John Beeson, expert in leadership development and leadership coaching at Beeson Consulting, based in New York. He is the author of The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level (Jossey-Bass, 2010)

How do you foster a more corporate culture in your SME when there's only a few of you?

Small businesses have many important advantages. They can stay close to their customers and be more nimble and adaptive than their bigger competitors. However, to grow and avoid the tendency toward bureaucracy that comes with organizational growth, small businesses should apply three tactics from successful bigger companies.

Recruit rigorously for both skills and growth potential

Many small businesses make the mistake of scrambling to fill on open position with someone who has relevant experience. That's a natural tendency-but one that over time will fill your organization with dead wood. Instead, employees at all levels-including the president--should be involved in scouting out and interviewing new staff. Beyond skills and experience, try to get a sense of the person's drive to take initiative, learn new skills, and advance their careers.


Provide every employee and every manager with performance feedback

Small companies can fall prone to cronyism and the "that's just old Joe" syndrome. Don't let it happen in your company, because it tends to institutionalize mediocrity and frustrate your best people. It doesn't have to be overly formal, but every year every manager should solicit input from his/her manager and peers and then sit down with each employee to review performance results, strengths, the skills or behaviors they need to display, and expectations for the coming year. You need to send a polite but firm message that the performance bar in the company is going up every year.

Provide growth opportunities for your best people

Many small business owners cringe and say: "How can I afford to send my people to training programs? We haven't the time or the budget." The good news is that you don't need to. Rather, find work-related experiences that will give staff new experiences and perspectives and continue to motivate them. Don't let your managers stifle the growth of their staff. That's a recipe for losing your most aggressive and talented people.

Finally, keep in mind that to grow your business successfully, you need to adopt the attitude of a professional sports coach. They want their team to win this year, in your case to meet your company's performance goals, but they want the team to be stronger next year-and the year afterwards. That can only happen if your staff members are getting more capable every year, and you are constantly scouring for new talent that will make the entire team stronger.

Next week we hear from NZ's SMEs involved in manufacturing. What are your challenges and achievements, what are the benefits of manufacturing in NZ?