Ep. 200: Marsha Huber - IMA’s Guide to Small Business Resilience

In Count Me in's 200th episode, Director of Research Marsha Huber joins us to discuss IMA’s new report, Thriving Amidst Challenges: A Guide to Small Business Resilience. Based on surveys and interviews with small businesses navigating the pandemic, the guide is filled with insights and best practices to help leaders build more resilient and agile organizations.

Welcome back to Count Me In, the podcast where management accounted stays center stage. I'm your host, Neha Lagoo Ratnakar. Today, I'm joined by Dr. Marsha Huber, who is IMA's director of research to discuss a recently published report, Thriving Amidst Challenges: A Guide to Small Business Resilience. I have to say, this report is such a great example of the timely and rigorous research IMA specializes in with the goal of providing practical insights and actions that truly help businesses learn and grow. We cover a lot of ground in this conversation, but make sure to download the full report using the link in the shownotes, because it's literally brimming with insights that can be put to use immediately. Now let's get started with Marsha.
Neha:

Hi Marsha, welcome to Count Me In. It's such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Marsha:

Oh, thank you so much Neha. I feel privileged to have been invited to talk about this IMA publication.
Neha:

Oh, it's all my pleasure, Marsha. And first of all, congratulations on your new report. Thriving Amidst Challenges: A Guide to Small Business Resilience and that's quite mouthful, but a very much needed topic. Can you tell us, our listeners, what this report is all about?
Marsha:

Yes. It's a report that was developed from interviews with business people, the small business development center, and various members of the small business committee at the IMA. And I spoke with people, read interviews and developed models with people and experts, and here's the report of our findings.
Neha:

Cool. And I'm glad you were able to do all that. And how did you come up with this topic? What's the story behind this report?
Marsha:

Yeah, it's really interesting. I was not the originator of this report. During the pandemic, the small business committee at the IMA had a heart for small business and they actually had another publication. And then this was the second of the two about resilience, small business resilience. And I was invited as a new researcher at the IMA to help the small business committee write this report. And that's what I did. And it was a excellent experience.
Neha:

Thank you for sharing that journey with us Marsha. So, let's talk about the resilience model. I found it very interesting. Where does that come from and how can it help businesses bounce back?
Marsha:

Yeah. This came from actually a lot of interviews with the small business development center, Youngstown State University, because they worked with small businesses and they worked with small business during COVID. And at that time, when this was happening, I was also a faculty member at Youngstown State. So I worked with them as well to work small businesses. And so we decided to think about companies that thrived, you know, this is a report about thriving during hardship and resilience, the very definition of it is bouncing back. So how can you bounce back when certain challenges come your way? And what happened was we found three elements among the businesses that thrive as well as the experiences of our small business committee members. These different three, there were three concepts that stood out. And would you like me to describe those concepts?
Neha:

Sure. Go ahead, that would really help our understanding of the model.
Marsha:

Okay. So just imagine three circles, and you can also look at the report as I talk about these things, because these are illustrated, but you know, I'm just gonna lay it out three circles and one circle is business focus. And of course, during COVID, and now, we still have a continuing pandemic. You know, business focus is important for everyone, but it's not everything. Okay. So what else we saw as a visionary leadership and the companies to thrive, they could see beyond they didn't lose sight of their goals. They kept their eyes on the goals, but they also had to be flexible and agile and they had to change for the circumstances and they could see things that they never saw before. So, and I might give some examples if you want some in a moment. And then the other element that was so important was a people-centric culture. That the companies that thrived thought about their people, they thought about them as family, you know, not worrying about, you know, we have to lay people off or we have to do this and that they're thinking about how can we keep our people here?
Marsha:

They're our family. And I think you see now even a heightened awareness of wellbeing, but before the pandemic, yeah, wellbeing is around. But right now it's very important. And I think it actually began at that time where everybody was in the same boat, we were all working from home, having kids at home, you know, things happening, dogs coming in our Zoom meetings, our animals and everything else going on, that we had to change. And some of those things brought humor into what we did. And when you bring these things together, the business focus with the visionary leadership and the people-centric culture, those items mixed together, came to what I called a zone of thriving.
Neha:

Wow. That was very insightful. And thank you for bringing the human bit in it. It is true that the pandemic did bring out that human side of us. We were more real on those Zoom calls than we are in the actual office setup.
Marsha:

Yes. Like I'll just give you example of one company, they were in the concession food truck business. Now during COVID, there was no food truck business to go to, people were not going out to eat. All their orders were canceled. And they were the top food truck company basically in United States and everything came to standstill. So they thought, how can we keep our people working when we don't have a business anymore for a while? And so they developed and they saw, looked at everything they had, they basically reenvisioned what they could do. And they started a hand washing station business. And they cuz they had the products, they had the manufacturing process, they had the people and that's what they launched. And then they started selling these hand washing stations. And the University I worked at, they put them in, people put 'em in venues and they're really cool. You don't need to touch anything. There's three stations, you're six feet from each other. And then you wash your hands and your, the soap is there. You wash your hands, you dry your hands. It takes like 20 seconds. And then the next person could go. So that's the very ingenious idea that came just because they cared about their people.
Neha:

Wow. That was pure genius, I agree, Marsha and thank you for also volunteering a bit ago to talk about some examples. And let's talk about the six Rs of resilience. That's something that also stayed with me. Can you give us some examples of what that means for a management accountant?
Marsha:

Yeah. And when we talk about the six Rs, let me mention them, under visionary leadership, there's reflect and reimagine. Under business focus, there's reevaluate and reinvent. Under people-centric culture is reconnect and recharge. And again, you know, it's the six RS, resilience, you know, was a way to model these things, these different ideas. So the first example already talked about was visionary leadership, you know, reflecting and reimagining, you know, what can't we be? What can we use our resources to do to help our business or even our client. We have a story from one management accountant where, you know, there, she was working with a performing arts company, right? So you can't during COVID, you know, we couldn't meet people. She had to help the organization reenvision what they could do. So this local company, she helped them. She used zero based budgeting to help them look at their resources and what they could do.
Marsha:

And then they reenvisioned what they could be. And they opened, and they became a global company that taught performing arts to people all around the world. So that's an amazing change and long lasting as well. You know, so that is, you know, that part of what we might call the sticks are, is a root of resilience. It's, you know, and a lot of people, they don't spend time, they focus so much on a problem. They don't do the reflect and reimagination, and I think that's very important to do. And then the next step of course, is the business focus, which management accountants, the accounting and finance professionals that we're involved with, that we have the, we have the financial data, we have non-financial data and what are the type of things that companies need, or maybe the C-suite needs. So, you know, it's reevaluating, what are the key performance indicators that are needed?
Marsha:

And that's what, you know, some of the management accountants did as far as for their organizations. And we have one management accountant that actually had a business, they were a specialized tax consulting type business, but they thought, okay, what do people need now? What are the helps in the financial realm? And the beginning of COVID people needed help with the incentives that the government was offering. And they closed and went into that gap and made those offerings. So that was part of, you know, this part of the process with the business focus of reevaluating what was needed and reinventing. And then the third part is this people center culture. So, you know, this idea of reconnecting, but not just reconnecting. Reconnecting with others in your organization and reconnecting with customers. Companies had to reach out to customers in a different way to say, we're here.
Marsha:

You know, we're doing this now and then recharging ourselves because reports say that even today, anxiety is an all time high, not only among workers, but among the population over a period of just one year is three times the people are reporting anxiety, symptoms of depression and anxiety. So what we going to do you know this constant you know, what do you call it, the unsure future? You know, we think the pandemic's over things are going on. Something new happens. And even though you might feel like you've adjusted to it, no, you don't really still have to make decision every day. You know, like, am I gonna go to this conference? Am I going to wear a mask, not wear a mask? What about the family outings on and on? And it's not as critical as it was in the beginning where we knew nothing, but still it's a consideration. And the people around you with different attitude and opinions and all these different things. So, you know, we still have this bit of stress and anxiety. Everything is not back to how it was pre-pandemic. The way we work has changed forever.
Marsha:

Eighty percent of companies say they're going to keep some form of remote work. And new workers are demanding remote work. And remote work worked of all things. So, you know, this is the thing about, you know, all these changes, even though it's been a year, a year and a half, we still haven't adjusted to everything. Companies are still trying to figure things out and we are too, what we like, what we don't like, how much interaction do we need with other people? How do we perpetuate our culture? So this part of stepping back and focusing on people is key. I mean, I just heard a panel. I'll just throw this in, it kinda blew me away. Maybe people may not wanna know this, but this big four accounting firm said they have sad days.
Neha:

Okay, what does that mean?
Marsha:

Before you just take the day because you're sad. No one would've heard of anything like that, without getting without, before you, if you were having some sort of family problem, mental distress, you know, you, people would generally hide it wasn't accepted. You would see it as weakness. Here's an accounting firm that says, okay, we know things are happening. If you need a day off, you can just say, I need a sad day and take the day off.
Neha:

Way to normalize it. I like that.
Marsha:

Yeah. Normalize it, like it's OK. Take a sad day. I don't know, it kinda blew my mind when I heard it. I'm like, wow. A sad day. So are all things, how to put your people first? And we, we have one of our IMA committee members spoke about that and being transparent. He felt his management team had to be transparent and cared about the safety of their employees first. So that's a big shift in the mental attitudes of leaders in business. And I think it's a wonderful thing.
Neha:

I agree. We are evolving for the better, for sure.
Marsha:

Yes.
Neha:

All right. Talking about evolution also reminded me about nature and you do bring up a very powerful concept in your report about creativity, where you compare mountain climbing with mountain building, help us understand why that concept is so important.
Marsha:

Yeah, it's a concept I ran into from this guy, his name is Jay Barney. He's considered one of the fathers of strategy. And as I was looking for ways to describe creativity, there's mountain climbing a mountains in front of you. You climb up, you take the effort and you're not a first mover. You're reacting, you're reacting to the market. You're reacting to what's happening around you, right. Versus mountain building. But what if entrepreneurial opportunities were not just mountains waiting to be discovered? What if rather is searching for mountain climbing opportunities, business engaged an iterative learning process that ultimately led to the formation of mountain building activities. So the idea is instead of climbing the mountains in front of us, let's build our own mountains. Let's be a first mover. Let's look beyond again as I mentioned earlier, reacting to problems, being entrepreneurial, and looking for opportunities being first movers. And first movers do have a competitive advantage rather than copying. You're gonna be the leader. And so there's a different way to view things.
Marsha:

And that's a creative mindset, you know, looking outside, not staring at the problems, but looking for the possibilities, not being distracted from your goals. There is a company and they won the 2020 award for the most innovative small business enterprise in the United States. And actually what happened is the pandemic catapulted them forward in their future plans because what they couldn't do, they were a manufacturing plant, but they're also starting to look at 3D printing. So what happened is, and it was again, this mindset, how do we keep our people busy? You know, we aren't getting the orders anymore for what we do, our castings and those things we do. But Hey, we have these 3D printers. So they focused on the 3D printing, the 3D printing that would save companies money, 3D printing auto parts. And that's one thing they did. So that excelled, and then you were able to stay with their long term goals and accelerate in the areas that they would've never thought they could move forward in. So once again, that's resilience, something happens. You're losing business. Now you're bouncing back. You're being creative. Now you're actually building mountains, not climbing them and offering services to organizations or services to other manufacturing plants, et cetera, even to the extent of winning this manufacturer award, it's quite a story. And they also kept all their employees
Neha:

That was a tough nut to crack for many, many small businesses. Right. So that's really, and you brought up, entrepreneurs. I also wanted to talk to you about intrepreneurs. So people who are within a company. And, connect that to your concept of creative preferences that you talk about in your report. Yeah, so my question was, how can leaders make sure that they're leveraging these different styles, but at the same time also building cohesive teams in their organizations.
Marsha:

Yeah. There is an excellent theory about creativity that we all have our preferences. And I hope this resonates with the audience because it's perfect for building teams and working within an organization. You could might need to create a new process. You might be able need to create a new product accountants and finance people might be asked to create new dashboards, new systems, make recommendations. And so this technique has four parts to it. Or this study, this from the research says there are people that are clarifiers, ideators, developers, and implementers. And so let me talk about each one. And maybe you can identify with one, you, the people in the audience. So clarifiers are people who ask lots of questions. They cannot move forward until they know what's going on. And sometimes they slow things down, but they want the facts and they're stressed. They, they are still stressed. If they do not get this information. Now there's another group of people they're called ideators. They just love to brainstorm. They don't care about anything. They don't need clarification. Just tell me what you want. And they'll brainstorm and they'll go hours. And they have joy and they just love it. And they can, they don't care if they have direction, no direction. They're those people that are always throwing out these ideas and they annoy some people.
Neha:

You call it extreme brainstorming, right?
Marsha:

It's extreme brainstorming. You know, I'm one of those people and other people get annoyed, but let these people brainstorm this is what they're actually good at. And they love it. And then we have these people called developers. They're the people that evaluate the ideas. They're always there evaluating, no, we can't do this. These are the pros. These are cons. You know, this is, you know, this isn't realistic. This is what we need to make feasible, et cetera, et cetera. So these people are excellent at this stage, but you don't want these people saying things during a brainstorming stage because that just shuts it all down. You know, they're just like, Hey, wait a minute. No, we heard that. We tried that. And you hear that in meetings. And it just, you know, the brain and then your ideators get all frustrated.
Marsha:

And so developers just keep your mouth shut and you'll get your chance. These ideators, they don't wanna develop. They just like ideas. And then you have the implementers. They're the people that just wanna do. They're like, just stop, you know, you let's, let's just do a survey. Let's just do this. Let's just do that enough for this. Let's get a plan. OK. So those people just wanna do action. When I was a teacher, I have a story, a funny story. I had a student, I said, okay, we're gonna do this interview assignment. He came back next time, like "Dr. Huber, I'm finished". I'm like, I didn't give you instructions. You know? I'm like, how could you do the assignment when I gave you nothing about it, he said, it was an interview assignment. I did an interview. I'm like, OK, that's an implementor, you know, they wanna do, they wanna do action.
Marsha:

So if you understand this process, you know, you don't want people implementing things that they'll just do anything. You know, they wanna go, go, go. So you need these clarifiers. And if you can identify those people, they will figure it out, gather the data and they can hand it off to someone else. They can still be on the team, but they have to understand when they hand it off, the ideators will go with it. And then you can have all, you should have all these people on your team, but the developers need to hold their tongue and not be throwing in all these bombs. You know, just let them go and participate. Because when ideas go, usually it takes three rounds of ideas to get very unique ideas. Because a lot of time brainstorming meanings, it's all the ideas we have, and it's nothing new.
Marsha:

And so you've got to, you know, let the people, you know, do this first round of all the ideas in people's heads to clear 'em out, then you do another round and you might have to use certain practices to get people thinking. And then it's a little awkward, but then you get to the third round. And that's a lot of times where the good ideas come from and then hand off to developers, you know, figure out the good ideas, what developers that work with it, pros, cons. How do we, you know, who do we need to help with this, that this, and then hand off the implementers, they'll run and do it. So this is how you build a really great team research supports it, it's been used in, I would say thousands of companies. There's people who can lead these meetings. And we all have our preferences. Sometimes we have more than one. Sometimes we need what they call integrators. They actually can work in any preference and help move the group along. And you often need training in this and it's, and there's a company that actually this called foresight. If you can't figure out where you're at, you answer some questions and, you know, they'll give you, you know, say, oh, I'm an ideator-implementer. I have ideas. and I do it.
Neha:

Wow. And you can make the best use of every team member you have. And everybody feels like they have contributed to the whole process.
Marsha:

Right. And you understand the other people, you know, you understand this is a process and if you're an implementer, I just have to wait or I'll show up at the end, you know, just gimme what to do and I'll do it. But I don't wanna be part of this whole thing, but usually people enjoy the whole process because you can do this process in a few hours. So it's not like days and days and days. A lot of these sessions can be done in about two hours. And so, and people can participate and understand and use the benefits and the talents and the preferences of every person there. And it's really nice for building teams. I mean, the teams' cohesiveness. And I found that when I work with people and you know, you can use this among your own teams. I work with writers and I understand what the skills, talents, preferences of other people on my writing teams are. And I'm like, OK, okay. I turn it over to you. OK. We're here. And they do their thing. Cause I'm not a developer and I'm terrible at it. And I'll never become good at it, it's just not my thing, I don't like doing it. So why should I even become good?
Marsha:

I mean, seriously? But I do try to think a little bit more pros and cons. And, but you know, some people are great these different areas and they can develop that skillset.
Neha:

That's fantastic. Thank you for walking us through what it looks like and giving us great examples. Now, I think we have time for one final question. I really, really enjoyed reading the report and I want every listener to download the report right away and read it. Now, I want you to give us a really compelling reason why they should do it as soon as possible.
Marsha:

Now I think if you download the report and read it, you will get something out that will change your life. There's bits of I would call, there's gems of knowledge in this report. And I don't know what you need at the moment. Maybe you just need recharging or maybe you need, Hey, we need to move a process ahead. And how might we do this? Or you might just understand something about yourself and how you can contribute to your company better. Or if you are a leader, you might say, you know what let's really think about before we go ahead and, you know, deal with a problem. Let's spend a little time just reimagining what we might do. So I think there's something for everyone, whether it's for your business, your team, or even yourself. I mean, I'll be honest. I live by these principles myself and I use them all the time and I was very happy to share them in a report as well.
Neha:

Cool. Thank you so much, Marsha. And yes, I leave the link to the report right there in the notes for the episode. So all you listeners can go and download it right away. Keep it next to you as you listen to this, it'll be the most helpful way to get the most outta Marsha's conversation today. And it brings us to the end of our conversation today. Thank you so much for being on the show and sharing your insights with us, Dr. Marsha Huber,
Marsha:

Thank you for inviting me.
Outro:

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