A radical shift is needed in the way business advising, mentoring, consulting and other support services are offered to SME sector of our economy in South Africa. SHAHIED DANIELS argues that what is needed is a norms-based framework, driven by industry practitioners and their professional bodies.
In an industry such as business advising, with a very low barrier to entry, it remains easy for the so-called “fly-by-night” mentors, consultants and advisors to enter the trade. There are no formal standards or benchmarks for business advisory professionals to adhere to. The lack of standards and benchmarks results in business advisors having to define the nature of business development services they offer. This results in less discerning small and medium business clients often being short-changed, with substandard services being offered without any skills transfer in the process.
Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) buyers from corporate South Africa face similar challenges. There is no standard for ESD buyers to use when considering the appointment of business advisory professionals as service providers to support their small suppliers or the community entrepreneurs they wish to help develop. As business advisors, we can either stand back and let the opportunity pass for business development programs from corporate ESD buyers and Government to have an impact on job creation and economic growth; or we can forge ahead with a radical shift in the manner in which we ensure quality of business advising services.
In aiming for such a shift, we should not be throwing out the baby with the bathwater by being over-zealous with centrally controlled regulation. While regulation may form part of the solution, the real difference will come from the community of business advisory professionals themselves. They should drive the shifts and create the framework to guide the industry; and this should ideally be done through a professional body created by business advisory professionals.
A good starting point is to introduce a level of standardization where business advisors subscribe to norms, standards and a code of ethical conduct in business advisory and business development services industry. These can be structured around seven key standards that will lead to a big shake-up in the business advising industry so that the “fly-by-nights” are forced to up-skill and register with accredited professional bodies; or better yet, be replaced by qualified, competent business advisory professionals.
Those norms are:
- Integrity and Objectivity:“business advisory professionals” should be transparent and honest. This implies both fair dealing and truthfulness in the performance of professional services without prejudice or bias, conflict of interest or influence on others to override objectivity.
- Professional competence and due care: “business advisory professionals”should perform professional services with due care, competence and diligence as well as a continuing duty to maintain professional knowledge and skills to ensure that a client receives the benefits of competent professional services based on up-to-date developments in practice, legislation and techniques.
- Confidentiality:“business advisory professionals” should respect the confidentiality of information acquired during the course of performing professional services and should not use or disclose any such information without proper and specific authority unless there is a legal or professional right or duty to disclose.
- Professional behaviour: “business advisory professionals” should act in a manner consistent with the reputation of the profession and refrain from any conduct that might discredit the profession.
- Technical standards: “business advisory professionals” should perform professional services in accordance with the relevant technical and professional standardswith due regard to legislative requirements that may be applicable.
It is up to the key role-players to jointly create such a norms-based framework, including the professional bodies representing business advisors, government departments and agencies, and corporate ESD initiatives. This will ensure a radical shift in the delivery of impactful business advising services, with the result that the SME business sector creates the jobs they are expected to deliver, thus contributing towards the sustainable economic growth of South Africa.
Mr Shahied Daniels is Chairman of the Institute of Business Advisors Southern Africa (which celebrated its 20 Year Anniversary in September 2018 in Cape Town). He also hosts a Forum on the topic “Overcoming Current Challenges in Ensuring Quality Business Advising”. Visit the IBASA website for more details at www.ibasa.org.za