18 Oct 3 ways businesses can grow
In the summer of 1990, I found myself well ‘tall’. I had grown to a height of 6 ft 4 inches (1.93 meters in new money). Returning to school, I stood out amongst all my friends, and regularly heard ‘what’s the weather like up there?’ Ooh, the delights of school japery, what wags!
Oddly though this spurt, (can we use that?) was not without its problems. Back pain, clumsiness and looking older than I was. Mentally and in many ways physically I was still my old height, I was not prepared for the changes that suddenly being tall presented.
In many ways we can see this within businesses. A sudden rush of interest and custom without the surrounding prep work and at best the business is under pressure at worse it goes under. It sounds counter initiative, but unplanned growth can be highly destructive.
Now I have to caveat at this point, I am not a fan of making assumptions in my copy. So, what do we actually mean by growth. My trusty friend the dictionary talks of growth as
‘An increase in size or value’ (1)
There is a lazy convention in business that it simply means more sales. But actually, businesses are more than just sales. They are a culture, a place where people come together to produce something. ‘Company,’ the clue is in the title. Therefore, growth can mean new processes, new capabilities and new developments, along side simply more sales. In very simple terms it could be thought of as any evolving process that adds value to a business.
So, let’s think about that growth as three key areas of focus.
Strategy – Creating a plan to achieve business objectives
In very simple terms to support growth we need a simple plan that explains where we are, where we want to be and why. This is obvious, right? Well, the idea is but what does that actually entail?
In order complete an effective strategy we have to ask questions. Remove bias and inertia. We want clear and accurate information to be able to agree a plan of action. Too often ideas are ‘shoe horned in.’ They might sound a bit racy or ‘on mission.’ But do they fit the strengths of the organisation? In-fact, according to McKinsey, just 21% of board members fully understand the company’s strategy. 67% of senior managers can’t name the CEO’s key priorities or strategy. (2)
Should the owner of a cheese shop get into rubbish skip hire, because the market has grown recently? It is an extreme example, but it underlines the real value in to knowing yourselves better. The value in a strategy is the preparation work questioning and analysing the business, considering capabilities and capacities. This forms the content of any strategy and is much better than just chasing the next big thing or carrying on like we always have done. Both of which can be detrimental to supporting growth.
Innovation – Developing new products/ideas for the marketplace
To successfully grow a business, we need the new and improved in development. That means that we are thinking and working on the next set of solutions to keep our customers happy and stay ahead of stay ahead of the competition.
Crucial to this is introducing a culture that values the practice of thinking differently to solve problems and create new ideas. This is the foundation for innovation. Interesting in a recent survey 75% of organisations admit that their approach to innovation is not structured. (3) This encourages waste through duplication and sub-optimal ways of working.
The growth process needs to explore the ridiculous and the unconventional to realise the value. These rely on the long held human skills of curiosity and imagination. The ability to look at something, see the patterns and connect the unconnected
The often-vital missing ingredient is to take these concepts and ideas and transform them into revenue generating entities. Asking the questions as to what the value is, does it fit a brief and are customers clear in the value. All of these rely in solid critical thinking skills in examining, probing and not taking things at face value.
Transformational change – Managing the process of change associated with growth
Growth inevitably involves change. Ways of working or tried and tested processes may no longer be fit for the direction the business is going in. Modern systems, e.g., the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting better at adapting. But as most businesses involve people, this transition can a little more complex.
Put simply if the people in an organisation are not on board with your growth plans it will be very hard to succeed. The reasons need to be understood and feedback sort and managed effectively. Too often a narrow group of people in the business make the decisions, which makes no sense as many of them are not doing the role that the change will affect. Sobering to think that roughly half of all change management projects and 75% of large-scale transformations fail to meet their objectives. (4)
Change creates uncertainty, so careful planning is required to support any adjustments. This can only go so far, we still have the barriers of resistance. ‘We’ve always done it like this.’ Or ‘It won’t work’. To succeed we need to re-create the conditions of change and improve people’s ability to embrace and thrive. When we want to learn to ride a bike, we do it by getting on and riding. The same for change, we need to improve how people manage actual change.
There are numerous approaches to managing change to support growth, but those that don’t involve the people, embed a proactive culture of embracing uncertainty, bolted to a continuous improvement approach will find the road to achieve their objectives arduous.
1. The Concise Oxford Dictionary
3. Creative Engine Project – 2021
4. Boston Consulting Group
John Henderson – Co-founder and Director
Sara Penrose Ltd
The application of learning