project Integration, which provides specialist impartial advice and support to road, rail and utilities infrastructure projects. “On one hand, you need to have a long-term business plan and vision, no matter how ambitious. And on the other, you need to react to changes quickly and adjust your strategy accordingly – while still involving your employees in the process.”

At SPI, there’s continuous two-way communication between its leader and employees – which means plenty of opportunity for that small (but rapidly growing!) group of employees to learn and grow with the company. “A good leader builds a strong foundation for future growth; invests in training, opportunity for self-learning and coaching for their people; and passes on their own knowledge,” adds Petra. “And they’re fair and consistent. This is the base upon which the company culture, identity and processes are built.” It’s obviously working – SPI has moved from being a microbusiness to SME in a very short period of time, doubling in size in the last six months and still growing.

What don’t people want?

The last thing employees in microbusiness want is micromanagement. Once you’ve given people the standards, guidelines and goals, it's vital to give them the space to work without you breathing down their neck.

Two years ago I started working with a print management company, Logixal run by a charismatic MD, with very ambitious goals. He'd worked with a consultant to build a business plan – but few people in his small company truly understood it. And while he was a strong salesman, he needed to work on engaging and motivating his team. His business was found to not be fully meeting the Investors in People Standard at the first assessment. He was disappointed but determined to improve.

When I revisited that company five months ago, he had worked alongside his team to write a new business plan, with realistic objectives built around what the company could actually deliver, and crucially, what his people believed it would realistically be most profitable to deliver. The plan also considered what his people needed to be better at, and he made sure they had the time to be able to learn and develop. He’d empowered his people by helping them develop and make decisions in the light of the company’s broader goals and vision, rather than simply getting them to hit the phones and hope that some successes would result. And it worked: they smashed their growth targets, are well into profit, the business has a stable, happy and highly productive team, and they achieved Investors in People accreditation.