From Old Street and Silicon Fen right up to Belfast, Edinburgh and beyond, the bustling tech hubs dotted around the UK are a reminder of what we do well: getting technology companies up and running.
Last year, a record 80 new companies an hour got off the ground in the UK, with tech representing a significant chunk of new business activity. Fantastic as this may be, there’s just one question: where’s our very own giant along the lines of Facebook or Google?
At 83%, the one-year survival rate for European enterprises is very encouraging. It’s after that that things start to go awry: according to Fleximize, just 45% of UK tech startups survive into their fifth year.
Obviously, there are a myriad of reasons why a company can fail. But one of the most significant (not to mention, overlooked) reason centres around leadership. Put simply; the leadership tools aren’t in place to equip companies to succeed. All too often, leadership development isn’t in the equation at all – or if it is, it’s not working the way it should.
So what’s wrong with leadership development when it comes to tech? Here are our thoughts:
Pushed to the bottom of the to-do list
Quite simply, leadership development isn’t working because it’s not there when it’s most needed.
According to research by the Federation of Small Business, almost two thirds of small businesses believe that a lack of skills impedes growth. Despite this, just 25% of business owners had invested in leadership training the previous year. It seems firms realise that they ought to focus on it – but it never quite manages to get prioritised.
Yet as tech companies reach the growth stage, this is precisely the time when leadership starts to become a critical issue. The team is getting bigger. The decision-making process is getting more complex. The initial buzz and excitement is starting to fade. There are big challenges ahead on multiple fronts – from how best to capitalise on the company’s initial success right through to securing the next round of VC funding. Leadership is crucial for all of this.
The big challenge for leadership development providers is to offer a solution that makes sense: one that recognises the specific challenges faced by tech firms. By offering something that actually works, tech firms will be encouraged to take that desire for better leadership training and convert it into action.
It doesn’t have context
So are leadership developers delivering training that actually works? Not always.
Too often, there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. It doesn’t take into account the fact that tech firms tend to be run on very distinct lines. Hierarchies are often fluid – and to the untrained eye, can seem unclear. In a technocratic environment, making your presence felt as a leader and exerting influence is certainly doable, but it tends to demand a skilful and often subtle approach.
Has the leadership development provider taken the time to get to know the company’s distinct culture? Does it actually grasp the challenges being faced by the company? In other words, has it done its homework? Too often, the answer is in the negative.
The end result can all too easily be an unfocused development offering, devoid of any real practical context that fails to meet the needs of both the company and the training participants.
Thankfully, there’s a way around this for tech firms: look for training providers with a deep understanding of what leadership in a technological environment actually means – and check the track record of your provider before jumping in!