How to create leadership capability in fast-growing SMEs


Leadership capability is the cornerstone of a successful organisation.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the senior ranks of a fast-growing SME, you’ll know that this rapid growth can mean that leadership capability in your organisation may be more random than reliable.

Creating leadership capability isn’t rocket science, but it does require joined up thinking about how you select and develop your people. These issues are closely tied up with your company culture, and changing one often changes the other.

Here are some simple starters to get you on the road to productive leadership.

Define what good talent looks like

Coming in to an organisation, we often find that everyone has a slightly different idea of what talent actually looks like. This leads to a serious lack of efficiency in recognising and cultivating talent, and speaks to a wider problem around role definition and task.

In a recent intervention, we performed stakeholder interviews with 25 key players across global markets in a fast-growing SME. Each gave us their view of what talent looks like, allowing us to map the qualities onto a psychometric tool that could be used as part of the talent recognition process.

This introduced some objectivity into the process of cultivating leadership capability, and produced consistency and clarity across the entire organisation.

Create a shared language

Being able to communicate clearly across functions and through the hierarchy is crucial.

You can come up with an amazing framework to cultivate leadership capability, but if the people who work in the company don’t understand it, you’re an orator without an audience.

Take a close look at the language people are already using, and create a simple, intuitive lexicon that’s grounded in this foundation. This will allow the new approach to spread.

Go in on several levels

If you want to make systemic change in the organisation, you need to go in at several levels. Think separate programs for your high potentials, your middle management, and your senior management, all feeding into the same eventual objectives.

Cultivate self-insight

The key to any productive change is to first understand what you’re working with.

We use a range of psychometric tests, as well as getting 360-degree feedback on each individual from those around them, to understand their strengths and possible de-railers in times of stress.

It can be difficult to do this from inside the organisation – you may be ‘too close’ to the individual. Just remember that not all psychometric tests are created equal; give us a call for advice on how to move forward.

Design an effective talent pipeline

Your talent pipeline is the path that individuals take from initial identification as a high potential candidate, up through the ranks of the organisation, and into a leadership position. You start with raw potential and gradually convert this into actioning proficiency.

This pipeline needs to work, or you’ll be squandering one of your organisation’s most precious resources – its future leaders.

Develop talent and fine tune leadership

Once you have a comprehensive profile of the individuals and groups you want to work with, you need to develop them. Some key rules that we stick to in our leadership development programs:

·        Create agency, not dependency. Put individuals in the driver’s seat of their own self-insight and good judgement.

·        Ground the program in the commercial reality of your business.

·        Use a variety of learning approaches to transmit the material – very few people learn well by being talked at for several hours straight.

·        Aim to create a ‘toolkit’ of skills and resources that people can use on an ongoing basis, building momentum for the new approach and making the process more efficient.

·        Use these ‘early adopters’ as agents for change in the rest of the organisation.

Measure, evaluate, improve

Get both quantitative and qualitative feedback on how well your efforts are working; this will enable you to tune up the process and improve. Make sure your feedback is related to a specific metric as far as possible, as this will allow for an accurate picture of exactly which aspects are working, and which aren’t.

Follow up

Any effort to improve the leadership capability in your organisation shouldn’t be seen as a finite action that you can ‘complete’ and then forget. It’s intrinsic to the very culture of your people, and as such is an ongoing effort that needs continuing attention.

We recently did a piece of work with a fast growing tech SME who wanted to improve their leadership capability; they were looking to attract investment or a buyer.

Here’s what they said:


““Indigogold know their stuff. They’ve triggered a systemic change in the business, and we’re already seeing the benefits.””

Participant, Senior Leader Group

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