Do you have these must-have leadership skills to scale your SME?

Go big or go home. Scaling up is often a badge of success among businesses. More branches, more cities, more countries. Whether it’s launching a new product range or opening a new office, growing a business is seen as progress.

But fast growth is not always easy. You don’t want to turn into Icarus and find you flew too high, too soon and you are falling. Here are the must-have leadership skills you need to scale your SME with the right launchpad.

you need to get real

We all have goals and dreams for our businesses. But before you focus on the future, you need to look at the here and now. Start with a cold hard look at where your business is and assess your current culture.

What are you good at? Whatever business you are in, focus on your strengths. Are they what you think they are? Start by having conversations at all levels of your business about where you are. Does everything work efficiently? Are there bottle necks or areas where people are overstretched? Is there an area where you could do with extra resource? Or perhaps a section which isn’t working effectively.

As well as talking to your colleagues, speak to your customers. Get their feedback about what they like about working with you and where they think you could improve.

Taking time to understand the current culture of your business not only underpins any change effort but also enables you to focus on what will drive or inhibit change.

You need to be a leader who is open to communicating with your people and taking on feedback, no matter how critical, in order to build a culture to support you as you scale.

take account of external factors

A clear focus on what you’re good at and what your people are engaged with enables you to innovate. What are the opportunities? Perhaps you identified a core strength in your business which you are not utilising to its full advantage, or you realised there was an additional market you could tap into. Holding open discussions is a great way for people to come up with new ideas.

On the flip side, it’s vital to be aware of the threats. Do you have enough people and resources in place? What might happen that could cause a problem?

You also need to look at what is happening in the wider economy. Identify new trends and think about consumer behaviour. Consider supply chains and how new technology might affect you, positively or negatively.

You need to be a leader who is open to ideas and who can see the bigger picture. You need to be able to plan and put contingencies in place.

prepare your people for change

Scaling up involves change. Whether you are bringing new people into the business through an acquisition, opening a new location, or expecting your existing people to work on additional projects, your staff are going to experience change. This can impact them in different ways. They might be worried about how it is going to affect their working day or whether members of their team will be moved around. What effect could changes at work have on the rest of their life? From stress to changes in hours affecting their responsibilities outside their job. It’s hard to leave work at work and it is only one part of everyone’s lives.

You need to be clear about what is happening and why. Everyone’s experience will be different, even if they are on the same team, so make sure each person has a clear understanding of what the change means for them and how it will benefit them.

You need to be a leader who can empathise with people at all levels of your company and who is able to educate and enthuse your staff about the changes you are making.

invest in people and processes

When you assessed your existing culture and considered the opportunities and threats, one of the areas you looked at was people and resources. Support your scale up project by investing in people and processes.

This might involve training your existing staff or working with other companies to bring in expertise you do not have in house. If you are bringing in new staff than you should have a clear onboarding process and a culture which enables them to settle in quickly.

You also need to streamline processes to make it easy for people to do their work. What can you standardise? Anything which is regularly repeated whether it’s daily or monthly should be mapped as a process so people don’t waste valuable time along the way. Ensure technology is in place which helps people instead of giving them a headache.

You need to be a leader who can think about how your business works at all levels and who is willing to invest in creating a culture that enables your people to work effectively.

Scaling up is a challenge but with a good company culture in place, use of communication, empathy, planning, and smart investment in your people and processes, you will grow with an engaged workforce supporting you.


Not sure where to start with changing your culture? Find out more about the Organisation Culture Assessment and how it can set you up for success.