Would you work for you?

When we were researched and wrote up our own learning, and the learning of others,  for what drives long-term success for ambitious business owners there was one theme that dominated the answers to the question – if you had your time again, what would you do differently?

I wish that I had taken on people more talented than me much earlier on

These comments are reflected in an earlier theme entrepreneur as leader and they beg a further question – how does an ambitious and growing SME attract and retain talent?

In our observation, the businesses who struggle say things like:

  • who would want to come and work for a small business in a rural town like Boringville
  • we can’t offer the same attractive salaries or career progression of a large corporate
  • we have to make do with what we have got

In comparison, the businesses who seem to make more progress say things like:

  • people join us because of our culture
  • it is a real challenge focusing the energy and ideas that come with ambitious people – but what a challenge to have
  • I’ve had to find and adapt to a new role, at the same time establishing where I can really add value

We are sure that this is much to do with great leadership AND great management – something that many business owners struggle to achieve balance with. But what does seem clear is the need for a compelling story that engages potential and current employees in the purpose and values of the business; informs them about what they need to focus on to be successful; and inspires them with what might be achieved together.

But these are our thoughts and our experience with our clients … in your opinion what helps ambitious business owners to attract and retain talent? What works? What doesn’t?

The topic will be explored in further depth at our next compass meeting.

Two from the top please Carol

The writing of this theme started when we came across a blog of someone who we have worked alongside for the last 8 years . It sparked a thought that we have held for a number of years:

  • Bill Gates and Paul Allen
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
  • Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard
  • Richard Branson and Will Whitehorn

It seems that success is quite often a factor of two. So, is it the case that behind every great ambitious business owner is a great number two?

Perhaps, the term number two is less than useful. Perhaps, we are talking about a partnership that essentially is equal, certainly in terms of reciprocal value. Perhaps, it is a partnership with important distinct roles and offerings, yet also a partnership that becomes a powerful whole. Perhaps, it is as much about Ying and Yang; Pilot and Navigator; Morecambe and Wise!

In those businesses that we have observed to go on to great things, these types of partnerships seem to be an important characteristic. Within the partnership there is a level of trust and a clear understanding of confidentiality, which allows the unspeakable to be spoken, pressures to be genuinely shared and offloaded. Importantly, along with support, there is the opportunity to challenge and disagree with mutual respect, attention and a valuing of different perspectives.

In our minds, we often see one as up in the crow’s nest, off visiting foreign lands, experimenting and visioning, whilst the other  is “holding the ground”, covering the bases, running the show.  Perhaps the roles are important, who has which and with what blend less so. If we return to the idea of the Ying and Yang however, we might remind ourselves that at the centre of one shade or texture we find the other. There are distinctions and similarities, overlaps and the ability to operate in both roles and of course, if needs be, take the helm alone.

So, if you are an ambitious business owner and if this type of partnership is fundamental:

  • What does this tell you about your quest for enduring success?
  • If you already have this partnership, what do you need to do to capitalise further on it?
  • To what extent do you both share the same sense of ambition, purpose, values and vision?
  • If you don’t have it, how might you find it?

Perhaps, one final thing to say is that this is not about succession planning – a great number two does not necessarily make a great successor.