3 Business Books to Read For SME Owners

Running a business is an exciting and challenging venture. Being your own boss means that you are free to forge your path and have the opportunity to turn your dreams into reality. This requires hard work, grit and luck. For many business owners or prospective business owners, the journey can sometimes feel lonely and uncertain.

Given that many others have walked the path, there exists a huge body of knowledge that helps everyone to understand the challenges and nuances of running their own business. In this post, we have invited our Head of Data Analytics, Benedict Khong, to share his top 3 picks of business books which he has found useful and how he applies the learnings at Funding Societies.

1. High Output Management

Written by the legendary Intel CEO, Andy Grove, who was a mentor to some of Silicon Valley’s most successful CEOs such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, this book is a crash course on effective management.

As an SME owner, you will often not have the luxury of a team of middle managers. The responsibility of developing the team and the business falls solely on your shoulders. High Output Management is helpful in driving clarity of thought on what to focus on when running a business.

Key takeaway #1: Focus on a few crucial, measurable indicators of output

A key takeaway from this book is to focus on crucial, measurable indicators of output. No set of KPIs will be the perfect measure for your business. The key is to focus on a small set, that affects the majority of your business and that you can easily and frequently measure. Avoid measures of input such as the number of meetings and instead, focus on the output. Making this decision also means choosing not to allow your attention to drift to other measures that might seem attractive but are not in your scope.

Key takeaway #2: Meetings are a medium of managerial work

Meetings are a huge cost on time and energy. Accordingly, they should be used wisely and executed efficiently to drive the business forward. As a manager, you have to play various roles in a meeting as an observer, expediter, questioner and decision-maker. One useful piece of advice is to not weigh in on any issue too quickly. This ensures that you do not bias the decision before a discussion can take place.

How we apply:

At Funding Societies, we spend a lot of time ensuring that our business is growing sustainably and providing value for our customers. Such an approach leaves us open to the temptation of looking at too many metrics and obsessing over finding the perfect one. High Output Management has helped our team focus on the 4 crucial metrics that we think broadly covers the health of our business. With this focus, we spend less time deciding on what to measure and more time serving our customers!

Good read for:

  • Business owners
  • Anyone leading a team

2. Measure What Matters

In Measure What Matters, legendary venture capitalist John Doerr reveals how the goal-setting system of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) has helped tech giants from Intel to Google achieve explosive growth – and how it can help any organization thrive.

Key takeaway #1: Less is more – Focus and Commit to Priorities

Focus on the handful of initiatives that can make a real difference, defer the less urgent ones. The temptation to work on as many partnerships and projects as possible are always there. It is important to recognise the cost to quality when this is pushed to extremes.

Leaders commit to choices in word and deed. They decide what is most important for the next 3, 6 or 12 months and make their bets accordingly. This means not being afraid to be wrong. This also means pivoting quickly once the data shows that the approach is not working.

An effective goal-setting system starts with disciplined thinking at the top, with leaders who invest the time and energy to choose what counts and to be comfortable with missing out on things they believe do not count. Avoid FOMO!

Key takeaway #2: Set goals from bottom-up

Goal setting has traditionally been conducted in a top-down fashion. The founder/CEO of a company typically sets goals for the organisation. However, there is merit in also soliciting views and goals from frontline employees. Frontline employees interact with customers, systems and processes at a much higher frequency and intensity than the management. They are often able to positively contribute to building up the company using their understanding of the market and customers.

Another great reason to involve frontline employees is that people generally fight for goals they believe. If an employee gets to be part of the process of formulating these goals, the sense of ownership will often be higher than if they were just told what to do. Ultimately, the company benefits when the entire team believes in the vision and goals and works towards them!

How we apply:

At Funding Societies, each team sets goals using OKRs as detailed in Measure What Matters. In our OKR process, we run a combination of the top-down and bottom-up approaches in crafting our OKRs. This allows for everyone in the team to have a stake in driving the goals of our company. We incorporate multiple views and take a decision. The team commits to delivering the projects that were agreed upon and this helps us to iteratively improve our product offering for our customers.

Good read for:

  • Business owners
  • Senior management
  • Anyone who wants to run a business in future

3. Radical Candor

This book by Kim Scott begins with the premise that relationships, not power, drive you forward. It covers both theoretical and practical aspects of being a high performing leader through caring personally and challenging directly.

The book also goes on to give practical advice on how to run team meetings, 1-on-1 meetings, how to talk to team members about their aspirations and how to build a high performing team.

Key takeaway #1: Care personally about your team

The first dimension is about being more than “just professional.” It’s about caring and sharing more than just your work self. It is also about encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same. It is about caring about your team personally because as human beings, we can only connect with one another on a personal basis. This is termed caring personally.

Key takeaway #2: Challenge and give feedback directly

The second dimension involves giving people honest and hard feedback. It is about telling people when their work isn’t good enough or when they are not going to get that new role they wanted. Most people struggle with giving hard feedback because difficult feedback often results in negative emotions if not handled well and seems like not a good way at first to build relationships. However, genuinely caring about someone means telling them the truth even when it might be difficult. This is known as challenging directly.

It turns out that when people trust you and believe you care about them, they are much more likely to accept and act on your feedback. People are also more likely to tell you what you are doing well and what you are doing badly in. They are also more likely to treat others around them in such a manner, which reinforces the culture of giving personal and honest feedback.

How we apply:

The lessons from this book have been a great help in running our Data Analytics team at Funding Societies. The weekly 1-on-1 sessions with team members provide an avenue to understand each other better and to give and receive timely feedback.

The book has also constantly challenged me to find ways to help realise a team member’s potential. This means looking out for the development of every team member in multiple aspects of their lives. I have also been challenged to deliver feedback that might not always be pleasant but serves to build others up.

Good read for:

  • Business owners
  • Middle managers
  • Anyone leading a team

We hope that these business books will provide you with useful tips to manage your team and life more effectively as an SME owner. Let us know what are YOUR favourite business books by commenting below!

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