Achieve a consensus on your small business strategy

November 16, 2012

Set a clear strategy for your small business and empower your team to deliver on it.

Business theorists are keen to look at the social habits of different animal species in an attempt to find lessons for how to run a company. Ants have been cited as good examples for business management. They cooperate easily together, work hard for and trust each other and have the ability to focus on solving a problem without any one of them seeming to take charge. Others regard gorillas as offering clearer lessons for the world of business. They live in a “despotic hierarchy” in which a dominant male tells all the other apes what to do. Just like gorilla troops, businesses need a clear leader to keep everyone in line and push them in the right direction, it is argued. You can’t waste time discussing among yourselves what you should do, when a leader can swiftly set the course for employees to follow.

A company will never act like an ant colony. Your employees are a lot smarter, for a start. They have their own minds and personalities, so there’s always likely to be tensions between individuals or groups. That’s natural and shouldn’t necessarily be discouraged, unless it starts to undermine the business. You don’t want all your staff to think in exactly the same way, otherwise you’ll never have any dissenting voices to question your wisdom. Creative tension can also help to spark a dynamic that pushes your business forwards. But it’s good to make your staff understand that, like good ants, if they pull together then the business thrives, and they will too. Having a dominant leader in a business can help to create cohesion and eliminate conflict. But if it is left to just one person to come up with all the ideas and make all the decisions then a firm can quickly become stale. Any business is likely to contain talented people who are likely to know as much as, if not more, than the boss on specific issues. A good company needs a culture in which everyone is encouraged to come forward with ideas. If they don’t feel free to speak up then their input will be lost and the best decision won’t necessarily be made.  But, while a small business should not be a dictatorship, neither should it be a democracy. Each staff member should feel able to contribute ideas, but setting the strategy is the job of the boss. Consensus in the context of running a small business is where everyone understands the vision and small business strategy that the CEO has set for the company, and all staff members are clear about their individual role in delivering that strategy. A boss should delegate the responsibility of implementing the day-to-day details of that strategy to trusted lieutenants. A CEO shouldn’t micro-manage every project.  But there are a couple of situations where the boss can’t delegate. The first is where it’s not clear what should be done. No staff member should be left to muddle through, or worse, make up the strategy on the fly in the absence of any decision from the boss on which direction to take. The second scenario is where too much is at stake for the firm. The buck should always stop with the boss. Their name is often above the door and it’s their personal assets that may be on the line if it all goes wrong. That should be enough to concentrate any CEO’s mind.