Not so long ago, owner-managers in small and medium-sized businesses were almost proud of the 'seat-of-the-pants' approach they brought to running their enterprises. They were so busy making and selling that they did not have time for all the administrative and organisational aspects of business. Indeed, many had left large corporates to avoid just that sort of thing.
Nowadays, though, there is a much greater interest in some of the softer aspects of being in business. And " though entrepreneurs will still doubtless claim they are too busy to take part " there has been a marked growth in business school programmes and management development courses aimed specifically at them.
Of course, it could be argued that we have been here before. In the early 1990s, the large accountancy firms in the UK sought to make up for loss of business from their large corporate clients by targeting growing businesses, on the basis that they formed the 'engine room of the economy' and that somewould become the big corporate stars of tomorrow.
But this time it does seem to be different. Among the organisations offering training in leadership and general management development to apparently enthusiastic small and medium-sized business clients is Roffey Park in Sussex. One of the benefits reported by participants in a recent programme was the realisation that the sort of problems and issues that owner-managers tended to think were unique to them were in fact commonplace.
A similar story is told by Sue Peters, who heads a programme known as LEAD at Lancaster University Management School. Part of the appeal of the course might be that it is free " because the pounds 15,000 that it would cost to run it for each company involved is effectively met out of a pounds 1m grant from the North-west regional Development Agency, which is keen to find out if it can encourage more businesses to survive longer if their leaders receive training and development.
This investigation has echoes of a European initiative on succession planning aimed at putting some focus on survival because failure rates of young businesses are so high that they effectively cancel out all the start-ups that are so encouraged by government policy.
Whatever the grand scheme of things, the programme would be demanding enough for the average big corporate middle manager, let alone a time- conscious and generally over-stretched entrepreneur. …