Innovation the key to business transformation

If you say the word ‘ Innovation’ to anyone their first reaction is likely to be ‘expensive.’ Talk to small businesses about innovation and their reaction is likely to be expensive R & D. Many people equate innovation with inventing a new product and usually equate it to unique product developments such as iPhone or iPad which would naturally cost hundreds and thousands of pounds.
However true innovation when applied to business need not be expensive and can be applied to almost any part of the business. Innovation can mean a new business process or a different way of engaging with customers . Reducing the number of processes in handling orders for instance is innovation. Going from paper invoices to electronic invoices is innovation. Many business have gone from a bricks and mortar type business to largely on line. This too is innovation.
Businesses that innovate tend to experience better growth, more profitability and by involving staff members in the process will have a happier workforce. And the process of innovation can be carried out in relatively short timescales. So by innovating business can reap the rewards quickly and move their business forward at the expense of their competitors.
If you want to transform your business through innovation contact Bob Francis on 07941 426 807 or at

Employee Engagement – key to your success!

At a seminar last week I was reminded of what a huge difference an organisation can make to its working environment, and ultimately turnover and profits, by developing an effective relationship with its employees. This applies to all organisations, large and small, but in many ways is even easier for those with less employees.

The definition used at the seminar was: “Engagement is the motivating, ‘two way’ relationship (emotional contract) between people & their organisation. Both will go the extra mile for one another & share in mutual successes.”

So what does ‘engaged’ mean?

  • Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organisation forward.
  • Not-Engaged employees are indifferent in their attitude. They are putting in time, but not enough energy or passion into their work.
  • Actively Disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish

Research by Gallup and others shows that engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave. The best-performing companies know that an employee engagement strategy linked to the achievement of business goals will help them win in the marketplace.

For most of us it is about being valued in an organisation. So how can you ensure your employees are valued in your business?

The Gallup research of over 400 companies has simplified their findings to 12 key questions:

  •  Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  •  Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
  •  At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  •  In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good  work?
  •  Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  •  Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  •  At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  •  Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  •  Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  •  Do you have a best friend at work?
  •  In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  •  In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

From “First, Break All The Rules. What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently” by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman

Q10 may cause a few raised eyebrows but I interpret it as an organisation that encourages social activity, and therefore strengthened relationships between colleagues.

What answers would you get if you asked your employees these 12 questions?

Posted by Deb Herbert, Business Advisor with SGBA. If you would to talk to someone about your business, including your employee engagement strategy, call Deb on 07803048752 or email her at

Project Management for SME’s – not just for the big boys!

Effective project management is fundamental to the success of all businesses, large and small. The process and results have an impact on many key areas – business growth and development, staff motivation and staff development.

Projects do not have to be capital intensive or complex but have a number of key characteristics:

1. response to a business need – obviously, but it is important to be clear about the business need. What are you trying to achieve?
2. a temporary activity – it has a clear start and end point. At some stage (and that needs clarity) the resulting process/product becomes part of the work activities.
3. a unique activity – there may have been something similar in the past but this is not part of the regular work activities.
4. there is uncertainty – risk – which needs to be managed.
5. normally involves other people – internal or external, requiring team and communication skills, and a defined project manager.

There are many training courses and qualifications available to develop project management skills, for example, PRINCE 2 is a well recognised project management qualification (PRojects IN a Controlled Environment – However, for small businesses the cost of these opportunities is often prohibitive. They also require a level of time commitment which is often impractical for the smaller business. By applying a logical and structured approach to their projects all businesses can achieve the results they require.

The first point to recognise is that project management is both an art and a science:

o Art – the project manager role of leading people
o Science – applying the process with appropriate tools and techniques

Which is the most complicated? Often the ‘art’ because leading people usually poses the most challenges.

But let’s start with the ‘science’ – the process. In my experience of working with large corporate organisations and small local businesses, applying a logical 5 step process will help achieve a successful outcome:

1. Define your project – we have mentioned the need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve and that requires identifying the project goals or objectives. SMART is a well known acronym to help you structure your goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timing). A key problem with projects is managing expectations and the ‘Realistic’ element of your goal setting will be identifying what the project will and will not do. It cannot be ‘all things to all men’ or will lose focus and therefore effectiveness. This is the ‘scope’ element of your project and, in my experience, is the biggest cause of project failure.

Writing down, and getting agreement to, what the project will and will not cover is critical before moving forward.

Other aspects of the project to consider at this stage are:
o Alternatives – what are the options?
o Costs and benefits – depending on the most effective option
o Timescales
o Responsibilities – who is project manager and what other resources will be required
o Risks – to the project success – identifying mitigating and contingency actions

When the ‘definition’ has been agreed by key stakeholders then you can move onto stage 2:

2. Planning – this requires scheduling of activities and resources to meet the agreed timescales. There are a number of tools you can use – Gantt charts and Critical Path Analysis are well known tools – but an Excel spreadsheet is often sufficient. It is important to share and get agreement to your schedule to ensure other people involved know what is expected of them and by when. The Planning stage will also identify ongoing support required after project closure.

3. Implementation – you’ve planned the work, now it is time to work the plan! Regular updates of progress are a key part of the project manager role. Depending on the project, this is likely to be the most time-consuming stage and will require close attention to the people and process side of project management.
Full implementation may have been preceded by testing and/or piloting to ensure the final product will meet the business needs.

4. Closure – bring the project to a close by handing over to the business ‘owner’. The result becomes part of the regular business process or offering. Part of the project manager role will have been to plan for any training etc.

5. Evaluation – often not done by any business, large or small! Have we achieved what we set out to achieve? What went well? What could we do differently next time? Celebrating success and sharing in the learning so that the business and its people can continue to develop project management skills.

The ‘art’ side of project management is the project manager role of leading people and, as we have seen from the process described above, requires many organisational and inter-personal skills and characteristics:

o Effective communication
o Delegation
o Integrity
o Enthusiasm
o Team building skills
o Problem solving skills
o Influencing and persuading
o Organising and planning

Project management can be a great opportunity to develop staff and give them additional responsibilities. It can also be an important tool to help identify future managers and key staff to develop the business.

In my experience, leading and managing a successful project is one of the most rewarding activities in the workplace.

UKBA response to Government mentoring programme

As one of the UK’s leading advisors to SMEs (Small and Medium sized Enterprises), UK Business Advisors (UKBA) initially expected to register and become a core part of the new government initiative for mentoring to small business owners. Whilst it is expected that some of UKBA’s mentoring specialists will join the scheme individually, having carried out a full investigation of the government’s proposals, UKBA as an organisation has decided not to become part of the initiative for two main reasons. The first is that the terms of the mentoring programme are all about mentoring and specifically excludes giving any actual business advice to a business owner. Whilst non-specific personal mentoring may be of help to some business owners, in the experience of the over 100 UKBA advisors, actual practical hands–on help specific to that business is far more valuable. UKBA feels that preventing advisors providing advice is not in the best interests of businesses. The second reason for not partaking is the programme’s emphasis on “free mentoring”. Unfortunately the old adage of you get what you pay for can be true here. UKBA experience has shown that committed business owners value paid-for advice from real business experts. It also keeps the advisors on their toes and competitive. Chris Ball, a UKBA advisor who was part of the team who carried out the analysis said, “The sad experiences that many business owners had with previous government initiatives show that free advice is seldom followed and is often not the best advice that a business can have. We hope the government scheme does provide real assistance to some business owners, but feel our skills can benefit them in a much better way.” Chris Ball is a business advisor within HCBA, the Home Counties region of the UKBA network. For full details visit the UKBA website

Is the Government’s approach to business mentors the right one?

Over 200 current and former bank managers have signed up to form the core of a national mentoring scheme being rolled out today with Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander offering businesses more support on issues like finance, marketing and HR. This comes as a result of the Governments attempts to change the way SMEs receive help with the demise of the RDAs and Business Links in their current form.

My question is what do current or even former bank managers know about marketing and HR?

At first sight the aim to provide help and advice, mentoring and coaching to business owners is a laudable one. All these mentors are doing it for free- even better for the owners of these businesses. But does this mean that these owners will get the latest and best advice? It is unlikely as many will not be current and others will lack expertise and probably have never run their own business before.

Perhaps these bank managers should stick to what they know and advise SMEs on how to produce plans that are acceptable to banks to obtain loans and overdrafts.

There are a number of organisations such as SGBA that have dedicated, trained and experienced advisors who will provide a similar service. The main difference is that they will stick to their area of expertise. Someone who is an expert in marketing will not be an expert in finance but there will be someone else in the team who is. See About Us for full details of the team’s expertise.

If you would like to discuss the issues that face you Contact Us and an adviser will call you.