People Management in SMEs: are you an Athlete, an Artist or an Artesan?

Jan 8, 2018

My team and I consider people management in SMEs one of the most exciting areas in our field, which is why last year we started this series where we compare SMEs to racing boats. The last instalment was about recruiting, the first step in the people management life cycle, and others about each of the segments of the life cycle will follow, but for the beginning of the year we have elected to talk about fundamental questions that affect people management.

Blog - are you an Athlete, an Artist or an Artesan

What drives you, as the main decision makers / managing owner(s) of an SME to pursue your business activities? Self-awareness is widely recognized as a key ingredient of good leadership. What type of ‘business life style’ do you enjoy? In competing on the market, do you recognize your priorities for your business in one of the following models:

  • ‘athlete’: a competitor similar to a professional athlete, who single-mindedly pursues the highest performance in quality (e.g. innovation) and quantity (revenue, profit) and makes this activity their dominating priority in life
  • ‘artist’: a provider of the highest level of quality, creativity and / or customization who invests extraordinary talent and aims at quality but necessarily quantity of output
  • ‘artesan’: a provider of a solid standard product or service with the objective of generating good revenue

These models could be shown on a map along the dimensions ‘importance of differentiation’ (high for ‘athlete’ and ‘artist’, moderate to low for ‘artesan’) and ‘importance of output maximization’ (high for ‘athlete’, moderate for ‘artesan’, moderate to low for ‘artist’). The space between the models is a continuum. Also, mixed models may exist: for example a company with an ‘athlete’ type core team could have an ‘artist’ type extended team.

At which location or locations your company is located on this map deeply affects what personalities you should strive to recruit, how you would assess their performance and what achievements and behaviors you would reward. It will affect your entire people management strategy, process and style top down.

While you might either use the model proposed here or construct your own variation, we recommend that you question and analyze the structure of basic motivation(s) that should be present in your team.

A team with similar basic priorities will be more enthusiastic and inspired to work towards shared goals instead of considering work a necessary routine. It will be more successful and also more fun to work with!



Wherever you go, go with all your heart - Confucius.