The seven key enterprise progress drivers

Originally written by Lynn Rattigan on Small Business

Since the emergence of COVID-19, SMEs have undergone a rapid evolution with priorities shifting overnight and changes made to how they conduct business.

For some, this has been an opportunity to reassess business models and operational costs, diversify offerings and find new ways of delivering the same services. Despite the challenges of this year and uncertainty over the future UK-EU trading relationship, SMEs continue to demonstrate their ability to respond in agile ways. Many entrepreneurial businesses remain cautiously optimistic about how they’ve been able to pivot.

Amid disruption to the economy, there are key growth drivers that can help entrepreneurs and SMEs maintain their ambitions and protect growth plans. These drivers can help aspiring companies think differently about their businesses and successfully execute their growth strategy over the long-term. These drivers are: the customer, people, technology, operations, finance, transactions and risk.

Our research has found that focusing on each one can help business leaders assess where they are today and plan the right path to accelerate growth. The most successful companies tend to keep in mind their mid- to long-term priorities, and they continue to invest in areas such new talent, which they know will be critical for the future.

The customer

From the outset, leading businesses make customers their focal point and keep customer needs as a top priority to achieve a competitive advantage. A customer focus helps businesses understand their customer base, enabling them to anticipate future needs and deliver targeted services that help build loyalty and long-term sustainable growth.

Even after becoming market leaders, businesses continue to think about how to keep engaging their customers.

People

Any organisation is only ever as good as the people working for it. To make the most of their talent, leading companies create a workplace that values diversity and attracts and retains the right people to help grow their business — those who fit the company’s culture, sharing its purpose and vision.

Leading companies connect their purpose and vision to their performance management and rewards strategy. They provide strong leadership and create an inclusive environment where differences are valued, and people can innovate to drive the business forward.

To ensure their people can achieve their full potential, companies need to invest in their employees, nurturing their talent and helping them develop skills to match the demands of the business.

Technology

Technology is transforming every aspect of business. It enables leaders to make better, quicker and smarter decisions, and to respond to rapidly changing customer needs, improve business performance and manage risk.

Digital, technology and data analytics are all having a profound impact on businesses in every industry, presenting significant opportunities and challenges. Digital technologies are fundamentally changing how customers interact with brands and are opening-up new business models.

Organisations that successfully harness the power of technology are leveraging, for example, AI to enhance their business. This enables them to increase focus on innovation, creativity and strategic thinking and, in many cases, achieve a competitive advantage.

Operations

Having a clear approach that aligns operations with strategy will increase a company’s ability to achieve success as they contend with changing customer needs and buying patterns, sector convergence, and new market entrants.

Market leaders drive a culture of continuous improvement, considering all aspects of operations at a macro and micro level. Focused on the details, they understand that every aspect of their business must hold up to scrutiny and be constantly improved in order for the company to stay ahead of the pack.

Operations need to be highly flexible so they can both adapt to seize business opportunities as well as mitigate risks.

Finance

All businesses need funds to grow, and how a business manages its money — and its investors — will affect its future.

Driven by their growth strategy, leading businesses determine the best financial approach at every stage, deriving maximum benefits from their management of available funds.

To achieve this, they transform their finance function into one that acts more strategically and commercially, where the CFO becomes an economic advisor who helps improve performance by delivering critical insights to decision-makers.

Transactions

To rise to the top, businesses often need to seek successful partnerships and strategic acquisitions capable of enhancing their growth, competitiveness and profitability.

Leading companies are generally quick to grasp the value of transactions and alliances in today’s dynamic markets. They appreciate that landing the right deal or finding the right partner is not about luck but rather making a concerted effort to align their transactions and alliances with their overall growth strategy.

Risk

At every stage of a business’s growth, the ability to identify and manage risk stands out as a vital element of success. Good risk management will limit the impact of volatility within the business, and there is a strong correlation between the maturity of risk management and both top- and bottom-line growth.

Market-leading businesses find the right balance between risk management and risk taking to navigate change and drive sustainable growth.

Looking ahead

As UK entrepreneurs and businesses navigate this challenging period, many are continuing to show real resilience in unfavourable conditions. Their role in boosting the economy, both at a national and local level, creating jobs and bringing together communities, will be a vital part of the post-pandemic recovery.

Key to this will be businesses unlocking these seven drivers of growth, providing powerful tools for releasing businesses’ full potential and achieving long-term success.

Lynn Rattigan is EY UK‘s COO and lead partner for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year UK.

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