After significant changes on the global business stage over the last couple of years, the world of work has significantly changed. It’s vital that businesses acknowledge that to enable growth in their workforce – it is important to look to implement changes that help train and help retain staff, whilst building up their career aspirations and goals. In this blog piece we recall all the learning development/training trends we’ve looked at over the last year and key insights you can implement in your own business.
After the recent announcement that the UK has started the world’s largest trial of the four-day working week, it’s clear this trend is going to remain a key element of potential business transformation; at least for now. Whether or not your business choses to embrace this, it’s important to remain open to exploring the ever-changing ways of working for your team to help support with retaining staff and attracting new highly sort-after talent.
A key way to do this is by listening to your employees and ensuring you listen to what works best for them and your business. This can be achieved through regular questionnaires or regular catch-up sessions with your staff.
Your potential new recruits are changing in age and preferences. There are around 60 million Gen Z-ers (those born after the mid 1990s) ready to enter the workplace and your business needs to show it is somewhere near their expectations, to ensure you are attracting the latest talent and ideas to help your business stay relevant and competitive. In our blog – ‘simple steps for hiring young talent‘ we looked at the growing importance of health care and modern technology in attracting the next star worker into your office.
And it’s not just the interview that your business will need to take care of, to make the most of Gen Z you’ll need to change the way you think about business management, strategy and future learning and development. In our blog ‘5 steps for new learning and development frameworks’ we looked at the different approaches to learning and development that your business can implement to help reduce turnover and upskill your staff so they perform at their highest-level.
With the recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and breakthrough statistics around the positive impact that a diverse management board can have on your business, the world is finally beginning to wake up to the realisation that diversity is good for business and the world.
Your business can embrace this in a number of ways – improving your recruitment process or working with your talent pools is one of them. By working closer with agencies or educational institutes that have a high number of minority ethnic graduates (such as Birmingham City University) is just one of the ways. Alternatively you can look to raise greater awareness in your business through promoting days of celebration and recognition such as women in science day.
And finally, it’s worth noting that with all of these changes businesses today need to look at addressing, there is external support and assistance available out there. One of these programmes is BCU Advantage’s very own Higher Level Skills Match that matches you with a dedicated Account Manager to help address and identify skills gaps and recruitment needs in your business. Our Account Managers then work to match you with this support to address it your needs. You can find out more about Higher Level Skills Match by clicking on the link below.
With some business support programmes being run by academics, it’s reasonable to think that programmes would be theory-heavy, full of textbook learning or reminiscent of your past experience time with education. However this is far from the case.
Peter Davies – Chief Executive of James Lister & Sons also had these concerns when he participated in the Help To Grow Management programme – a business support programme designed for managers looking to boost their performance, resilience and long-term growth of their business.
‘My worries were that it would be too heavy on theory were totally unfounded – yes of course, some of that is explained, but it was done in such a practical way, linked to real life business examples and to our own situations, it then truly becomes useful’
Most business support programmes are geared to specifically support practical development whether that be through improving leadership skills or building financial growth. The programmes, like Peter’s also try to involve academics and facilitators who have had past experience of running a business, and can use this to benefit the participants.
With business confidence down across the economy at the beginning of 2022 due to the pandemic and rising prices, many businesses have felt a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity.
Jessica-Tyne Davis of Clean Co. Ltd, an industrial cleaning business also felt the same after 5 years of starting her business. However, participating in the Enterprise For Success workshop series helped her feel more sure of her business direction and its potential for growth.
‘I’ve noticed a change in myself, I feel confidence and supported, and I feel like I’m not alone – it’s not just me going through this journey. For the first five years, I just felt like a man-in-a-van but now I feel like I’ve got what I need to grow my business.’
Many business support programmes including the Enterprise For Success series aimed at recently started businesses, use the latest SME research and tried and tested tools and techniques to help businesses understand how to reach peak performance, whether that be in marketing, leadership or general business strategy. Enterprise For Success offers a mix of 1-1 consultancy support and group-led sessions to help you get the best out of your business.
Business support programmes are not just one-time things, through the networking opportunities and wider choice of services of the organisations that run them, they can lead to new business deals or long-term strategic partnerships.
That was the case for leading lingerie brand Lounge Underwear when they signed up to the Higher Level Skills Match programme – an account-managed skills programme that helps SMEs in the Greater Birmingham area, access the skills and talent they need to grow.
After initially joining three years ago, Lounge have gone on to recruit new staff in graduate roles, had the opportunity to host year long internships and gained valuable HR advice and guidance – ultimately leading to the business continuing to grow year-on-year.
As mentioned above, our business support programmes don’t exist as one-off sessions. You become part of a wider community that has the opportunity to transmit your brand and its message to a wider audience. This can be particularly useful when you’re a new startup and need to get new sales and revenue fast.
After becoming a member of STEAMhouse Incubator, Simon Caulton was looking for support to help start and launch his new leisurewear business Ones Trainers. After successfully doing this, the wider STEAMhouse and Birmingham City University team were able to support his entry into a series of business awards. From this, he became shortlisted ‘in the Entrepreneur of the Year’ award at the Signature awards, and won the Rising Start category at the National Startup Awards.
The business support programmes out there, many of them free or part-funded can offer a wider variety of benefits beyond what you expect – and are often the launchpad for businesses to access other and new opportunities. To find out more about our programmes and to learn how to grow your business you can find out more here.
LEARN HOW TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS CTA
With the help of Andy Salmon, Serial Entrepreneur and Associate Professor for Enterprise and Corporate Development at Birmingham City Business School, we offer four strategies designed to help your business growing through this difficult period.
When inflation hits and consumer spending power drops, companies are often hesitant to raise prices and very quick to drop them. “Due to price sensitivity within markets, there is a temptation to reduce your prices” says Andy. “Don’t – instead focus upon the value proposition of your products. Spend time looking at how you can build greater value into your current service offering that fits the needs of your customer today.”
Although the current economic conditions are difficult, customers are willing to spend on services that they value. Not all but many consumers have accumulated cash and saved over the pandemic and can absorb price hikes if they deem it worthy.
With a rapidly changing economic environment being agile is key to continuing to grow, and changing your products and delivery to respond to this. However, many companies are constrained in their ability to adapt to changing customer’s demands with lack of staff and issues with deliveries.
Although not ideal in a more stable environment, prioritising your most lucrative and high-margin product orders first enables you to limit your financial risk.
Flexibility is key in an ever-changing business world. “It’s important that your ambidextrous in such a situation” says Andy. “Have two sets of business eyes, one on the here and now, and one that focuses on the horizon looking at the opportunities and threats that come over the hill.”
Rather than this just being an approach that is adopted by the managing directors of the company, Andy believes that this flexibility needs to be shared across the business and it’s vital that siloes and hierarchies don’t get in the way.
“Multiple people from different backgrounds need to be looking at this in your business. Leadership need to be willing to review these ideas, encourage the team to contribute and accept them – giving the whole team a role.”
Changes in relative prices is just one area where businesses can get caught out if they react too slowly or quickly – it’s important that you use the whole of your business to review and predict your next steps.
Regardless of the situation your business is in, there are always external support programmes that can help you learn and develop new ways of thinking to get yourself out of a tricky situation.
Many programmes such as the government’s ‘Help To Grow’ programme are developed as a response to contemporary business issues such as high-inflation, and help cover the challenges and opportunities you may face at this time.
“Business can be tough at the top” says serial entrepreneur Andy. “When it comes to people I always recommend that they seek out external business support so that they can take on that knowledge and apply it to their business in a personalised way. Also accepting business support opens you up to meet other business and a greater chance of finding new business opportunities.”
Would you like to find out how your business can grow through learning new techniques? Find out how our part-funded 12-week ‘Help To Grow’ programme can drive your revenue in the current business climate.
Andy Salmon, serial entrepreneur and Associate Professor for Enterprise and Corporate Development at Birmingham City University Business School discusses the role of the University’s Enterprise For Success programme and how forming a solid marketing and leadership plan for your business is essential and can help your business flourish and cope with the current volatile business environment.
Enterprise For Success is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund in partnership with Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.
Andy, tell us a bit about the Enterprise For Success programme and who it is designed for.
The Enterprise For Success is designed for businesses in the early stages of trading who have not quite got off the ground. The first year or two years of starting a business is difficult. You don’t have a track record – a previous level of experience on which you can base future business decisions. When I speak to organisations starting on the programme, many of them describe the symptoms of their business challenge such as ‘we’re not getting enough sales’.
Through the Enterprise For Success programme and workshop series, with the help of academics with industry experience we try to get businesses to see past the symptoms and understand the root cause of their issues.
What characteristics of the programme are especially designed to help starting businesses grow and succeed?
The whole programme is designed to help businesses better understand and review their current business position and teach them techniques and processes to help them overcome their challenges and put them in a better position to grow.
Attendees will develop their leadership skills, understand challenges that impact growth and develop their value proposition.
The programme is designed to help attendees think deeply about their opportunities and challenges, and develop solutions and robust stategies to them.
However before businesses can fully do this, we also help them to understand their own barriers to growth that they need to overcome to make the most of opportunities – whether that be skills gaps, access to funding etc.
The design of the delivery is also key to helping businesses make the most of the programme. By spacing teaching across a series of workshops, this gives businesses the opportunity to reflect, experiment and share ideas with their peers on the programme.
Why is forming a solid business marketing and leadership plan essential to new businesses?
By forming a solid business marketing and leadership plan, it helps starting businesses answer some fundamental questions. Such as – why does this business exist, who are my customers and what is it that they want?
When starting a business most founders tend to be made up of a person or small groups of people who have a real passion for the area they work in. Although they may be experts in their field, it doesn’t necessarily make them an expert in marketing, leadership, confidence building and all the other skill sets that are required to build a successful business.
Starting to build a marketing and leadership plan can help individuals to address this challenge and better understand their areas for improvement. External programmes out there including Enterprise For Success are designed to support businesses do this and share knowledge from external experts in these fields, and empower businesses to manage this process independently.
What current challenges do starting businesses face that make a solid leadership and marketing strategy so important in today’s market?
The pandemic and Brexit have been something of a perfect storm for businesses. That combined with inflation has lead to a wide range of challenges, ranging from costs in the supply chain, to changing consumer needs to changes in consumer spending.
Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity are all impacting businesses currently. These are all symptoms of a changing marketing place that are particularly apparent at the moment.
Organisations have been forced to change the way they operate and look at new ways of working. Understanding your marketing and business leadership strategy is vital to making this change as seamless as possible. As we’re encountering a unique economic situation.
Could your business benefit from joining our Enterprise For Success programme. Our next series of workshops starts on May 12th.
I have worked in academia for the last 31 years, studying at the University of Athens, University of York before eventually graduating with a PhD in Industrial & Business Studies from Warwick Business School. I also worked extensively with Hull University and the University of Sheffield before taking up my current role at Birmingham City University Business School.
Throughout my academic career I’ve developed a large amount of experience participating in various executive teaching programmes as well as research and consultancy projects. In August 2020, the Academy of Management awarded me with the Benedictine University Award for Outstanding Research Work on Ethical Issues in Consulting. More recently I’ve co-authored books on Neuroscience for Leaders (Kogan Page) and Managing People in SMEs in Turbulent Contexts (Routledge).
Alongside my writing and teaching, I have been involved in the design and development of one of the major teaching modules of the Help To Grow programme, namely Employee Engagement & Leading Change. I have also been involved in training the trainers around the logics of this module.
Managing and leading people has become a critical success factor for organisations looking to become more effective. Since the mid-1990s, organisations have been going through rapid, fundamental and continuous changes in the way they do business. These changes have increased the level of complexity within both organisational and business environments.
Whether one reviews these changes in terms of globalisation, reengineering, downsizing, economic crises, pandemics etc, there is more and more evidence to suggest that businesses that focus on how to lead and manage people through these changes are more likely to be successful.
In this respect, day-to-day leadership and change management within today’s organisational system is fundamental in helping an organisation not just achieve growth but thrive.
There are a lot of challenges that without any doubt businesses are facing in today’s environment. However, following the rationale of my argument above, I would insist that the greatest challenge was, is and (most probably) will be, to lead people within the current contexts. A context that is far more complex and faster changing and uncertain than ever before.
The context becomes even more challenging if we simply consider that nowadays people working in various organisations are much better educated, have faster access to information and (a lot of them) have higher overall expectations from life and their careers in particular than their equals 30 or 40 years ago.
To put simply, leading people nowadays is much more difficult and challenging in comparison to leading people during the 1970s, 80s or 90s.
In today’s business environments we need to emphasise more on leadership rather than leaders.
Leadership involves everyone in the organisation since as we say in our book (Neuroscience for Leaders), leadership is not a science or an art but a behaviour.
Everyone inside an organisation needs to have more or less a leadership attitude on things that concern themselves, and can all spend time learning to be better leaders. Or to put it simply, nowadays organisations need people to be able to understand when to lead and when to follow attempting to achieve something collectively.
In terms of professional managers, I would argue that they need to cultivate further an agile approach to management. This means that the manager is the one who does not explain the ‘path’ (provide orders), but who instead creates the conditions for his/her employees to look for the ‘path’ themselves and then walk down it independently.
The design of all the modules in the Help To Grow programme follow the above logic. The training of people participating in this programme is based on the idea of making them independent thinkers primarily, rather than doers.
In other words, the Help To Grow programme helps people (re)consider how they lead their people as well as their businesses, attempting not to gibe them into solutions that they need, but to find the solutions by themselves, since they are the best source of these solutions.
The Help To Grow programme develops leaders of the future that are able to adjust their leadership behaviours on the needs of today’s current complex business environments.
The truth is that there are plenty of ideas that someone can identify and try to apply. Some of them work better than others, but all of them depend heavily on the context of the individual’s experience.
One idea for example that we have worked and tested widely is described extensively in our book ‘Neuroscience for Leader’ (Kogan Page). We call it the Brain Adaptive Leadership framework and it is based on neuroscientific as well as behavioural science findings.
This idea has been developed through practice, research, reading and practice again. It is continuously evolving in order to respond to the dynamism of current business settings, and it is targeted at making people think and act as leaders (and followers) taking into account always the context.
Looking to improve your approach to leadership as part of your business development? The next series of Help To Grow workshops is on X. Alternatively find out more about our Help To Grow programme, enquire below and a member of the team will be in touch to let you know about the next series of courses.
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They recently analysed the characteristics of 291 West Midland SMEs in the two years before the Covid-19 pandemic and uncovered a variety of barriers to SME growth and performance in the region. The CEIG report no.2 details their findings.
Their report highlights seven key messages that are particularly important for regional SME leaders in steering their business to greater success.
Dr Yoruk and Visiting Professor Prof Gilman provide their insights on how SMEs can implement this advice in their business planning and processes below:
All businesses aspire to grow in some form. But we found through the business analysis research that while aiming to grow was popular amongst West Midlands businesses- their plans, processes and habits didn’t always reflect that.
Our report showed that structured reflection, time dedicated to learning, consistent planning and focus on strategy were all key practices that were missing from many small businesses and even where businesses had them, they were not always linked to their aspirations.
Businesses need to ensure they’ve built this time in and connect this activity to their aspirations to truly make a difference.
We’re not all perfect, and in fact getting support from others isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength – and a key element of successful strategic management.
The findings found that a general lack of understanding of this led many to place a heavy reliance on managing the business on their own, rather than involving those with certain expertise to support.
The business strategy focuses on strategic planning and implementation not only around your markets but also around your resources, networks, technology and innovation activities. Our findings indicate that businesses that have a written strategy grow rapidly as they set the direction they want their business to go.
Don’t keep your business strategy to yourself. The sooner you share it with your employees the more they can get involved in the process of implementing, and even helping to improve your business strategy. That way you will ensure that your plans and goals are followed through good management.
It’s important to ensure you have short-term goals to drive marketing and sales. However, high growth is more likely to come through long-term approaches. We found that growing businesses engage in value-creating relationships with both customers and suppliers, creating a value chain rather than a supply chain.
We also found that an internal focus on strategic investments in purposeful technology use and human resources practices ensures that the quality and wellbeing of employees allows for skills and resource development necessary for business growth in the long term.
Many regional businesses focus on making a profit through reduced operational costs while delivering high quality products or services in their market. Our findings show that growing businesses also pursue product or service differentiation strategies in tandem with cost leadership.
However, we found that in growing businesses, cost leadership manifests more through process innovation and wider technology use to stimulate achieving higher productivity than through a focus on tightening belts.
Our report findings show that making the most of your employees is an area that regional SMEs could improve upon. Growth is more likely when employees become a source of competitive advantage, which in turn helps overcome issues with your business productivity.
Currently, SMEs are less likely to communicate their strategies with their employees, to invest in hiring qualified skilled employees and in training their existing employees. There is free support available to help with this.
Getting help and support is seen as a sign of a strong business, but seeking advice strategically is what separates growing West Midlands SMEs from those less so.
To do this most effectively SMES should be thinking about how they operationalise the information they receive and build this into their existing business strategy.
Complete our business analysis survey today!
The Sustainable Business Growth Research Cluster in the Centre for Enterprise, Innovation and Growth is continuing to conduct research into understanding the minds and challenges of regional SMEs to help support their business growth.
The Centre has a business analysis survey that provides insight into your individual business performance. Play your part by completing the 20-30 minutes survey linked here.
From this, you’ll get a personalised report and a comprehensive review of your business with a BCU academic taking you through the growth opportunities your business can seize today. All support is subsidised and part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the GBSLEP Enterprise programme.
Need support and assistance to complete the diagnostic or want to find out more? Click on our link below:
Why is data analytics important for improving business sustainability?
With growing economic and environmental concerns, it’s vital that organisations in the built environment, construction and property related sectors change their approach to sustainability.
With new government targets to reduce carbon emissions, there are now tangible pressures on businesses to improve their performance. This pressure to change could affect your businesses own way of working as much as the products or services you provide.
In order to make positive changes in a way that does not undermine your business’ performance, the need to measure, monitor and evidence such reductions is essential. And good data analytics knowledge and skills can support you with this.
The course is a 12-hour long programme delivered by Birmingham City University specialists, providing you and your business an introduction to the concepts of data analytics and the use of machine learning.
You will learn in small groups with other professionals from your sector. The course will cover a variety of principles of data analytics such as data mining, visualisations and reporting. Led by expert trainers you will then take your knowledge and apply these techniques on real life data sets.
The course is designed for anyone interested in understanding data analytics or who already works in the data industry. The course is also particularly useful for energy performance professionals or those who are responsible for driving environmental sustainability or carbon reduction, or who work in construction and retrofit supply chains.
To participate in the course you also have to be part of a small or medium-sized enterprise and have a registered office in the West Midlands, receiving less than 200,000 euros in state aid in the preceding three years.
Courses take place throughout the year and as a dual offer: in person on our city centre campus and online for those that prefer not to travel.
Associate Professor in Quantity Surveying and research lead for the Transforming Building Life Cycle Group, Dr Franco Cheung, and group members Dr Edlira Vakaj and Mark Kelly will spend two years working with Hadley Group to develop an offsite modular product engineering tool. It will allow users to configure modular house design in a data-rich 3D environment and obtain simultaneous cost and CO2 estimates, as well as other relevant information for production purposes.
This digital automation process is new to the modular construction sector and will generate design and construction efficiencies, which in turn will boost the take up of Hadley’s steel products.
Hadley Group is a major producer of advanced cold rolled steel. The company operates globally, manufacturing cold rollformed profiles in three UK sites, as well as the Netherlands, Thailand, Dubai and the USA. Hadley is recognised as an innovative market leader in cold rollforming technologies, building its own production lines and tooling to achieve load-bearing profiles for the construction sector or custom projects for automotive, retail and industrial markets. As a forward thinking and R&D driven business, Hadley seek opportunities to disrupt the market with sustainable, efficient solutions.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is a UK-wide programme that has been helping businesses for the past 40 years to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. In a KTP, the University employs a graduate or postgraduate (the Associate) to work on site with the company, jointly supervised by company and university staff. BCU’s growing portfolio of projects is fully supported by the Knowledge Transfer and Business Engagement team in RIEE.
For this project, the Associate will carry out research into data modelling requirements for design, production and assembly, and develop immersive interface to engage Hadley’s modular product customers and link data to facilitate modular production.
Hadley’s Group Managing Director Ben Towe said: “The data modelling tool has been instrumental in demonstrating the value of sustainable upgrade options to our clients. With Net Zero goals at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and particularly those developing social housing, the construction sector is eager for genuine data showing the return-on-investment different technologies create in our high-performing homes. This tool has encouraged our clients to make greater investment in fuel efficient measures when they see the positive financial impact it will have on their future tenants.”
Dr Franco Cheung added: “The application of semantic web and immersive technologies is crucial to the development of a construction digital twin, a digital representation of the construction asset that enables automation. The work developed will disrupt several tedious, but essential tasks in design and construction of houses and will link digital design data with production data. The tool will challenge how designers adopt modular construction in house design and achieve design efficiency.”
International Day of Women and Girls In Science is a United Nations recognised day, created during the inaugural World Women’s Health and Development Forum held on 10-11th February 2015.
The day was created to reflect the global inequalities in female development in the academic and industrial fields of science, and celebrate the importance and benefits of greater female participation.
This year’s event is not just recognising the role of women and girls in science as beneficiaries, but also as agents of change – calling on women and girls to utilise their positions in business, politics and other walks of life in order to accelerate greater equality and diversity in the sciences.
While a number of industries show a growing female workforce, sectors like finance, engineering and tech are still strongly male-dominated. In STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) based industries women make up less than 15% of the UK’s current workforce.
Gender bias is also a big issue, with women who are in or want to position themselves for leadership, often feeling under greater scrutiny than their male peers.
Women who do succeed to higher positions in companies, also find that they have smaller salaries, as they are less likely to negotiate for higher income with 68% accepting salaries straight away as opposed to 50% of their male counterparts.
By accepting these barriers and challenges, businesses are allowing for less opportunities for innovation, bigger skills gaps and narrower market opportunities:
Greater diversity in all industries has been shown to foster greater creativity and innovation. Regardless of the business you work in, men and women will have different experiences and backgrounds that shape their approach to business. This helps to breed a challenging and collaborative culture of people who think differently and promotes innovative ideas being recognised and adopted.
A lack of diversity in science-based roles is a huge challenge currently in the fields of digital information technology, computing, physics, mathematics and engineering. Key areas that are likely to play a greater part in ongoing business trends such as digital transformation and a shift to more sustainable methods of business. Improving diversity, and therefore improving the potential of innovative thought will be key to business competitiveness moving forward.
2. A smaller chance of talent gaps
STEM occupations are projected to become the fastest growing area of demand for business and it’s important that potential women employees feel empowered to gain the skills and fill these roles that businesses will need in the future. Without this involvement from businesses, many will find they are losing competitiveness in a world that is more-demanding on these skill sets.
3. Opportunity for larger consumer markets
Women contribute in excess of $20 trillion in consumer spending every year accounting for 85% of consumer purchases (a bigger growth market than China and India combined). Yet with under 20% of creative directors in advertising being women, many feel undervalued and underserved by the marketplace.
By better utilising the insight of both men and women in your company there is great opportunity to make your products and services more marketable and profitable. In fact, gender-diverse businesses are 15% more likely to outperform financially about the industry median.
At Birmingham City University, there are many opportunities to influence and engage with female professionals at the early stage of their careers through the professional mentoring programmes.
However, if you are looking for direct ways of identifying skills gaps in your business and recruiting women to fill these roles, Higher Level Skills Match service can help you do that through its account managed and free solution.
In summary, it’s important for businesses to not just dismiss these events, and really consider the importance of them to their business, and how to get ahead of the curve before they miss out.