Supporting responsible leadership across our region
Last year, we launched the Small Business Leadership Programme (SBLP) here at Leeds Business School, in partnership with the Small Business Charter. Funded by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the programme set out to support small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to enhance their resilience and recovery from the impact of COVID-19, and develop their potential for future growth and productivity. In this blog post, Programme Director Olga Munroe and Project Manager Kirstie Frenneaux reflect on the huge impact the programme has been having on the businesses we are working with.
SBLP is a 10-week course - delivered by the Leeds Business School – which enhances leadership skills within small businesses across a range of critical business topics - such as productivity, marketing, sustainability, and finance. Its core objective is to enable SMEs to adapt to change, stimulate innovation and improve their long-term overall business performance.
The core content has been developed jointly by Business Schools across the UK - with Leeds Beckett taking the lead on the marketing module, developed by Neil Kelley and Christine Zhang in the marketing group at Leeds Business School. This has now been rolled out nationally.
Initially intended as a pilot, it was soon apparent that demand for the SBLP was outstripping supply and we added additional cohorts. By May 2021, four cohorts in total will have been delivered at Leeds Business School in just six months - with more than 100 regional businesses completing the programme. The level of interest has shown that even in a time of a global pandemic business owners are keen to learn, grow and adapt their businesses to the ever-changing marketplace.
We have found that businesses are very keen to engage, reshape and reflect on their future strategies. That’s what the SBLP programme is here to do – to help them on their long-term approaches. Throughout the programme the participants are working on their own business action plans, and once the course is complete, they are responsible for implementing these in their organisation.
Delivering such an intensive programme in a short period of time has not been without its challenges from an operational point of view. With literally a few weeks’ notice, we pulled together a team of core academic staff from the Business School, and project support from both the Post-Award Team and University Business Centres within Research and Enterprise Services. We were able to mobilise the programme quickly with all of the team going the extra mile to make it happen.
SBLP has presented the University with a great opportunity to showcase the wide breadth of expertise of our academic colleagues in the Business School and the wider support we can offer SME’s through our other programmes. Businesses on the programme have told us how the practitioners’ wide commercial experience has made the programme more relatable and engaging for them - with the peer group sessions in particular helping them to transform their learning into practical ‘take aways’ that they can start to implement straight away.
Early feedback on the programme has been excellent – one participant said:
“As Paul (Rhodes) was talking it was setting off little bulbs in my head. We were pitching for a job with a potential client. I’d already had a draft proposal that I was putting together for the tender and I literally screwed it up and threw it in the bin. I sat down again and went through Paul’s comments and it was transformed. We went from a pretty bland proposal with all the standard boxes ticked to a really powerful document that I was so proud of. And I worked with the team to put it all together and they loved the process of it too.’’
The Small Business Leadership Programme has provided the University with an opportunity to reach out to businesses in the region - many of whom would not have previously sought out a relationship with an academic establishment. Thanks to this initiative the awareness of Leeds Beckett as an anchor institution in our region has grown. Businesses have expressed an interest in forming an alumni network, attending our Guest Lecture series and engaging with a wider portfolio of University support programmes for SMEs, such as: Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) and the new Management KTPS, Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) courses, and student recruitment and placements.
The programme is a great example of how Leeds Beckett fulfils its mission of contributing to regional economies by supporting responsible leadership that improves productivity, safeguards jobs and prosperity of businesses, and leads to further opportunities for knowledge-transfer between academia and the world of practitioners.
Olga Munroe is Head of the Retail Institute at Leeds Beckett University, a research centre that specialises in innovation and consumer behaviour in relation to retail.