There are many anecdotes in the business world about huge growth coming as a result of “getting lucky”. Someone was in the right place at the right time, or met the right person and “hit it off”. We all hope to find ourselves in that sort of situation some day. But until that time comes, it might help to actually have a strategy (and a plan) to help us get there.
When it comes to systematically engineering growth, those anecdotes are at best remembered in the context of the adage that “success comes at the intersection of preparation and opportunity”. Most of us aren’t lucky enough to just stumble into big growth. So all we can do is prepare well to recognize and capture opportunity when it presents itself. Whether you’re in a fast-emerging marketplace or a more mature industry sector, growth doesn’t happen without careful planning and solid execution.
Most companies that experience growth have a clear idea of where the opportunity might be and diligently pursue it in a “rapid iteration” mode where they try > fail > learn > fix > repeat as quickly as possible to find the magic intersection. Implicit in this are a few critical capabilities:
Identify Possibilities – creating a clear vision of where the growth opportunities might be by looking at your marketplace through multiple lenses and having some hypotheses on what growth vectors might actually look like. It can help to have some facilitating support from people who have not been “trained” to see the world a certain way and are unencumbered by some of the practical and political parameters of your daily world. But this is not ungrounded “brainstorming”. It’s applying sharp commercial acumen and encyclopedic experience to see how possibilities emerge by bending the “rules” in ways that open doors.
Separating Mere Possibilities from True Opportunities – Possibilities need to be vetted and filtered through a variety of tests including market appeal, competitive strategy, brand equity, production/delivery logistics, skill requirements, and financial risk/reward. Testing opportunities takes resources – not just money, but management time. So only those with true risk-adjusted potential can rise to the market-test level. This is where analytics and research help provide objective assessments of the win potential on an expected value basis, narrowing the possibilities to just a few high-potential growth opportunities, which are then further refined and improved through the cross-functional vetting process and rigorous business case assessment.
Testing and Validation – Opportunities then need to be validated in-market in a way that truly reflects their potential to create more (and more profitable) customer relationships. Customers, prospective customers, and non-customers need to weigh-in. Same with channel partners and key suppliers. All leading to credible techniques for actually measuring the potential demand. Assessments are done in comparison to pre-defined “go/no-go” criteria; business cases are further refined; and risks re-assessed.
Pre-Deployment Planning – New growth initiatives often require new ways of thinking, behaving, and believing. So any successful deployment plan must include human capital considerations in addition to the operational, financial, or logistical matters. Alignment on goals, expectations, roles and responsibilities is critical, as well as the clear articulation of success metrics and the “fast reaction” plans in the (common) event things don’t go exactly as planned. This is where the existing organizational governance models may need to be re-imagined to suit the needs of the emerging business opportunities. People need to be consulted, aligned, and coached on what success looks like and how we plan to achieve it.
In-Market Management – Day 1 has a set of expectations, as do Day 2, 20, and 200. Key metrics have to be tracked and contingencies executed. Plans that were months in the making will need to be tweaked, modified, or completely scrapped and re-built on-the-fly. Early warning indicators are watched closely. Customers and non-customers are providing constant feedback. Regular reviews are held to keep all the key players aligned on progress and ready to perform their parts at the next step. And when everything looks “green”, more resources are deployed to scale success.
In a nutshell, growth is a process. The process can take months, or it can be done in weeks. The analytical, research, and organizational tools are not rigid. They can be adapted to faster, more “directional” models that may emphasize speed and high-level confidence vs. precise forecasts. The process can be flexible, and adjust to company culture and/or marketplace dynamics. But there is a step-by-step method to igniting or reinvigorating your company’s growth. No magic required. And you don’t have to depend upon hope.