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The Main Skills Required of SME Managers to Face Change

Claudia Paoletti | Managing Partner Kilpatrick Executive Search

Unlike many large multinational companies, long accustomed to working on the issue of change and remote work, many SMEs did not include agile work in their short-term development plans. In no time, the health emergency we are experiencing, forced companies to face this new challenge together with many others, and compelled them to start a process of digitization and reorganization of activities in order to be able to approach the moment in a smarter way. Most SMEs were not prepared for this phase.

A research recently conducted by Manageritalia and Astraricerche on over 1,400 Managers revealed that the first priority of Managers during lockdown was to manage the fears and hopes of their collaborators. Subsequently, they oriented themselves to review the budgets and costs for the months ahead, keeping their teams engaged and motivated.

In recent months, managers have found themselves dealing with the interests of various corporate actors, such as employees, suppliers, customers and shareholders, simultaneously. The challenge has not been easy and requires listening, sharing and calm, mostly because, in times of crisis, the energies of the companies are mainly aimed at ensuring the continuity of production and services.

The change that was already in place but that the covid emergency has accelerated, therefore requires managers “equipped and trained” to guide and reprogram companies quickly. The pandemic has not only changed the way people work, but above all has highlighted the fundamental soft skills to possess in a moment of uncertainty like the one we are experiencing. This does not mean forgetting the hard skills that remain the basis of a Manager’s competence, but are no longer enough to face the constant changes required by the market and a “new normal” completely different from what we were used to. Therefore, transversal skills are needed that allow managers to have critical thinking and the ability to adapt to such sudden changes.

It is therefore right to ask ourselves what skills are worth training in these moments especially if you are not working in large and highly structured companies with a culture already oriented towards technological, multicultural aspects and accustomed to remote management issues.

Here are the ones that, according to Kilpatrick Executive Search, are the most important to refine:

Flexibility and mental elasticity are the first keywords to face disruptions and continuously realign the skills to the new challenges. In fact, it is necessary to be able to modify one’s mental and behavioral patterns to better face and resolve new situations and to adapt positively and constructively to circumstances.

Resilience that allows you to pursue continuous change and adapt to it. Also means facing difficult or negative situations and managing to positively reorganize your life by reacting with a push and a spirit of sacrifice. This personal characteristic can and must be trained throughout one’s entire life and, at this particular moment, it certainly allows you to face the difficulty with greater determination and serenity.

Responsibility and courage. Managers now have to “navigate on sight” more than ever. Companies do not have an instruction manual or know for sure where the world is going and, consequently, the business. We do not know what the recovery times will be and managers are now required to decide autonomously more times based on intuition than on analysis and economic data. The Manager must therefore be able to take the risk and act responsibly and with common sense. It is not for everyone to deal with this moment also from an emotional point of view.

Proactivity in order to research and pursue business solutions aimed at bringing concrete and lasting results. Often managers are asked to take unusual paths to overcome difficulties. It is not the time to stand by and wait but it is required by Entrepreneurs and Boards to act by providing their contribution to find or create new opportunities.

Orientation to business to understand the evolution of the market and therefore choose the right business strategies. It is important to be able to read market signals and guide the company towards safer and more productive choices.

Ability to manage Cashflow. In times of crisis it becomes basic for survival to have a periodic attention to numbers and, in particular, to cashflow management. In fact, good managers cannot afford to “waste” but, from a financial point of view, they must prevent rather than react. This therefore means having particular attention to the whole chain and especially to commercial partners and suppliers who must be managed with strategic sensitivity.

Authoritativeness remains a fundamental aspect of Management especially in SMEs. In fact, entrepreneurs can be frightened and unclear in times of crisis. Managers are therefore required to oversee theirs and their collaborators’ anxieties while maintaining the necessary calm and rationality and acting with authority.

Digitization. The Smart Working model that companies have had to adopt in a hurry in order to deal with the emergency is certainly, according to all the studies done in recent days, a trend destined to continue, even though in different ways than those experienced. The physical presence in the office will decrease and for managers the new challenge is to involve and engage staff while transmitting remotely a change-oriented corporate culture. We need to move from control to trust policy and evaluate people based on results respecting their personal lives. But, digital culture in the company concerns all aspects of the organization and requires a 360° change in order to be able to generate value for the company. This is why we speak of Digital Transformation.

Passion and Patience, however, will be the condiment for all the other skills in order to face the future and the efforts and sacrifices that investors will be requiring from managers, to be able to lead companies out of the current economic situation. A strong professional and personal commitment will be also required, mistakes will be made, there will be failures, difficult and unpopular decisions will have to be made. However, if equipped with passion and patience Managers could then face all of this more easily.

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