Ever heard the saying, "The buck stops here"? President Harry S. Truman even had it carved in wood on his desk at the Oval Office. It was a reminder to him that as the person sitting in the highest office in the country, he had the final say and took ultimate responsibility for the consequences of the decisions he made. Whew!
Only those that have had ultimate responsibility and accountability for decisions understand the gravity of "the buck stops here", or "the buck stops with me".
All organizational leaders know the strain of having to make the call that seals the fates of their people and organizations, but none are as adversely affected by that heavy responsibility as SME leaders in VUCA emerging market contexts. Why? Because it is very likely that their business, leadership, strategies, structures, and systems are rudimentary at best, which means they most likely make decisions without the support systems that guide other organizational leaders through theirs.
It doesn't have to be this way. Even though the buck stops with them, SME leaders can benefit from connecting with these 5 support groups to help them make more informed and sound decisions that safeguard business and stakeholder interests:
1. Board of Directors
Many SMEs feel they are too small to need a Board of Directors. This could be because they may not have developed coherent strategies, policies, and processes for corporate governance, or simply because they feel they imagine they have to compensate Board Directors significantly for their services and the SME is not in a position to do so.
Whatever the reason, the truth is it is never too early to form a Board. It is Boards that help SME management to develop business strategies and provides governance oversight on the soundness and compliance of the policies, procedures, and processes SMEs follow in carrying out their activities.
Beyond the mandated statutory articles, there are numerous arrangements SME leaders can make to maintain their Boards, whether they are constituted of only the founding directors or a more robust corporate governance structure. The issue of compensation should not be a hindrance to making the decision to form one. Indeed the decision to form a Board of Directors with the necessary competencies and connections is likely to accelerate SME operational and financial performance.
2. Management Team
I once heard a story about Nelson Mandela being part of a leadership caucus that chose him to be their head. There were several others in this top leadership triangle but the Africa National Congress (ANC) committee chose him as the torch bearer and the others formed the executive leadership committee, so to speak, that supported him.
Even though the ultimate decision-maker may carry the title of President, CEO, MD, or ED, they need not, indeed, they best not make executive decisions by themselves.
Forming Management Teams help SME leaders not only run day-to-day operations but also brainstorm, strategize, plan, manage, feedback, and feedforward. The benefit of Management Teams to SME leaders is having others in the trenches with you that share real-time experience and can contribute relevant inputs to generating desired outputs and outcomes. They also help the ultimate decision-maker with diverse perspectives and fresh insights where the leader may have blindspots or lost perspective.
If an SME is too small to form a Management Team, the SME leader can form an informal Advisory Team they can call on for advice on strategy and operations.
3. Peer Networking
SME leaders can form or join existing peer networking groups of other business leaders as platforms for learning and sharing challenges, solutions, best practices, resources, and networks.
This helps SME leaders connect with like-minded professionals in contexts that are relevant to theirs and that are either going through or had gone through similar experiences and can contribute value to their day-to-day and strategic leadership and business growth.
Peer networks can be formed as part of Chambers of Commerce, Professional Associations, or even be offered as Private Sector Organizations member services.
4. Private Sector Organizations
Private Sector Organizations represent specific business sector member interests in public-private-people as well as to policymakers and regulators.
Again, SME leaders must not think their business is too small and their voices too faint to matter in discourses on developments that affect their industries and businesses. It is often due to the absence of contributors and data on the SME experience that leads to the overlooking of SME perspectives in policy, legislative, regulatory, and service decisions.
The more SME leaders join and contribute their experience in areas such as capacity building, access to finance and markets, advocacy, and representation, the more informed Private Sector Organizations will be to champion their interests for adoption into policy and practice.
5. Professional Supporters
Perhaps the greatest support to SME leaders comes in the firm of Mentors, Coaches, and Sponsors.
Mentors are often seasoned business leaders in the same or another industry that can share their experience, offer their advice, and open doors to their networks. Coaches are trained professionals that guide SME leaders to clarify their vision, identify their barriers, define their development goals, develop a plan, and take ownership of their actions as they work together towards their desired outcomes. Sponsors are professionals that know the SME leader's character, competence, and aspirations and can advocate for their access to opportunities in spaces the SME leader may not have access to without their sponsorship.
If you are an SME leader, which one of these support groups are you going to invest in?
If you support SME leaders, which other support group would you recommend to them?