Secrets of Success Series – -Cherian Kuruvila Sharing of experiential learnings and best practices

Over the last 4 years as I have gone about working closely with entrepreneurs one challenge I have seen with most SMB owners is a weak second line waiting for instructions and rarely challenging the assumptions or decisions or the management style of the owner – right or wrong.


The common problem I have observed across a variety of entrepreneurs and across sectors is that a Business Owner is rarely a good IT, Technology, Sales, Marketing, HR, Finance, Legal, Production person, Team leader all rolled in one. Yet they call the shots in all these areas and more often than not deflect the blame to the team when the going gets rough or a decision backfires.


On the other hand I have had many clients where it was the openness of the Leaders to realise their own limitations and look at ways of bringing in a more professional approach to driving change. I have attempted to capture the learnings from these various case studies into an actionable form for anyone facing these challenges.


If I were to sum up what entrepreneurs or leaders did differently from an experiential viewpoint, they would broadly be around the 8 steps shared below –

  • Accept that the owner may be a significant part of the problem with their distinct management style – directive or controlling or indecisive style. Problem is who tells them this – not the team for sure. I for one have never hesitated to tell the leaders on the face nicely but firmly that they are the problem and the change has to start with them and their management style.
  • Call in external experts in some of the Top 3- 4 problems areas be it for improving productivity on the shop floor or of the sales team. Or for areas like Marketing, HR, IT to help bring in a structured approach and documenting processes or policies and define clear measures. It should certainly not be seen as a sign of weakness of the leader but the openness to accepting short term professional help from hands on experts to set a stronger foundation.
  • Define the Goals with clear goalposts as part of a documented and well thought out Marketing and Financial Business plan. The power of a good and dynamic Business Plan document which gives short, mid and longer term Goals with clear capturing of opportunities, threats, competition benchmarks, product and pricing and branding should never be underestimated. When backed up with clear Assumptions, Strategies, Actions, investments needed and accountabilities of the leadership team with clear timelines it certainly helps increase the likelihood of the Goals actually being achieved.When I see an Excel sheet as a Business Plan in 9 out of 10 cases to start with and some random growth plans it makes me shudder. No wonder the goalposts itself keep shifting during the year and the plans get missed. A classic example was of my client who wanted to grow his business 10 X in 5 years but had not thought through the nuts and bolts of how it would happen. So with that mandate the whole discussion I had with the leadership team in year 1 was to set some aggressive milestones for year 2 and 3, work backwards and radically change the Go to Market approach and team mindset with a very clearly thought out Business Planning document and a structured review process to measure progress. And today, 4 years later, that client is already at a 7X level from where they started and ripe for an acquisition. That is the power of big thinking combined with the eye for planning, detailing and focus on execution. Big thinking in isolation remains just that – dreams in the mind.
  • Move from the short term crisis management mindset to a longer term framework with clear milestones and measures of progress. After all what is the fun in firefighting all the time, if the other skill of the leader is creating these fires in the first place and keeping the whole team on the edge with constant crises and criticism.
  • Step back from micromanaging every decision. Most entrepreneurs and leaders just do not want to let go – from cheque signing, to decisions on spending even small amounts, to keeping on deferring decisions on hiring people, to not trusting their team members enough, to checking all mails going out from the office ! One CEO used to read 200 emails a day from his team members to external clients and internal team members – can you beat that ? So the team gets used to coming to them for every small decision which clogs up the leader’s time and bandwidth. Hence the lack of time for longer term strategic thinking or for critical areas like networking or client relationship management as much as is needed.
  • Bring in documented processes, technology tools, business reviews and Management dashboards which help Business Owners to step back from day to day operations yet stay connected wherever they are to have a ear to the ground and intervene if needed. This should be the next step to slowly distance themselves from the day to day operational issues.
  • Building a stronger second line, empowering them and making them Accountable as profit centre or functional heads with clear targets, deliverables, performance incentives and other good HR practices would be the next step. With the letting go of some power and encouraging the next level to step forward and take ownership a whole new energy seeps in and a more open culture gets established in the organisation.
  • Invest in coaching and developing the team members to become more entrepreneurial, more strategic and more effective team leaders who feel like a part of the Core or leadership team. It is amazing to have seen first hand with many of my clients how suddenly these Yes men who waited for instructions or kept their thoughts to themselves now start contributing ideas, becoming more participative, confident and ready to move to bigger roles and challenges in the process.
  • What is most energising for the client teams and for me is to see the transition from the initial resistance to change, to the acceptance, to an openness to the seemingly innocent questions – so what is stopping you from changing. And then moving to the next level of the why, what, where, how and when questions ?

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