Why SMEs are different

November 7, 2012

Professor Robert Garvey, aka as Bob, gave his inaugural lecture on Learning Business last Wednesday (31/10/12) at York St. John University.

Focusing on SMEs (small to medium enterprises) Bob showed recent research that highlighted greater business growth in SME that had mentors; also that SME business leaders and entrepreneurs learn best with their peers when addressing issues that really matter to them. We are acutely aware of this through running Action Learning (AL) Sets for business owners and social enterprise leaders.

AL Sets provide the very structure and arena Bob described in his lecture. He shared how learning is a social activity, for we are social beings. We don’t operate in isolation. AL recognises this and brings together peers – be those from within certain sectors or people who are facing similar challenges such as new into CEO roles.

Lord Weinstock said ‘... we learn most when faced with a real problem which we are obliged to solve’. Running a business is littered with these – big and small.

The challenge is to actually learn from tackling these issues. All too often we address an issue and move on. Many don’t take time to reflect, to identify why something was so successful and equally how they’d do it differently in future when things didn’t have the intended outcomes. Within Action Learning emphasis is placed on learning and that it is as important as the action. Time is allocated for review and reflect so lessons are learnt to help change happen.

For business owners and leaders, who by the very nature of their roles can find themselves isolated, much can be gained in hearing others talk about their challenges and relating that to your own situation. Looking though the lens of someone else’s experiences can help them reflect deeply on their own ways of working and doing business and help to approach things differently. This is what matters to business leaders – sharing experiences of facing new opportunities, investing in new technologies, creating new strategies, managing growth and testing out ideas with other peers who understand the terrain. Learning is social.

Through discourse that is rooted in a coaching and mentoring approach, business owners and leaders focus on the things that are important to address in their businesses and professional lives. From these conversations they learn and develop as they apply their actions and new understanding, gained from the process, back in their businesses. Along the way they gain self awareness, improve confidence and develop their problem solving and decision making skills.

And from our experience, they benefit from the companionship and support that the AL Set provides – often long after the Set has finished.

Bob’s over arching theme was that the very way in which we ‘teach’ in education has to shift if we truly want to encourage people, especially those in the SME market, to critically think, problem solve and contribute to the socio-economic well-being and health of our nation. I agree. I believe Action Learning provides one route to this and ticks many of the criteria Bob highlighted as essential for SMEs to grow and thrive. Thanks Bob for such an engaging talk.


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