Small yellow flower growing through rock representing growth through touch surroundings.

Growth out of tough surroundings!

Did you know that there are 140,000 small businesses (employing 0-19 FTEs) in South Australia?  They represent about 98% of all businesses in the state and employ about 34% of the states workforce.  This is a pretty impressive profile and generates an image of our state buzzing along with small to medium businesses keeping communities and regions vibrant.  Furthermore they contribute $34 billion to the economy annually.  But don’t let me get sidetracked with these mere positive details, I want to share with you the experience of doom and gloom that I had last week with a few leaders in South Australia’s business sector.

First to provide some context…..In my small business, based in Adelaide, South Australia, we focus on managers and leaders.  They make businesses and organisations tick-over productively and positively.  We know that confident and capable managers and leaders are the foundation of successful business and encounter extraordinary change for-the-better in companies and organisations that commit to their development.  Equally, we are aware that many companies do not invest in training and development because they assume the skills can be absorbed through experience, these usually don’t operate at full productivity.

Now to the story….I was somewhat disheartened recently when I came across several senior members of our business community that proffered South Australia to be moribund, especially small business (98% of S.A. business).  They suggested that small businesses are struggling and have no money for anything other than to survive.  In particular, several people stated that learning and development is the lowest priority for spending and one senior adviser suggested to for me to “come back in two to three years time because things might be different then.  These things are often cyclical.”  You might be pleased to know that I spoke with several individual business owners who commented that being in small business is always hard!  They also observed that there are many companies surviving and thriving despite these hard times and maybe the leaders have got it wrong.

I felt somewhat dismayed that learning and development of the workforce is considered to be such a low priority when there is strong evidence to show that it is key to sustainability and growth. I also felt despair that the prevailing sentiment about South Australia is so negative.

I am no Polly Anna, I know that South Australia has many challenges.  The latest CommSec State of the States Quarterly Report ranked South Australia 7th (out of 8) and identified worrying signs of increased unemployment, decrease in population growth and negative dwelling commencements and construction work as key factors.  Despite these disappointing outcomes South Australia remains a viable and vibrant state as many small businesses will tell you and as identified recently in Deloittes Quarterly Report.  Similarly, Andrew Culley’s article ‘SA’s economy has been struggling and trailing the rest of the country for some time.’ (adelaidenow.com.au, 19/5/2017), identified problems however stated, ‘don’t get us wrong — far from what the doomsayers say, Adelaide’s economy isn’t crashing any time soon’.

There is no denying that South Australia has some tough times ahead  and some businesses struggle to keep afloat, but this is not a time to put our heads in the sand and hope that things will get better in a couple of years’ time.  Now is the very time that we need to be holding our heads high, looking around and discussing what can be done to make a difference.  In communities, government, companies we need skilled and confident managers, leaders and teams that can provide certainty and hope to communities and workforces and engage them in thinking and planning for a sustainable and profitable future.  There are many businesses that do this, they have galvanized and searched for innovative strategies and adaptations to meet the demands of the changing economy.  Generating ideas, new practices, diverse views to shape our future is what will impact on South Australia’s future.

Yes this will require investment in skilling up managers, leaders and employees to give them the confidence and skills to drive this effort.  But come on South Australia, when the going gets tough it is precisely when we need to get going.