- By Samir Sathe
Skill, Labour, Talent for MSMEs: Do Indian MSMEs need mentoring? What do they need to be mentored on? How and where would they prefer to be mentored? Whom would they prefer to be mentored from? The key question is what impact could Indian MSMEs see if they are mentored in the next 10 years? We estimate that the select Indian MSMEs up to Rs 250 crore revenue could experience an acceleration of 2-5x revenue and 1-3x in profits, in the next 10 years, should they spend around $70 billion, in this timeline, on the curated mentors for solving the right problems, delivered and monitored appropriately.
Roadblocks in Mentoring
There are barriers to MSMEs spending money on mentors. They do not think it would help them, they do not know whom and how should they engage with, they have more pressing priorities, they suffer from lack of faith in an external professional being able to add value to family business matters, and finally, they just do not have the money.
Few mentors have been honest to acknowledge that the majority of evidence is mixed at best and counter-productive, at least. Secondly, the mentoring industry itself is in its infancy with most value adds splintered between tall promises with weak implementation and feel-good conversations and few knew what it takes to deliver a thorough and full-scale transformation of MSMEs through a mentoring journey. Notwithstanding a few mentors (I estimate the actual numbers of truly capable ones would be fewer than few thousands to support a population of 65 million MSMEs), the mentoring professionals need to mentor themselves to re/ upskill.
Not all is lost. The early signals underpinning a mentoring revolution are visible. These signals are manifest in the changing paradigms of MSMEs in learning, unlearning, doing business and engaging mentors for the same.
Decoding Mentoring, Today
I have dimensionalised mentoring on ‘what’, ‘why’ incidence, ‘how’, ‘where’ preferences and ‘who’ the mentor is. It throws interesting patterns for us to imagine a potential revolution that could be unleashed if the industry redraws its engagement models to propel MSMEs become competitive, thrive and grow manifold.
What and Why of Mentoring Incidence (Exhibit 1):
See Exhibit 1. It shows on X-axis ‘why’ MSMEs engage mentors. They engage them to learn, to help in survival or propel them to growth. Y-axis shows what do they engage mentors on. They engage mentors to help them with doing business transactions or diagnosing the areas of improvement in their businesses or seeking help in transforming them. The five circles plotted in each combination of the ‘whys and ‘whats’, show the incidence indicated by the number of shaded circles out of five. For example, the incidence in highest when it comes to mentors helping them learn and/ or win business to grow revenue/ profit and it goes down when it comes to learning to discover and transform businesses. They are keen that mentors help them change businesses, but they are not as keen to learn the science and art of doing so. They would rather pay mentors to get the job done.
How and Where of Mentoring Preferences (Exhibit 2):
See exhibit 2. It shows on X-axis ‘where’ do MSMEs prefer being mentored, it includes virtual vs face2face choices and more importantly whether they prefer being mentored alone (Self) or One-on-one (1×1) or in One-Many (1xN) or in peer-to-peer (P2P) sessions. Y-axis shows the preferred sensory choices by MSMEs. Our experience clearly suggests they would rather have mentors do change management with them and deliver outcomes, followed by other sensory choices. We also observe that more serious MSME learners would use a combination of doing and reading or doing and listening/ reading. ‘Readers are leaders’ was the phrase I learnt when I was a kid. Decades later, in 2012 HBR’s famous article ‘For Those Who Want to Lead, Read’ by John Coleman, reiterated its virtues. The bad news is that readership is declining. The mentors, on the other hand, continue to churn tons of articles. But a clear change in the last 3 years is visible with the explosion of video-based learning systems (‘Watch’ in exhibit 2 showing a high incidence of MSME preferences).
Who the mentor is, matters
In oriental cultures and in India, who mentors who is as important a dimension as and, in many cases, more important than the others. The Indians bow to ‘authority’ figure and clearly the age and experience are equated with expertise. Right or wrong, MSMEs prefer the experts than young bright minds. As the MSMEs, mentors and mentorship models evolve, the MSMEs will see mentoring in a new light. There is hope.
Samir Sathe is Executive Vice President -Wadhwani Advantage at Wadhwani Foundation. Views expressed are the author’s own.