In September I started the Help to Grow Management course for SMEs, and alongside learning a lot on the course itself, it has made me reflect on just how important it is to take time out of your working days to invest in training and growth for yourself and your business.
The government funded leadership programme is promoted as providing “…time away from the challenges of running a business to invest in your leadership, and to learn how to take your business to the next level”. For me the key words here are “time away” as that is one of the most valuable things that I took away from the sessions.
Having that time and opportunity to step back from the day job is more important than we sometimes think. It’s easy to get caught up in all the meetings, decisions, and urgent requests and before you know it another week is over and the chance to look at those things you intended to; thinking about how to grow your business, or how to improve leadership skills, has passed again.
Joining a course with regular sessions and ‘homework’ to be completed in between ensures you take that time out of the business to grow and improve both personally and professionally.
Thinking outside the sector
Often, we’re too busy working for our clients and dealing with the day-to-day to take time out to work on the culture of the organisation, meaning that we make a lot of decisions as and when we need to that perhaps aren’t based on a fully defined purpose.
During one of the early modules, we took time out to define who we are (as a business) using a brand prism activity and worked to articulate what we mean by the culture of the organisation. This has already proved very useful for new colleagues, clients and potential tender opportunities to succinctly articulate who we are.
We also looked at case studies that are outside of our own sectors. This enabled us to grow and hone our skills in a less insular way than if we were to carry out these activities and workshops with colleagues in our own businesses. I found going beyond the sector or industry you know and work in to be really useful and refreshing.
We then use that theory and apply it to our own business and sector and how we might deal with things differently going forward. It’s very rare to have the space to think in this way and work with those from completely different industries and backgrounds to develop techniques and frameworks to apply to our own.
One of our recent sessions focussed on being a better digital leader and the use of AI, something my colleague Jade has recently blogged about. It was interesting to see that no matter the industry, we all embraced the fact that AI can be an extremely useful tool in growing and making our businesses more efficient, and equally reassuring to see that we all had similar challenges to face in its use too.
Making the most of mentoring
After over 30 years in PR, I probably saw myself more as a mentor than a mentee, but what I’ve now learnt from the mentoring opportunity with the Help to Grow course is that you’re never too experienced to learn from someone else – and to learn more about yourself and the way you work.
As part of the programme, we were allocated 10 hours with a mentor (of your choice, from a list of experienced and skilled mentors).
After four sessions, I can safely say my mentor Oluwaseyi (Manuwa) Kehinde-Peters had got the measure of me and has quickly helped me be clearer on how people see me, whether that’s the best ‘use of me’ for our business, and steps I can take to find the best way for me to guide and grow See Media and our team.
As well as how best to help the business and our clients, we’ve also done a really interesting piece of work on our own ‘brand personality’ and goal setting, which has been enlightening!
Another part of what I’ve found useful about this particular course is that it’s a mixture of online and face-to-face sessions. We all know that online is sometimes the only way we can find time to carry out meetings and training, and Teams or Zoom has been a game-changer for cutting out travel time and logistics to get things done.
But there’s no denying that there’s something about getting into an actual room with like-minded peers that, especially these days, is a bit special.
Luckily for me, I only have to travel to my local university for that opportunity as Help to Grow run local sessions in locations all across the country. Through those face-to-face sessions, we have built a relationship between us that I don’t believe would have flourished quite so easily on a screen.
It’s fascinating to see how different people from such different sectors and organisations all have similar issues, and its equally as fascinating to see the different approaches and perspectives that people use to deal with them. I think we’re all learning as much from each other as we are from the tutor who facilitates that for us.
Through this course, not only have we had space to learn and ‘help to grow’ but we’ve also made a great group of friends and peers who I know will stay in touch and be a really helpful resource for each other going forward. Huge thanks to George Akomas from Coventry University who expertly led the programme on behalf of Coventry University.
Sarah Thomas is Group Account Director at See Media. Email firstname.lastname@example.org