Belfast Telegraph

Born or made: What is the secret of success?

Developing leadership skills enables a business to grow and achieve its potential

By Symon Ross

It is a difficult question to answer definitively. Were the great leaders of our time born with the ability, skills, drive and intelligence that made them successful or were they made, formed through upbringing, education, training and experience?

The Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) is of the latter opinion, so much so it has tagged its 2010 programme to promote management and leadership skills development Made Not Born.

Based on that “proven concept” DEL says it wants to encourage Northern Ireland’s business community to make their own leaders and managers of tomorrow.

To many people, myself included, the idea of management training conjures up images of cringeworthy motivational talks, an over abundance of jargon and time spent learning theory that is not much use in practice.

Mention of “sharing local and global best practices”, “building partnerships” and encouraging firms to consider the benefits of “investing in leadership and management skills”, suggest a risk of falling into this trap.

But DEL believes Made Not Born, and the 16 management and leadership programmes that fall under it, are of huge practical benefit to the firms that participate in them.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding and a host of company managers who have already come through the department’s core Management Analysis Programme (MAP) are keen to go on record about the hugely positive effects it had on their business.

Martin Cheshire, who owns Enniskillen-based Samdec Security, received mentoring and advice on management as part of MAP.

Started in 2002, Samdec grew from three employees with one contract to a business with 50 staff and numerous clients after it purchased Omagh Security Services last year. Martin says he needed help readjusting his approach and ambitions for the larger company.

“I left school at 16 and got no third level education. I am 46 now so that’s 30 years since I’ve had any education and it left me in a situation where I felt I needed help and advice from a management perspective. I felt we needed to professionalise the business more to take on the bigger guys and tender for government work.

“We were appointed a mentor and with his help and advice we went on quickly to achieve a number of industry standards,” he says.

He says the programme, which was flexible and tailored to suit him, changed the firm’s outlook and gave it impetus to grow.

“Because we had a lack of managerial knowledge we didn’t look at the larger |contracts. Now we are out there competing with the industry leaders and winning more business, it has given |us a lot more confidence,” says Martin.

“It has given me an education to look at business in a different light, to be bold rather than standing back and being cautious.”

He adds that it is not a case of someone coming in to point out your mistakes, nor is it a case of bringing someone in to wave a magic wand and solve your problems.

“The advisor doesn’t tell you what you are doing wrong, they present ways of thinking about it and let you figure it out for yourself.

“They show you different options. When you are a working manager you are sometimes blinkered to your own way of doing things,” |he says.

Raymond McAuley from DEL says that, driven by the challenging economic times, over 148 companies have already taken the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of effective leadership, communication and strategic planning by engaging |with MAP.

“It comes from the growing awareness of the importance of leadership and management to productivity in Northern Ireland,” he says.

Under MAP, companies get a diagnostic from a business consultant and then assistance to do something with that advice. MAP is geared towards companies with more than 10 employees up to 250 — the SMEs that make up the majority of Northern Ireland’s business community.

“Each company that goes through MAP is different so they won’t get the same training. They’re always going to have a different development plan based on where they want to take the company, and the problems they face,” says Raymond.

Made Not Born is sponsoring the Excellence in People Development award at the 2010 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards.

A number of promotional events for Made not Born have already taken place and in March there will be a series of masterclasses and a management and leadership skills conference. It also has a website: www.delni.gov.uk/madenotborn.

Here we profile three companies who say they have already seen business boosted by engaging with the Made Not Born campaign.

Case study 1

Fluent Technology

Established in 2001 and based in the Northern Ireland Science Park in the Titanic Quarter, Fluent Technology is owned by David Cordner and Keith Turkington. A software development company, it specialises in building complex information management systems.

The company recognised that as the business grew it also needed to grow the skills of its staff, making sure they were able to take on bigger projects and more responsibility.

Keith said: “We recognised that without forward thinking and leadership development in our company we could become a bottleneck to our business growth. This was particularly crucial as David and I were spending more and more time away in Great Britain on new business development, and needed to make sure that in our absence we could depend on staff to look after clients and make sure projects were being delivered.”

Fluent believes it is beginning to see a positive effect from investment in training.

“As our staff feel valued, staff retention is excellent, meaning clients will see the same faces year after year as well as seeing these people become more skilled and talented,” says Keith.

“If you want to enter new markets and/or develop new products you have to have people who are innovative and can approach this in a thoughtful manner, whilst retaining current client relationships.”

Case study 2

Jeffers home bakery

The family-run Jeffers home bakery was established in 1927, by William Jeffers. Today the business, led by William’s grandson Andrew, consists of six bakeries and cafes employing more than 70 full and part-time employees.

With an increasingly competitive market, alongside ambitious growth plans, the business recognised it wasn’t yet match fit and needed to build from within.

“As the business expanded, we knew we had to look past our day-to-day operational needs, for example, baking the products and managing the deliveries and distribution.

“It became clear that the business lacked strong forward planning, |internal communications and a clear strategic direction. The need for greater budgetary awareness and knowledge |of running costs was also identified |as critical in today’s climate,” says |Andrew.

Jeffers Bakery is already seeing some of the benefits of MAP training.

“We recently have introduced new weekly team briefs and the feedback from staff to date has been encouraging. We still have a long way to go but all of these small steps will, I have no doubt, add up to a huge and positive move forward for the bakery in the long-term.”

Case study 3

Garuda design

Suzanne Garuda owns interior design service Garuda design which opened its first creative design studio and retail store on Belfast’s Ormeau Road in 2003.

Although an accomplished designer, artist and business woman, when it came to the future growth of the business Suzanne felt that she needed additional support.

For Garuda the biggest advantage of participating in the MAP programme has been gaining the perspective of an objective observer.

“I have always believed it is good to listen to the opinions of others, however it is how you use this advice day-to- day which counts. MAP is not a magic wand which can transform a business and its management overnight, but it is an excellent evaluation tool which can help businesses take stock of where they are, where they have come from and where they want to be, and how small changes can make big impacts.”

Since stepping back to evaluate the business Suzanne has opened herself up to a wider range of opportunities including an appearance on a television design show.

“I now feel more aware of the strategy and direction of the company, and how I can work within a team to get there.”

Belfast Telegraph

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