Do You Know What a Growth Strategy Is?

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This marks the end of another year. A very busy and fruitful year for us. Personally I was on the road for more than 200 days and I need to take a break – perhaps 3 days. What about my New Year’s resolution? I need to cut down on drive and email. I need to cut down on attending unproductive meetings. I need to find three people to mentor that they can become the best. I need to revisit places from my childhood that were memorable. I need to back up my hard drive (I am 96 days behind). I need to produce a mini feature film and shot entirely with my HTC phone. I need to cut down on my public speaking. I need to have more discipline on getting enough sleep.

For companies, it is time to think about growth. Every company wants growth and it is harder and harder to come by. Many companies are busy defending their shares and don’t even the luxury to think growth. The most successful growth companies adopt at least four best practices:

  • Earn the rights for growth (business design/cash flow/business architecture etc.) and first focus on the core
  • Understand discontinuities and when is the next S-curve coming
  • Always think like a designer and think “customer value” first
  • Seeing the whole opportunity horizon and understand what it means

A common mistake is companies jumping into some cool ideas that are simply just novelty and blindly believe that it is growth. The secret for growth is having a robust strategy. Here I will share a little of my secrets or not so secrets. Before that I want to make sure you know that the easiest way to fail is by jumping into the future without figuring out a path to get there. You must have a plan. A plan that shows the whole opportunity horizon (built on robust foresight) and careful analysis of the industry economics.

There’s no magic solution to jump-starting growth. Growth is a strategy but also a mindset, it depends on how you see and shape your future by the action you take today. It takes more than a vision. It goes beyond just having the best product on this planet. Best product is no guarantee of success today. Often good enough products stand a better chance.

Remember, some used to say that strategy is about “Speed, Price, Quality – just pick two.” I’d tell them, even if you picked them all, it is still not enough. You need to pick, “Speed, Agility, Focus, Quality, Relevance and Price”. Not one, but all, if you are playing to win. Despite popular books and articles may be telling you to try and fail often and even to celebrate failure, I don’t buy those ideas at all – these are excuses for people taking uncalculated risks. Risks are not just unavoidable, but need to be managed. They need to provide a calculated return, and not just say take risks and fail fast. That’s for amateurs.

Companies need to understand the full spectrum of their opportunity horizon. And once it is understood, then it takes focus. You also cannot just react to the future because by sitting and waiting you will miss it. You also need to understand the opportunity horizons that you are looking at and how each horizon can be impacted by different degrees of uncertainty. It is more than just aspirations; it takes strategic thinking and a lot of sense-making. After all, corporate strategy is a game of sense-making and organizing for the future. Yet there are multiple futures and the trick is how you decide to play just one or more than one. This is the part that is difficult for many as they see strategic planning as a mechanical and linear exercise.

First we need to look at the future through three different opportunity horizons then we have a pretty good picture on what is needed and how to act to positively impact a winning business strategy. When we look at successful companies that often play in different horizons while not necessarily winning all, there are a lot of common factors. But that’s a much longer post to write and for today, let’s look at these opportunity horizons in three stages:

Opportunity Horizon 1: Redefine and reinvent the core. This is about rethinking the core and how to make it relevant. Or how to defend against low-cost high value competition, etc. At the minimum it needs to stop market share erosion and if done properly it should be able to jumpstart growth. Reinventing the core requires going deep into the company’s core belief system and to realign it with what’s going on.

Opportunity Horizon 2: Extend core businesses into related adjacencies. Companies should expect 20-30% of their revenue to come from products or services that didn’t exist today and they should share some economic synergies with the core. Not only should it deliver additional revenue, it should enhance the core to strengthen its portfolio.

Opportunity Horizon 3: Initiate strategic transformation. At this stage, the company should be in a good position (both strategically, organizationally and financially) to invest in a full transformation, which includes shuffling of business units, assets and markets. Not every company can afford a transformation and they need to earn the right to do so. Many make the mistake of starting a transformation on day one when the company was not in any strategically or financially sound position to do so. Transforming without a stabilized core is a recipe for failure.

I have helped many large companies to orchestrate growth and it takes more than creating continuous alignment and killing projects that are sucking up resources. Killing projects that are not strategically aligned means signaling a changing behavior. A lot of energy is needed to deal with changing legacy behaviors — those that are expended toward the old strategy and not the new strategy. Companies often run on auto-pilot without even knowing it. 

Implementing a growth strategy means one must balance activity between constant reinvention of existing current management practices and fostering behavioral change to prepare for the new. It means they should challenge managerial assumptions about how do get things done, what risks to take and the rationale behind them, and develop a list of desired or optimal behaviors that align with strategic goals, and have managers create a “let it go” list of legacy behaviors to eliminate. It is about getting rid of the old and creating new ones all at the same time. Perhaps that is the plan for the New Year.

Happy 2015!

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