Case Study Porn

Case Study Porn

Business population and their associated employment and turnover

At the start of 2012, there were an estimated 4.8 million UK private sector businesses, employing an estimated 23.9 million people and with an estimated combined annual turnover of £3,100 billion.

Almost all of these businesses (99.2 per cent) were small (0 to 49 employees). Only 30,000 (0.6 per cent) were medium-sized (50 to 249 employees) and 6,000 (0.1 per cent) were large (250 or more employees). These percentages have remained fairly stable since 2000 (the earliest point for which comparable data exists).

There were an estimated 4.8 million UK private sector SMEs at the start of 2012, employing an estimated 14.1 million people, and with an estimated combined annual turnover of £1,500 billion. 

99.2% of all private sector businesses in the UK employ fewer than 50 people.

In his talk at the CIPD HR Dvelopment Conference this week, Andy Lancaster used this fact to help illustrate an all too common dilemma, ‘how do you develop talent in smaller, flatter organisations?’ Based on the numbers in the BIS research – this challenge matters to an awful lot of us. Even if you take the large numbers of micro businesses out of the equation – the SME marketplace is huge.

So why is it that when we go to conferences, the main ‘attractions’ are often mega brands? Come and listen to sexy companies like Google, Mercedes Benz, BBC, Marks and Spencer etc. I should state I’m not against these companies, I use three of the four I just mentioned on a regular basis. I just don’t particularly want to be like them, and I think that there is a danger that these companies are positioned as the way ahead, with little consideration given to the distorting effect of trying to compare a business employing 25,000 people, to one that employs 250.

At the risk of contradicting myself (I’m sometimes wrong, sometimes right, I rarely know which is which and I reserve the right to change my mind), I do think there are possibilities to learn from bigger companies, and based on what I’ve experienced directly this week, and heard from other sources I trust, those possibilities are being hampered. Hampered by the ‘Case Study Porn’ (CSP) effect.

I’m unsure whether the CSP effect starts when Sexy Mega Brand Incorporated puts themselves on a pedestal (or should that be a pole), or when we do. Either way, my Bullshit Detector (copyright Joe Strummer) went off the scale several times in a direct response to Sexy Mega Brand Incorporated this week.

This week I found I learned much more from smaller organisations, and ones that get useful stuff done (or at least try) in a fussless, humble kind of way, than from organisations like the BBC, Google and Chelsea Football Club, all of whom came across to me as a bit guarded, a bit arrogant, and too assumptive.

Maybe it’s just that Sexy Mega Brand Incorporated can afford better fluffers – but I think conference organisers need to think more carefully about their audience and what their needs and wants are, and less about Case Study Porn. How about you? What influences your decision to attend a conference? And what would encourage you to come back again next year?

Blown Away

I’ve just attended a session on ‘Developing Internal Talent’ at the CIPD HR Development conference. There were two speakers, Nick Pascazio from the BBC and Andy Lancaster from Hanover Housing.

Nick’s talk didn’t really do it for me. Maybe it was the appearance of a nine box talent map, maybe it was that only the top four layers in the Beeb are ‘mapped’, or maybe it was Nick talking about the BBC as the ‘place where conversation happens’ against a slide backdrop of an audience sitting in theatre style, not very conversational, huh?

Thankfully we had much better to follow. Andy Lancaster was up next, talking about the challenges of developing talent in a smaller organisation. Andy opened with a question for the audience – what do post it notes, clingfilm, velcro, anesthetic, cutlery and dynamite all have in common? They’re all accidental innovations. Andy went on to suggest that new ideas are often stumbled upon and that genius and innovation are often more plentiful in tougher times.

So how can you create opportunities for talent development in smaller, flatter organisations? And before continuing, it’s worth sharing that 99.2% of all UK private sector businesses employ fewer than fifty people. This is just one of a number of powerful stats Andy used as he told his story, he got this one from the Department of Business Skills and Environment 2012 research on UK company sizes.

At this point Andy revealed that the research he’d done to back up his talk was all linked up to his Twitter feed for us to reference later. I thought this was a really neat touch.

So – back to the challenge. Andy researched and discovered talent development possibilities for smaller flatter structures include, gathering people from across the business to solve complex problems, mentoring and secondments. Basically – he suggested that organisational problems present brilliant talent development possibilities.

In the case of Hanover Housing, Andy proposed to spread a culture of learning and development through growing their own ‘developers’. Staff were invited and encouraged to apply for this opportunity through pitching ideas. The idea itself was less important than the possibility the candidates displayed, and the people who were invited to come on board were given trust, the space and expectation to fail and make mistakes, and an abundance of encouragement, no for results delivered, but for effort invested.

The response exceeded expectations with people rating the training really highly, and over 60% believing it would directly benefit customer contact ‘a lot’. Beyond this though – Andy and his team now have a bigger pool of people to draw on (who importantly sit all over the business) as they continue to build opportunities for learning and development in Hanover Housing.

Andy delivered his talk with energy, enthusiasm, and a humility that gave his session bundles of authenticity and belief. For me, and judging by the enthusiastic response afterwards, for many others too, this was a high point at this conference. And perhaps most importantly – Andy was speaking for and to the 99.2%, not the 0.8%.