“When Growth Stalls”

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Steve McKee, the author of the book “When Growth Stalls” speak at a conference. He studied the phenomenon of how some small companies on a very good growth trajectory seemed to stall out and plateau as they became medium sized and larger companies. I think the 4 basic topics that he covered are applicable across the market in general today, not just for smaller growing companies.


1.      Lack of Alignment: Steve spoke about the fact that as management teams grew with the company, their alignment tended to vary more. I think that this is the case today with various issues such as when “revenue growth at all costs” groups do battle with “profitability at all costs” groups within company leadership teams. It is easy to say you want both, but it is a very precarious balancing act to try and implement.


2.      Loss of Focus: Similar to lack of alignment, loss of focus deals with a decline in the passion and commitment to success that drove the company’s earlier success.  It seems to have become a “job”, not an avocation or career. Good enough has in fact become good enough.


3.      Loss of Nerve: When issues arise it now seems that the first (and sometimes only approach) is to scale back. We now scale back on R&D investment. We scale back on Marketing. We scale back on what we need for future success. It is here that he asked the best question I have heard in a long time:


“What do we need to do to remember that this economic crisis is a gift?”


Or in other words, what can we do with respect to our relative positioning to our competitors in the market to be more successful than them. Times of instability can be times of market opportunity if properly approached.


We seemed to have forgotten this concept across the board in the market lately.


4.      Finally he spoke about business and marketing inconsistency and how “stuck” companies seem to change these items more / too quickly. As every business struggles to move forward they continue to try “new” things. New organizational structures. New marketing campaigns. What they fail to notice is that change also starts everything over. You must give each new structure or campaign time to be successful. It is a failure to stay with a bad structure or campaign too long, but it is also a failure to not give them enough time to be successful.


Steve McKee struck a chord with me and I will try to use and apply some of the comments and approaches he mentioned. Hopefully we will all be able to get the system“unstuck”, and moving forward in a more healthy market in the near future.

Drivers Wanted

An opportunity is recognized in the market place. An issue has occurred in supporting a customer. An idea has generated a new product or solution. What do we do now?


It seems more often than not we call a meeting. Then we call another meeting to make sure that we understood what we heard. Then we call a meeting to plan our next steps. Then we start the process of looking for “Buy In” from everyone else. Pretty soon the focus on what could have been a “game changer” has been swallowed up by the safety and security of the process.


There is a difference between “Driving” the process and “Working” the process. Driving is when as a leader you have the conviction that what you are doing is right. You have looked at the issue, worked with the team and have made the commitment to move. There is a process in place for situations like this but it generates its own resistance and impedance. When you are driving you will take input but you will not accept delay.


Businesses today seem to be more content to work the process. This is a situation where we seem to be more content to accept delay and modification to the decision or solution. While the conviction may still be strong, the risk of being wrong seems to outweigh the benefits of being right. We allow the delays and changes in order to get a “Consensus” as to what should be done. This consensus enables the risk associated with the action to be mitigated across all those that participate. The idea seems to be that if it succeeds everyone can take a bow, but if it does not, no one individual will take a fall.


There is value to getting buy-in. It helps the team internalize an external goal. The problems with consensus are that it can take a while to achieve, can water down the solution, and requires everyone to say “yes” and can be stopped when anyone says “no”.


Great leaders know how to drive the process, while they work it. They set the goal, provide the resources and do not allow any reasons or excuses. A key here is making sure that the resources are made available. President John F. Kennedy set the goal of sending a man to the moon and back, and drove NASA to do it. He also made sure that NASA had the people and money to accomplish the task.


He drove the process (he made sure the goal, objective and measurement were known – get a man to the moon and back before 1970) and he worked the process (he made sure that the funding was provided and the responsibilities were clear), and it worked. If it had failed NASA may have taken some of the blame, but by and large it would have been Kennedy’s failure.


I don’t know if it is a reflection of the times, be they economic, political, or other, but we seem to have lost this “Driver” type attitude in doing business. I think we need to get back to it if we want to see the types of growth and performance that are wanted and needed to move forward. Its at times like this that I think of that car commercial – the one with the catch phase “Drivers Wanted”.