Have you ever met a person who is so polished outside? I mean with all the works, the look the necessary gadgets, the car, etc.! Just wait till they open their mouths. The words that come out of their mouths are enough to make you shudder.
Or, have you stood at a self-service buffet table and silently prayed that the people at the front of the queue will spare a thought for the ones at the back. That they will not take all the meat and leave you with salad leaves only.
In one of the workshops that I have attended, one speaker said something that I will never forget. This prolific speaker pointed out that businesses needed to start “doing small things well”. I thought this statement very poignant as I believe that MSMEs neglect skills that they seemingly perceive as small things.
Research has shown that MSMEs tend to focus on the finance and production side of the business, traditionally called the Hard Skills without concentrating on the Soft Skills. According to a 2017 Deloitte Access Economics Report, 63 percent of jobs at every level in the global economy are expected to be soft skills extensive.
Overall in my dealings with a diverse number of MSMEs I have often being discouraged and shell shocked at some of the behaviours and lack thereof that you encounter in this sector.
Today, I have written about skills that I have seen to be particularly not spoken about regularly among MSMEs. I hope to write In-depth articles on each of them in the near future.
Negotiation skills are important for small businesses who regularly interface with different stakeholders in their daily operations. These stakeholders include: landlords, suppliers, business partners, employees, customers, financiers and even your family.
Firstly, it is always important to have clarity on what you want and what the other party also wants. Cheryl Stock in her article “Mastering the Art of Negotiations” advises negotiators to research the company they intend to do business with.
Another key issue to consider is the value the other company’s products will bring to your organisation.
Chery Stock also advises that one should determine the key aspects that are “negotiable” and “non-negotiable”. Negotiators should also recognise the motives of the other parties.
In conclusion, Chery Stock advises that long term business relationships can be cultivated by saying “No” to deals that you are not comfortable with and wait for another day. My favourite quote on negotiation is from JF Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
Networking is described as the process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional and social contacts. The famous cliché that it’s whom you know not what you know that will give you the edge in business is absolutely true. MSMEs need to establish relationships with companies and opinion leaders who have high visibility in their area of operations.
Lately, business networking is being seen as a major success factor in business growth. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist suggest that there is, however, a limit to the number of people one can possibly manage and this should be not more than 150. As an MSME you will need to have a list of your Critical Few who will provide you with quality thinking and connect you to the right people.
However, MSMEs should systematically build networks through attending functions, conferences, being part of associations, business social groups to name just a few. A must read book on Networking is by Porter Gale entitled “Your Network is Your Networth”.
Decision making skills
According to Radu Orgaca, every success, mishap, opportunity seized or missed by any organisation is the result of a decision that someone made or failed to make. Within the MSME sector decision making is mainly the purview of the owner who sometimes often makes emotional and unilateral decisions that are sometimes not strategic. The main issue about decision making is to simply “decide”. You will find your decisions will not always be the correct ones. Deepak Chopra one of the successful motivational speakers has this to say about this skill, “If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.”
Cultural intelligence (CQ) skills
According to Robert Mortiz, the chairperson of United States division of Price Waterhouse, Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a critical capability for “navigating today’s increasingly global and diverse business environment”. He adds that it is thus important to make it our “core business”. MSMEs who conduct their businesses across borders are most likely going to find themselves in different cultural contexts.
The good news is CQ is ductile and one can learn different aspects of cultural nuances. MSMEs can thus enhance their CQ through training. MSMEs can also increase their interactions with other cultures through creating synergies with cultural groupings within their society.
Global economic dynamics are such that most companies are seeking to have their presence in China. However, if your organisation decides to move into China with a new idea, product or service, you must fully convince the Government why your proposal is good for the nation, the economy and the Chinese people.
Emotional intelligence (EQ)
Some people are so emotionally unstable you feel as you are walking on eggshells when communicating with them. Some will easily go into a trance or melt down in tears at simple provocation. Emotional Intelligence is now commonly regarded as a key feature of personal and social development. Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand and deal with our emotions and those around us. As an MSME operating in a highly volatile environment such as Zimbabwe, emotions can “run really high”. Some key take outs for emotional management include Self-Management.
This includes managing your emotions so that they are relevant to the current situation. One of my favourite authors of all times have this to say about how to handle one’s emotions. In his epic book the “48 Laws of Power” Robert Greene points out that the most important foundation for anyone is to master your emotions.
According to Robert Greene; “An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power.”
He also warns that; “Emotions cloud reason and if you cannot prepare for and respond to it with any degree of control.”
The 5-minute pitch deck
As an MSME owner, you will need to be constantly selling your products. To this end, you will not always have the luxury of having enough time to present your product lines. Mark Cuban the owner of the Dallas Mavericks says he is always looking out for ways to improve his companies and he is always “selling”. The first port of call is to sell yourself your own product. If It is not sounding good to you the chances are it will not sound attractive to your customer.
When this happens then you will need to vigorously train yourself to present your product lines and to planning sessions where you present your products and services. I would encourage every MSME to attend a network marketing session.
Time management skills
I will like to reiterate that there is no such thing as there is no hurry in Africa. Keeping time for appointments is one of the highest forms of respect you can give someone and MSMEs are poor time keepers.
In the past two weeks I have attended several workshops where people believe that they can waltz in and out late and they do not even apologise. To be more effective MSMEs need to eliminate time wasters. The 80/20 rule says that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts. Therefore MSMEs need to identify the 20 percent category where they get their greatest returns.
Good delegation saves your time, develops your people and grooms a successor. It is important to define the task, select the individuals, allocate the resources, agree on deadlines and get feedback. There are 10 levels of delegation and MSMEs need to choose which one they will use.
Level 1 is when the boss says do exactly what I say while Level 10 is “Decide where action needs to be taken and manage the situation accordingly it’s your responsibility now”.
Navigating around delegation conundrum can be tricky and as you train you will need to decide how much control you should give to the person you are delegating duties to.
Edzai Marange one of Zimbabwe’s foremost Soft Skills, Etiquette Specialist and Certified Global Leadership Coach advises MSMEs to take soft skills seriously so that they grow their businesses from “cereal bowl” businesses to global conglomerates. In Pentecostal churches these days when a preacher goes deep with the word they shout “WORD!” Word indeed Edzai!
Joseline Sithole is the Founder of Southern Africa Development Consultants. You can email comments to [email protected]