Fresh research and insights into the secrets of sustainable economic growth and performance for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Alberta took the spotlight at a recent packed house Fort Calgary event featuring a joint presentation by the Haskayne School of Business and rising business consulting firm Results Canada Inc.

The special executive forum, attended by over 100 business owners and CEOs from Calgary’s SME business community, highlighted key drivers of sustainable success based on research insights from Haskayne visiting scholar Dr. Simon Raby along with illustrative success stories based on case studies from leading Alberta SMEs delivered by Results Canada CEO Tim O’Connor.

Event co-hosts included Direct Tec Inc., Coldwell Banker, Sequeira Partners Inc., Lloyd Sadd Insurance Brokers and First West Capital.

Identifying keys to success

“When we think about companies within different industries today, there are clearly winners and losers – that is the case no matter what the economic conditions,” says O’Connor. “The question is, what makes the difference? Generally, most companies within an industry have similar inputs and there is a level playing field. But there are characteristics beyond these inputs that separate winners from losers.”

Raby has researched and worked with thousands of SMEs in the U.K. with a focus on identifying key drivers of performance that can translate into tools and programs for sustainable economic growth. He is now continuing this work with a focus on Alberta SMEs through his visiting scholar position at Haskayne’s Hunter Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. This work includes collaboration with Results Canada. The company, which is active across Canada with offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, has worked with hundreds of SMEs with a focus on helping them achieve success by removing barriers to disciplined execution.

Unlocking the secrets of SMEs

SMEs make up nearly 92 percent of total employment in Alberta, according to Industry Canada, observes Raby. Yet research has been lacking on the drivers of success for the SME sector, in part because larger firms tend to be the focus of research studies and it has been harder for researchers to gain access to SMEs for research purposes.

Based on his work in the U.K. and preliminary results from new Alberta research, Raby and his team have gained a number of insights. Among these are the identification of six common challenges for SMEs: unfulfilled aspirations, vision and strategy, leadership, exploiting knowledge, employee engagement and performance measurement & management.

Raby and colleagues have also identified 10 key types of leadership styles / characteristics that have proven successful among SMEs achieving sustained growth. Examples include “The Enthusiast,” who maintains a passion for the products and services of the firm that has a positive effective on performance, “The Transformer” who shows ability to adapt quickly to change, “The Strategist” who champions a well-conceived and shared business plan, “The Delegator” successful in effective delegation, and “The Innovator,” who recognizes not only the need to continually improve products and services but also new internal processes to increase efficiency.

Additional examples include “The Integrator,” adept at communicating and building trust among suppliers and customers, “The Calculator” who goes deeper on use of numbers to track key data points relevant to the business, “The Systemiser” skilled at developing effective systems, “The Engager” proficient at getting the most out of employees through engagement, and “The Sponge” who excels at effectively absorbing and sharing new knowledge beneficial to the firm.

“Each of these represent elements that are critical to the success of SMEs,” says Raby. Different firms and different leadership team members exhibit them to varying degrees, but all represent elements that can be addressed and improved upon to help companies succeed and achieve sustained growth.”

Leading Alberta examples

Firms and leaders exhibiting key combinations of these characteristics can be further categorized as “Pilots,” focused on where they are now and where they need to be in the future, “People Patrons” excelling in people-focused leadership, and “Relentless Renovators” adept at process-focused leadership.

Alberta SMEs cited as case studies that stand as leading examples of standout proficiency in one or more of these areas include Original Joe’s, Great West Containers Inc., Avalon Master Builder, Britt Land & Engagement, Redrock Camps, Cashco, and Direct Tec Inc.  

“We have been fortunate to work with these great companies and others to see first-hand how their dedication to executing these strengths and continually adapting, improving and driving progress has led to their success in achieving sustained growth,” says O’Connor. “While each is unique, all reflect a strong entrepreneurial spirit and resiliency that bodes well for the Alberta SME sector as firms seek to not just survive but thrive amid inevitable ongoing challenges and evolving economic conditions.”

Watch for more information and updates on Raby’s research, as well as updates on the progress of these and other Results Canada clients, in future editions of Execution Insights.

Contact Results Canada to learn more about the secrets to sustainable performance and how to shift “from good to great” through disciplined execution.