Poor old Kazakhstan

17:00, Apr 10 2014

Poor old Kazakhstan.

It's the butt of far too many jokes, really. Borat has a lot to answer for.

Even Auckland business incubator The Icehouse pokes gentle fun at it in the tagline for its campaign to boost the number of internationally capable Kiwi businesses.

So the argument goes, New Zealand needs 3000 new global businesses by 2020 "otherwise Kazakhstan is going to have a better lifestyle than us".

You may laugh, but while we languish in the lower half of the OECD rankings the former Soviet republic's economic growth of six per cent in 2013 was one of its lesser efforts in the past decade.

Granted Kazakhstan's GDP per capita is under half New Zealand's. But it has oil. And uranium. And a space programme. There's only one direction the Kazakh economy is heading in.

As part of its "3000" campaign The Icehouse has come up with a tool it hopes will help Kiwi firms lift their game and turn into the next Xero or Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.

The BIQ (Businesses of International Quality) Barometer is a self-service measure of how well they're doing in six key areas - leadership, offering, market, processes, governance and capital.

Designed in collaboration with Auckland University's business school and tailored for New Zealand owner-managers, the BIQ survey takes around half an hour to complete and produces a traffic light scorecard.

Around 135 businesses have tried it, and common weak areas emerging are governance and processes.

Philip Adamson, managing director of software company OutSource IT, found governance was not one of his firm's strong suits and he's already taking action.

He realised his board wasn't providing much more than the odd bit of financial reviewing and moral support. So he got rid of one of his independent directors. "He understood," Adamson says.

The BIQ also showed up the firm's "crap" marketing efforts which have to date consisted of little more than naming rights on its building and referrals.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a traffic light system for all of life's problems - a light that blinks green when you're good to go, a yellow one for 'you might want to rethink this', and a red one that flashes 'pull up, pull up' when you're about to make an arse of yourself?

Annoyingly life is not that simple, and no-one knows this better than business owners.

It can be a lonely existence, taking risks and making decisions with few people to bounce them off. And it's difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to maintain a constant bird's eye view over all aspects of your enterprise.

The 3000 campaign is based on the premise that while New Zealanders have no problem coming up with good business ideas, they are rubbish at scaling them. If we want to claw our way back up the OECD rankings we need companies that are growing internationally, and lots of them.

The BIQ Barometer is no match for abundant oil reserves. It's also a not very cleverly disguised tool for promoting the services of The Icehouse and the initiative's sponsors - including law firm AJ Park, recruitment firm Frog, BNZ, Deloitte and Craigs Investment Partners.

However having yourself reflected back at you can be enlightening. As Adamson ruefully remarks, the BIQ "didn't tell me anything I wanted to know and didn't already know".

A traffic light system won't solve New Zealand's scaling challenges, but it may give Kiwi business owners pause for thought as they drive to the bach towing the boat behind the Beemer.

*Maria Slade is editor of Unlimited magazine. maria.slade@fairfaxmedia.co.nz