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Interview as featured in Arabian Gazette

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of any strong economy, and the UAE is no different. A recent study by Dubai SME shows more than 94% of the companies operating in the UAE are SMEs and together, they account for more than 86% of the total private sector workforce as well as more than 60% of the country’s current GDP, which is estimated to go up to 70% by 2021.

These businesses create the most jobs and contribute heavily to the country’s growth. It is therefore in everyone’s best interests that SMEs succeed. From the Government to Business Leaders to Entrepreneurs and Team Members, the effort to continue raising the bar and allow these business institutions to flourish is a universal one. SMEs are a powerful driving force of the UAE’s economy, and, with the right support, will continue to be of tremendous strategic and financial value.

We had a chat with Dubai based Entrepreneur Murtaza Manji, a business strategy coach and speaker who has worked closely with over 600 CEOs and Business Leaders from the GCC, UK and Tanzania.

Manji spoke on a range of topics including how a business strategy coach can add value to businesses, insights from working with top business executives, how having a tolerant enterprise culture can have a positive impact in business performance, best practices for improving organizational and financial targets.

What exactly is business coaching and why should companies/CEOs hire services of a business strategy coach?

In this Digital Age, there’s no shortage of information that is available to companies and business leaders. Therefore, under-performance does not occur because people don’t ‘know’ any better. The disparity between knowledge and results comes when there is a lack of implementation of that knowledge.

Think of it as a personal trainer at the gym. The role of the trainer or coach is not just to have the know-how, but also to create a tailored program based on your required outcomes, implement accountability so that you do achieve the results you want, and to help overcome any challenges that come up along the way. For companies that are looking to achieve significant, sustainable growth, an external coach can provide tremendous value because they can (and will!):

• Challenge the norms • Ask the right questions • Bring clarity to business challenges • Contribute strategic insight and honest feedback • Hold the business leader and team accountable

A business strategy coach is a sparring partner that every business leader needs to achieve great results.

Can you share some of your key learnings after having worked closely with over 600 CEOs and business leaders?

One of my greatest observations is that most companies are not blindsided by a large disaster or crisis that takes them off course. Their biggest challenges are ones that were ignored or dealt with inappropriately when the business was smaller.

Leaders need to have a clear way to evaluate what is going on in the organisation, identify anomalies early on, and monitor them to see if it’s an incidental glitch, or if the challenge is going to fester and get worse as time goes on and the company grows.

My second greatest insight is that executives need to be willing to do what is required for the company to achieve its potential. That means: having that difficult conversation with a team member or supplier, firing a client, addressing under-performance, and holding themselves and the people around them accountable to a high standard.

What is the best strategy for achieving growth in a declining market?

I strongly feel that the term ‘declining market’ is inaccurate. There may be a general slowdown in specific industries, but certain markets are doing stronger than ever. Businesses need to be aware that if they do not establish themselves as specialists when the market has a niche requirement, they will not be considered.

Businesses, especially small to medium enterprises, need to stop creating a “jack-of-all” identity and instead focus on a few key competencies for which they can be known as market leaders. The more niches your target market, the better.

The businesses that we work with adhere to this approach, and have seen record numbers in terms of revenue and growth, in the same years that their competitors were going out of business and shutting down.

With the UAE embracing 2019 as the Year of Tolerance, how significant is a tolerant culture in improving business performance?

A study by Deloitte shows that diverse and inclusive companies are likely to have 2.3 times better cash flow, are 1.8 times more likely to be change-ready, and 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. The Harvard Business Review also found that diverse companies are 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market.

The statistics clearly show that inclusivity and diversity are good for business, and those cannot exist without a strong culture of tolerance. If the leadership team of a company consists of individuals that all come from similar backgrounds, similar age groups, similar ethnicity, and similar experiences, the perspectives that they bring to the decision-making table are also likely to be similar.

Tolerance and diversity urge people to look outside their perceived ‘norms’ and look towards diverse viewpoints, thoughts, ideas, and actions. This, in turn, will spur innovation and lead to profitable business ventures.

Every business is unique. But, is there any magic formula that you recommend to CEOs to grow their companies financial results and achieve organizational growth targets?

I’m working on the magic formula! While every business is unique, there are general business best practices that don’t change regardless of industry, size or geography. Examples of these best practices:

• Tracking key business numbers and anomalies • Having a strong company culture and values • The inclusion of diverse viewpoints and a clear decision-making process • Addressing changing market needs through constant innovation • Other general best practices around Leadership, People, Finance, Operations, and Strategy

The role of the business leader and executive team is to work with the company’s unique strengths, whilst knowing the business best practices, and blend them together to create long-term, sustainable business success. Enabling and enhancing this process is where a business strategy coach can bring real, tangible and measurable results.

How can businesses remain agile in a changing market?

Businesses are like trees; they are either growing or dying. Any business that isn’t constantly changing is falling behind, and risking failure. Changing markets are not new. The only different factor is the speed at which the markets and business landscape are involving.

The most successful business are the ones that develop the ability to not just keep up with the change, but to always be one step ahead. These are the businesses that will become market leaders and will come out on top.

What is the secret to identifying high-potentials within the team?

Managing people, talent and performance are some of the greatest challenges a fast-growing business will face. Having a strong company culture in which initiatives are encouraged, contributions are recognised (not just financially!) and growth is the norm, will cultivate drive and motivation within the team, and make them star players.

The role of the leadership team is to create an environment where high-potential team members can thrive, and to nurture and allow them to continue their growth – even if it means moving to a different department, or indeed, a different company. Loyalty is not just a term to be used for customers, but also for the individuals within the organisation. Team members need to experience that the management is there to help them grow as professionals, not to exploit them for business goals. Every person has tremendous potential within, but it will not be exhibited in the wrong environment.

On the other hand, businesses often have individuals who are unwilling to live up to the company’s standards, these challenges in managing performance also need to be addressed, and the leadership needs to have a clear course of action for how to tackle such situations.

The post Interview: How a Business Strategy Coach can Improve Your Company’s Performance appeared first on ActionCOACH The World's Leading Business Coaching Firm.

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If there was a poll on why businesses don’t excel, the “My employees don’t want to take ownership” option would definitely be in the top three reasons. In the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with business leaders over the last seven years, this issue has been raised almost every single time.

So what is it about employment that brings about such disinterest? Or, is it even about employment at all – maybe the leadership, peers or company culture needs to be examined? Honestly, there’s usually more than one issue at play. Here are four possible reasons why this disenchantment may occur, and some suggested ‘antidotes’:

1- An employee doesn’t want to raise his own bar beyond his comfort level:

When you hire, you bring someone on to do a particular set of tasks. Over the months and years of doing the same (or similar) work with the same people, a level of comfort and complacency tends to set in. You’d like the employee to proactively improve the role, continually increase output, and increase overall efficiency…but taking the ownership of improving the task would take away from that comfort – and few people look for discomfort. In addition, once a person has shown that he can deliver, you’d reasonably expect him to live up to that standard. If someone would rather just live on cruise control, they won’t make the mistake of showing you what they’re truly capable of.

If this disappoints you, let me offer a real-world reminder: someone who is driven, proactive, smart, generates ideas and follows through on them (does this sound like you?) is much more likely to be running their own business than working for someone else. This isn’t to say that no employees will be good; rather, understand that some will need you to help them become the best version of themselves, if they want it badly enough.

The Antidote: In business, as in life, prevention is better than cure. Don’t let complacency set in – keep people engaged and motivated to act, and encourage continuous learning and training. Let them see their own potential, excite them with their career prospects, and nurture their talents. Does that mean that some will get poached by your competitors? Yes. Is that a good reason to underachieve as an organization? Well…you decide.

2- An employee is afraid of blame if her initiative fails:

A common obstacle for many initiatives is the fear of failure. This fear is normal – it’s ok to be uncomfortable with the idea that an idea may not work. This can be overcome, through support, learning and continuous effort. In some organizations, however, there is another fear associated with taking the initiative: the fear of blame. This fear is paralyzing, and stronger perhaps than any other fear. But can you imagine a world without failure? What a bleak, boring world it would be. It was failure after failure that gave us the light bulb, the telephone, and every other breakthrough invention we can’t live without today. How likely would it be for us to have these tools, if every failure was met with blame and accusation?

The Antidote: “Show me a man who has never failed, and I’ll see a man who has never attempted anything.” If you want the firm to reach new heights, it will happen at the cost of some slip-ups. The greater the fear of the blame for slip-ups, the less likely that any new steps will be taken. This doesn’t mean everyone gets free rein to waste resources, though. Identify your future stars, sit with them, listen to their ideas and discuss the requirements. The greatest weapon in their arsenal will be your belief in their abilities – help them to help you.

3- There’s no glory in the grind:

As Maslow identified in his Hierarchy of Needs, once the “basic needs” are met, a person has two psychological requirements: ‘Belonging’ and ‘Esteem’. ‘Belonging’ is to do with an individuals’ personal and social circle, and ‘Esteem’ has two parts: Prestige and Feeling of Accomplishment. In a work setting, these are achieved through awards, recognition and titles. The “What’s In It For Me?” should be addressed, not just in marketing products to prospects, but also when encouraging participation internally. There is – perhaps rightfully, in some cases – the perception that employees are not valued by organizations, and this attitude is a major issue that needs to be addressed.

The Antidote: If a team member is going out on a limb, and is willing to take the risk that it may not work, it would only be fair to give them the appropriate glory for the effort, too. There are two direct benefits to this. Firstly, if the idea works out, the appreciation should cause a huge boost in their self-esteem, their pride in their work, and their reputation in the firm. If it doesn’t work, the acknowledgement will still show that the effort is appreciated, and that the firm believes in the person – this can work wonders for long-term loyalty. Secondly, it gives a message to every other person: your performance is not going unnoticed. A ‘not-A-but-not-C-level’ team member will see that those who try being praised, and it may be all the encouragement they need to up their game. Conversely, if someone is not willing to push themselves, their lack of effort will be highlighted over time. Either way, it benefits the company in the long-run.

4- There is a culture of apathy:

On her first day on the job, the bright-eyed, energetic young lady was brimming with ideas on how to improve performance. Everywhere she looked, she saw potential gains, growth and results. She started writing a list of all her thoughts, afraid to lose them if they weren’t committed to paper. Twenty minutes and seventeen ideas later, her assigned mentor – a middle-aged, pleasant man who had been in the company forever – looked over at the excited recruit muttering to herself, and saw her list. Interrupting her train of thought, he asks: “Do you truly think nobody here has ever thought of these ideas before?” She pauses, unsure how to reply. He continues: “See Alex over there? He still has his ideas list from three years ago in his drawer somewhere. Martin, over in the corner – his ten-point plan that he made a year ago was just taken off his wall last month. And the initiatives I proposed when I first joined – let’s just say, we’re still waiting for them to be reviewed. Don’t waste your time on this. Frankly, my dear, they don’t give a damn.”

And, just like that, another one bites the dust. She glances down at the paper, tears the sheet off, and drops it – along with her enthusiasm and dreams, into the trash basket.

The Antidote: you’ll need to take a long, hard, honest look at the culture that exists in your office. Remove the rose-colored glasses, and critically examine how people behave and interact. To have a beautiful garden, you must be willing to kill the weeds – but identifying them is a whole different challenge. Have in-depth conversations with both senior and junior people, understand if a culture of apathy exists, get real answers on the why and how. Then the process of culture change – and instilling a culture of ownership – can begin. It is a long and challenging journey, but the results are multifold.

The post Four Reasons Why Employees Don’t Take Ownership appeared first on ActionCOACH The World's Leading Business Coaching Firm.

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Article as featured in Entrepreneur Middle East.

For most organizations, the summer months are typically slower and quieter. While there will always be ‘stuff’ to do, summer usually has means fewer sales meetings, regular hours and a chance to take a breather. While these may not be the most historically profitable months, they can – if done right – be the most beneficial months in setting your company up for short and long term gains.

Here are three tried-and-tested strategies for making the most of quieter times:

Strategy #1 – Create and Implement Processes:

As the organization grows, both in terms of people and complexity, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain consistency. The way most businesses would train a new member would sound like this: “This is Jack, he’s been doing this role for 7 years. Shadow with him for the next 4 weeks and learn what he does”. This is a recipe for disaster. Apart from learning Jack’s bad habits, there will almost definitely also be a drop in quality, and you can not risk that in a growing company.

The only way to maintain quality is through implementing strong processes throughout the organization. When the pace slows, and there is some extra time, invest it in the creation of processes for every department. Have the department managers and teams to develop the wire-frame and steps, and – once signed off – have them train the rest of the departments on how their process works. This will have several immediate benefits: it will make everyone aware of what this department does; the members within the department will get a chance to be recognized; and their will be a higher level of ownership of the outcome for the team members. Result: fewer errors, higher efficiency, better teamwork.

Strategy #2 – Give Your Marketing a Head-Start:

If a business is a machine, marketing is the engine. It drives the success of the organization, creates the brand recognition in the market, and attracts opportunities. Content, then, is the fuel for the marketing: without it, the engine is running on fumes. Over 64% of buying decisions begin with online searches, and good content – not advertising – is the best way to attract online attention. Blogs, videos, tutorials, interviews, white papers, podcasts…the range of content that you can put out is almost infinite.

Given the stats, why do so few companies generate content consistently? The culprit is often time. We get ‘busy’, everyone has other things to do, and the content is put on hold. Well, what better time that summer to revisit this? Every week, if each department were to prepare one blog or article, marketing will have enough material for the rest of the year, at a minimum. Additionally, consider getting your corporate videos and images redone – less day-to-day work pressure will mean managers and team members will have time to prepare and look good on camera.

Strategy #3 – Invest in Effective Training:

There is a complex dance between the various requirements of the business, and training (usually) gets stepped on the most. In terms of ROI, however, there is no better place to invest than in the people of the organization. You must have heard that famous example where the CFO says: “What if we train our people and they all leave?”, to which the CEO replies: “What if we don’t train them and they all stay?”

Trainings are normally relegated due to financial and time constraints. If the first six months of the year have not allowed financial issues to reduce, there is a different discussion we need to have. Time-wise, people generally have less stress at this time of year – invest that extra time in getting them to learn and grow. The entire organization will benefit.

What areas should you look to train? It definitely depends on the organization, but typical areas would include:

  •  Sales, marketing, and the cash-generation machine
  •  Accountability and Process creation
  •  KPIs setting and reporting

There are other, more niche, areas, such as leadership development, financial management and budgeting and business planning, but this may only be for certain members of the team.

If you’d like to maximize the potential of this time, and improving the efficiency of your team sounds like a good idea, get in touch and we can explore your thoughts. At the very least, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of the various elements to work on. At best, how would a 14% improvement in conversion rate, or 92% implementation of measurements across the organization sound?

The post Three Strategies for a Profitable Summer appeared first on ActionCOACH The World's Leading Business Coaching Firm.

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