Mind the (Agility) Gap

The gap between the growth and agility of large and small businesses is widening. But in a networked world, the need to bridge that gap is also increasing.

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Today saw the launch of Lord Young’s report ‘Growing Your Business‘. I went along to Number 10 Downing Street (like you do) to attend the launch, partially out of curiosity (as an increasingly apolitical person) but mainly because 100%Open were featured in the report, as a case study in the section on innovation and collaboration. The three main things I took from the launch were as follows:

  1. Firstly about the crucial importance of the 4.8 million small companies to generate the growth and employment we need to get the economy motoring. Lord Young argues, reasonably convincingly, that a large proportion of these companies want to grow but won’t or can’t, partially due to a lack of access to finance (which he proposes to tackle through start-up loans for everybody) but also because of a lack of confidence (which he proposes to tackle through vouchers for business growth advice).
  2. Secondly, he goes on to say that taking on your first employee can be a pivotal moment in the growth of any company. Having just gone through that process of employing our first person, all really rather painlessly, I can vouch for that and empathise with it too. However he also states that job creation isn’t the be all and end all, and that many companies (including 100%Open I might add) have grown significantly by use of flexible and agile technology and (freelance) teams. Too often we confuse business size with success.
  3. Finally, he makes a commitment to attempt to simplify the labyrinthine business support infrastructure that exists in the UK. Whilst we still have a very long way to go, I take some encouragement from the impressive recent work done on the www.gov.uk website which does appear to have made good progress on radically simplifying the information and signposting available.

I enjoyed the event and agreed with the overal trends outlined in the report, though what impact the proposed solutions will have remain to be seen. It’s also worth pointing out that the report has attracted some negative publicity in the Sunday papers (here) as it states that a recession can be a good time to start a business because, amongst other things, talented labour can be cheaper.

Bridging the Gap

My take for what it’s worth is that the biggest thing that the government could do to support small business is to connect the dots and speed up the rate of generating and finding new business opportunities.

Specifically, and building upon point 3 above, we need to massively simplify the Kafka-esque complexity and inefficiency of doing business with the public sector, which often favours much larger companies who are the only ones with the bandwidth to engage.

Secondly, I’d really like to see a National Needs Network – a business to business marketplace that aggregates the needs, requirements and opportunities of the buyers from the public, private and not for profit sector. This information exists already in the public domain but is massively fragmented and the value of bringing it together as a resource for all businesses would be huge. Linked to that, engaging and supporting small businesses (along the lines of the current SBRI scheme) ought to be mandated across all government departments in my view, which appears to be the way things are heading.

Finally I think the focus on small businesses is a really good thing, but the reality is that often the best way to help them to grow is to bridge the gap between buyers and sellers, namely between large and small businesses, thereby creating a much more symbiotic economy. As Jason Jennings says, it’s not the big that eat the small, but the fast that eat the slow.

By Roland

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Comments

  1. I’d like to echo Roland’s point regarding how to view success and growth. Also the need for external finance may well all depend on how aggressively you see the need for growth in financial numbers. The don’t run before you can walk mantra may well come into play here.

    We have grown over the past 5 years, not in terms of numbers and part in terms of turnover, and are yet to make the leap as 100% Open just have as we still operate a partnership approach with other companies and work with trusted freelancers on a project by project basis. Building the right team each time.

    I would say that finding the right company mentor, a trusted source of advice that is aligned with you, your business and where you wish to take it has been invaluable. So point 3, will only really help shape your mind to even look at points 1 & 2, depending on how you are measuring success of course.

    But for us, time & time again, it’s been the red tape. To the companies that we have demonstrated how we can work with, save them money, achieve a better outcome in shorter, simpler time scales etc. It’s the staff numbers, our turnover, sometimes even our location that has prevented us from bridging the gap! For a small business that has often seen the David V Goliath scenario come down to not being able to secure new business thanks to their procurement methods, as often set out by the large corporate, we can only look to remain ‘fast’ and who knows, maybe one day we will get to eat to slow. Which we have already achieved from time to time…

  2. Thanks Steve. Yes I saw a lot of parallels between our organisations when we spoke recently. And I really like your point about company mentor too. We have that as well and it’s been invaluable. Henry Chesborough talks about the business model of the future being more like a film crew, where everybody (producers, directors, actors, crew etc) are all freelancers and come together for a project (films) and disband afterwards, and sometimes reform on future projects. I think for certain businesses like ours that makes a lot more sense as you get the right people and everybody is only as good as their last job. And what you perhaps lack in organisational learning is overcompensated for in many other ways. Anyway, thanks for the comment and look forward to continuing the conversation. R

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