In my first article of this series, I suggested that growth is the exception, not the rule, in business affairs. Over the last 25 years, I have come to see how leadership makes all the difference in the world. We all have first-hand knowledge of one organization or another where stagnation, if not decline, is the hallmark. Then, the ship turns and fortunes rise with relative growth and prosperity.
The most perplexing cases are those where many of the environmental factors did not seem to change radically. The available markets were about the same, the economy was about the same, state of technology was about the same – why even most of the employees, customers, and competitors were the same! The only significant change was a new leadership structure – a few key individuals – that encountered the same set of circumstances and decided to set a new course. As the old saying goes: Personnel is Policy.
Growth and change are sometimes treated as two separate subjects in business, but I would suggest they are one and the same. More obvious shifts in leadership can occur when new blood is brought in from outside the organization. But sometimes change in fortunes can also arise from within moribund firms.
Stagnation can lead to frustration, and when that reaches a breaking point, individuals, ideas, and agendas – heretofore not understood, considered too junior, or believed to be too costly or risky – are given an opportunity to be tested. If growth is to become the order of the day, a firm must look beyond traditional structures and promotion pathways of personnel. Interestingly enough, over the years, it’s at junctures such as these that many of OffWhite’s clients have first turned to us for assistance. New directions and strategies often require fresh insights and new tools.
What drives one leadership team to seek growth and success, when other managements remain satisfied with simply coasting? We rarely have to look beyond the usual suspects of human nature – fame, control, or financial reward. The simple reality is that growth affords more publicity and profit to share than merely existing year after year. But truly remarkable leaders create objectives and incentives that align their entire organizations to the mission and its success. This is critical to harnessing what may have previously been idle talent, passion and commitment within the ranks.
The job of the leader has its essentials – creating a consensus of vision, developing the appropriate supporting strategies, recruiting and organizing the talent to execute these strategies, and marshalling the needed resources. Nowhere are these responsibilities more important than when a new growth trajectory is embarked upon. One other responsibility stands out here – the ability to communicate, internally and outwardly, the truth of how things will be different than in the past. It’s for reasons such as these that OffWhite assists clients to not only explain what they do, but how and why they do it.
Growth can be achieved by a variety of means – entering new markets, creating service components, marketing and licensing agreements, new product development, etc. Regardless of method, what is important is that old Peter Drucker gem: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Skeptics of growth exist in every organization; the leader needs to define larger markets and smaller shares as a starting point. Developing and selling new products is always more difficult than doing so with those that already exist; the leader needs to break out the measurement of the relative success of the growth strategies and project the expected future impact. New initiatives must be over-weighted early on with regard to incentives and reward; if this appears a departure from traditional expectations, leadership must make the case that something larger is at stake.
Finally, unlike managing a longstanding, stable business, successfully leading new growth initiatives requires a creative understanding of critical paths, key milestones, and important tipping points; this is because timing resource commitments, and aligning the returns from them, will be unfamiliar territory for much of the organization.
Sometimes, growth requires heroic efforts of its leaders, but this can be overblown too. More often than not, what is really called for is creativity and thoughtfulness, determination and perseverance, and the ability to communicate with, and motivate, others. It is best undertaken with a serious, yet cheerful disposition. I suppose a little luck never hurt.
If you find yourself in a new position, charged with engineering growth for your organization, and need to take stock of inherited marketing practices, or simply seek a new partner to support your efforts, consider giving OffWhite an opportunity to explain its services and past results. For more information, contact Bill White or Russell Cooper at 800-606-1610.