Could a lack of management skills hamper your business? This guide explains the qualities you will need to manage your business successfully. It also includes a self-assessment test and suggests some options for you to improve in areas where you lack skills.
Management skills and success
A lack of management skills is one of the most common reasons for business failure. It also explains why some businesses that survive perform below par. Poor planning and control and inadequate management are the two main culprits. These facts emphasize the need to keep developing your management skills to become a more complete business person.
The need to keep developing
Being in business is a continual learning process: if you look back on your own career you will acknowledge that you know more now than you did a year ago. We learn through experiences, but we can also fill important gaps through training. Everyone can learn to be better at business and we all need to keep on developing our business skills – it is a process that ends only when you retire. Here are two qualities you will need to survive in business:
- All-round management skills
The business world is full of people who are very good at what they do, but lack all-round skills. Businesses set up by skilled tradespeople such as joiners, electricians, and plumbers provide classic examples of this. These people perform their basic tasks very capably (wiring a house, for example) but may neglect the areas of their businesses that they don’t relate to or enjoy. The same is true of many service businesses, such as PR consultants or beauty therapists. The attitude is often: “Look, I’m good at what I do, and I enjoy doing it. So as long as I’m busy, the business must be doing well.” But business is more than doing or making: business is multifaceted and requires knowledge and managerial skills in many areas. Good business management is not just doing the things that make money; it’s also about attending to many other details that make the business work. For instance, if you neglect to chase up debtors (customers who owe you money) you could easily find yourself facing a cash flow crisis. Remember too that your suppliers are assessing your management capabilities and the business systems you have in place. Earning their confidence is also important, and this means developing your business skills. You have to look at the totality of doing business, especially if you want to grow your business past the ‘one-person band’ stage.
Of course you can (and should) use business advisers and you can indeed employ people or use subcontractors (such as accountants or accounts clerks) to do some of the work you don’t enjoy. But you’re asking for trouble if you neglect or abdicate responsibility for sections of your business to others. Nobody cares as much as you do about your business and you must remain in the driver’s seat. Even if you don’t do the work yourself, you should at least understand the principles behind the work. For example, you should understand the value of cash flow forecasts and how to interpret a profit and loss statement. You should be aware of some of the important issues in employment law and have a grasp of compliance issues, such as the various taxes and government regulations.
- Developing self-awareness
Self-awareness is one of the hardest qualities to develop, but it’s essential to be honest with yourself if you are to identify the management skills that you need to develop. Self-awareness begins with the recognition that few of us excel at everything. As important as self-awareness is the commitment to keep on improving your business skills. A good way to do this is to schedule in at least a few workshops a year – preferably in the areas you have been avoiding. Apart from learning new skills, there is the bonus of meeting other businesspeople and developing your business networks. Attending workshops also helps to keep you up to date with best-practice in the business world. For example, if you attend a workshop on an accounting topic, you are in a good position to learn about user-friendly accounting software packages that could streamline your business.
Identifying your needs
Completing this quick test should help to make you aware of management skills that you need to improve. The ticks in columns 1, 2 and 3 will alert you to the main areas where you lack skills. This is by no means a comprehensive test. You should seek the advice of a good adviser, who can also help you prioritise the most critical skills gaps you need to address. Also remember to retake the test every few years to monitor your progress.
Sources of training
Organisations that offer a range of management skills workshops, seminars and courses include:
- Malaysian Institute of Management
- Malaysian International Chamber of Commerce & Industry
- MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) or other organizations yearly seminar
Don’t neglect also the knowledge and skills you gain from:
- Books and magazines
- Networking and advisers.
Getting the most from your training
Choose your training carefully – don’t just treat it as an outing away from your business. Even if it’s a free workshop, you are still investing your time, so make sure you’re likely to gain something.
- If possible, get an outline beforehand of the main points the workshop or course will cover and assess its relevance to your needs.
- Give preference to workshops that include ‘hands-on’ components where you put into practice what you’ve been taught. You learn more in practical workshops than by listening to lectures.
- If you’re paying for the training, ask for references from people who have attended and follow up a few. Workshops are often expensive, so it’s important to get value for money.
- Look for practical training and avoid ‘academic’ type courses. As a business owner you need skills that you can apply immediately in your business – not certificates to hang on the wall.
- Try to translate everything you learn into practical action steps for your business. Set yourself a target of applying at least a few ideas from each training session in your business.