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Mapping a global flight path for SME success

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Mapping a global flight path for SME success

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Brian Ballingall is a generalist Team Coordinator (TC), specialising in multiple industries. He started working with the EBRD in 2003 with years of experience in retail wholesale distribution. In 2000, he founded the Centre for Performance Learning, a consulting firm based in Canada which assists clients with strategy, structure and learning initiatives that achieve personal and professional goals.

Join him for a 2-hour Q&A session on the Advice for Small Businesses LinkedIn Group page on 31 October from 2pm until 4pm (GMT).

How do you describe your role as a generalist TC on international advisory projects?

The role of the TC is in transition, moving from a country-specific model to a sector expertise approach. As a result, my geographical scope of work has significantly evolved from a focus in Ukraine towards further afield, including the Caucasus, the Western Balkans and Central Asia.

As a generalist TC, I get to keep my fingers in multiple pies, from working in hospitality to oil and gas distribution. This allows me to define the role of a TC as getting SMEs to think about their business in a new way and to guide them in applying the best model to the tailored context of their specific strategic business goals.

My TC role starts with the screening visit and discovering the key business issues impacting on the enterprise and its people. Once we have ascertained the key issues, I search for Senior Industrial Advisors with the appropriate competencies to assist the enterprise with the defined screening objectives. These advisors are presented to the company’s General Director for a decision. The advisor will be an agent of change for the organisation.

Change should be something we create for ourselves and not something that is imposed on us. That is why I would deem that, for most consulting projects, it is not about having the right answer but rather about asking the right question at the right time. The TC is above all a good listener who is able to get businesses to think about processes and outcomes.

Where do you see a need for advice?

In the EBRD’s countries of operation, businesses generally do not have pre-determined answers to questions such as: Who are your target demographic? What is the size of the market you work in? How many competitors do you face in this market? This is inevitably due to the influence of the planned economy past, under which businesses did not need to target customers or to promote their product. Post-socialism, businesses now require market knowledge, market research capabilities as well as the capacity to define psychographic (values/attitudes/interests) and demographic characteristics of a target group in order to have a competitive advantage.

In line with this, business plans are frequently seen merely as empty words on a piece of paper, when in fact they should be envisaged as a roadmap to identify our business goals. As a private pilot, I like to draw a parallel between drafting a business plan and creating a flight plan: both serve the same purpose of knowing if we’re on target and, if not, of identifying the adjustments needed and of assessing how challenging these will be. As we say in flying jargon, the correction is double the deviation; by the same token, if a business is four degrees off course, the correction needed will be equivalent to eight degrees. This metaphor is useful to understand how knowing where we stand in relation to our business goal enables us to create a system of check-and-balances to ensure we stay consistently on course.

Aside from a need to adopt a business plan outlining their strategic goal, SMEs need support in the following areas: sales & marketing and improving the corporate business culture.

Do you identify any key factors to ensure a project is successful?

All you need is trust. In many of the countries in which the EBRD works, trust is not high on people’s agenda, especially when it comes to business. Corruption is still a problem which breeds a generalised lack of trust. An important part of the TC role is to open lines of communication to ensure that the owner and the adviser build a relationship of trust and speak frequently and candidly.

What do you think are the most interesting recent SME developments?

There is a clear generational impact as more mature business-owners tend to be more reluctant to change whereas the more progressive-thinking younger ones tend to be more open to adopting new methodologies. Technological advances imply an increased need for improved IT systems as they change the way work gets done. There is also a need for adaptability to the globalised world functions, understanding the implications of exporting, for instance. Most companies in the Commonwealth of Independent States region wish to expand their exports. This is where market knowledge and managing change become paramount. The ability to find an advisor to assist the enterprise in creating the corporate changes to meet the needs of this changing global economy is critical to my success as a TC generalist.

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