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Leading small business in Wales: the LEAD Wales programme 2010-2012

Henley, A., Jones, K. ORCID:, Norbury, H. and Sambrook, S., (2012) Leading small business in Wales: the LEAD Wales programme 2010-2012. inside.bangor. Project Report. Bangor University, Bangor University.

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The LEAD Wales programme is funded by the European Social Fund, the Welsh Government, Swansea and Bangor Universities to provide a programme of leadership development for owner-managers of small and medium sized businesses in the West Wales and the Valleys Convergence Region. This report provides an assessment of the programme’s impact based on the experiences of over 300 participants between 2010 and 2012, of whom 166 have completed the programme. The programme adopts a model which was developed by Lancaster University Management School, previously rolled out across the North West of England, and funded by the former North West Regional Development Agency. Programme design was informed by prior research into the small business owner experience. This highlights that small business growth is often constrained by leader isolation, haphazard delegation skills, limited capacity for strategic thinking, and suspicion of formal management education. The programme design incorporates a range of learning methods, including formal masterclasses, but emphasises situated and experiential learning through the inclusion of action learning, coaching and business shadowing and exchange exercises. Participants who have undertaken the programme, to date, are spread across the age range and have a range of educational backgrounds. 60% have no previously background in higher education. 36% of participants are female. Participants are drawn from across the full range of business sectors and are broadly representative of the business population in Wales. Manufacturing businesses are over-represented. Average business size is 15 employees. Some participants are drawn from social enterprises. The majority of participants are “growth-orientated”, reflecting the recruitment aims of the programme. Some are looking to develop turnaround strategies to deal with recent trading challenges. However, in line with earlier research, many report feeling that growth is constrained by an inability to focus on strategy. Some were looking to regain lost enthusiasm. The vast majority report that their initial expectations from the programme were met. Participants report being positively surprised by peer-to-peer networking benefits, having not initially anticipated acquiring these. In terms of reported impacts on the participants as business leaders, the most common findings are that programme participation has improved personal self-confidence levels and helped many business owner-managers achieve improved work-life balance. Here the explicit “time-release” design of the programme forces participants to confront the concerns that lie behind poor delegation and excessive focus on business minutiae. Further benefits concern leadership style. Participants report achieving improved self-awareness of their leadership role within their organisations and engaging in critical reflection on their leadership style. In particular, participants report gaining improved communication skills, both with employees and with other external stakeholders. The introduction of improved communication methods and practices are reported. 45% of participants report that the programme contributed to the development of a strategic plan for their business. Participation in the programme is associated with an average increase in business turnover of £93,000 per annum. This equates to a growth of 26%. From this, the average participant business has created 2.3 new jobs. To date, it is estimated that participants have added 300 new jobs to the Welsh economy. A range of learning methods is clearly valued by participants. Formal masterclasses are popular; however action learning set participation and peer-to-peer learning interactions are also identified as highly effective. For a smaller number of participants significant benefits were gained from one-to-one shadowing and exchange activity. It is, however, clear that successful leadership development activity for small business owners depends critically on a balance and range of learning activity, in order to exploit the range of preferred learning styles that participants bring. A formal “top-down” approach to learning are unlikely to be effective on its own with small businesses.

Item Type:Report (Project Report)
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
ID Code:72158
Uncontrolled Keywords:SMEs; business growth; leadership; learning; Wales
Additional Information:Research report published by University of Bangor
Publisher:Bangor University

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