Growing a successful business is complicated, messy, and hard. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control, your customers are happy, your margins are okay, and your people seem to know what they’re doing, you wake up one morning and find that everything that seemed to be working so well yesterday doesn’t make any sense today. What on earth happened? Things were going so well! You hit a new ceiling of complexity, that’s what happened. We know these ceilings of complexity are out there, in theory, but in reality, they seem to always come as a surprise. You opened one more office, launched one more product, tried one new supplier, encountered one new competitor, had to deal with one more industry rule… and everything changed.
The key to navigating through these ceilings of complexity and maintaining healthy growth is to operate off of a strong, consistent framework of disciplined habits and rhythms that keep you in a ready position - ready to make adjustments and break through new barriers. You need an ongoing rhythm of Strategic Thinking, Execution Planning, and Doing the Work. Let’s take a look at each.
Growth doesn’t happen by accident; well, you may get lucky once and stumble into a great idea that leads to growth, but it’s not likely to happen twice. Good, healthy, consistent growth happens on purpose. Actually, it happens on purpose and with purpose. This means clarifying your strategy, understanding who you are and who you serve, and creating a framework for decision making that ensures you are constantly moving toward your long-term growth goals. And, it can’t be done in one strategic planning event where you set some goals and write down a strategy. It requires a commitment to continuously work on your strategy by evaluating what’s working, what’s not, what’s changing, and (this is the big one) what’s next. You can only ride the wave of one product or market’s success so far. You need a healthy Think Rhythm to help you break through roadblocks that will arise along the way.
If your goal is to grow, here are a few strategic decisions you need to put into your Think Rhythm:
- Winning Moves - Winning Moves are very specific strategies you commit to over a 3-5 year time period that you believe have the potential to double your business. They could be new products/services, new markets, new sales channels, new acquisitions, anything really - the sky’s the limit. But, you need a lot of discipline to do this right. You must proactively work on developing ideas, documenting and testing the assumptions you’re making that lead you to believe this idea is a Winning Move, and then advancing the ideas to realize their potential.
- Core Customer - Your Core Customer is the one you cannot live without. It’s a group of people - real people, not just a category or demographic - who have specific needs, emotions, and reasons for buying. They are the ones who want to buy from you and are willing to buy at the optimal price and quantity to generate profit. The better you understand your Core Customer, the more successful you will be in tailoring your products and services to satisfy them.
- Brand Promise - Your Brand Promise is the promise you make to your customers that really matters to your Core Customer and differentiates you from your competition. It’s the difference that matters. Finding the right promise to focus on requires time, and sometimes a little trial and error. But it’s oh so worth it, because the right Brand Promise will help you attract more Core Customers, close deals faster, align and focus your sales and delivery teams, and it will make you memorable and remarkable in your market.
Some say that a vision without a plan is only a dream - well, I think a vision without a plan is a nightmare! In addition to your Think Rhythm, you need a healthy Plan Rhythm. You need a way to prioritize what’s most important right now, align your team around those few things that matter most, and focus the collective intelligence and energy of your team on successfully completing those priorities. Your Plan Rhythm is the connection between your dreams and your reality.
Many companies have a pretty good habit of Annual Planning. They take a few days every year to get in a room with their team, do a SWOT analysis, discuss what’s going on in the market and with their customers, set their revenue and profit goals for the year and hear well-put-together presentations from each department head. This often results in a beautiful PowerPoint or a three ring binder that captures the research, documents the discussions, and allows the team to check the box next to Annual Planning. The problem is that two weeks after the event is over, something changes in the market, the plan becomes outdated, and it sits in that binder on a shelf until the next year when it’s time for Annual Planning again.
A much better approach is to think of planning as a process, not an event. A good Plan Rhythm will include an Annual Planning event - it’s an important link between your long-term goals and what’s happening right now - but, it’s impossible to plan your execution for a whole year. The next step in the process is to break your plan into four Quarterly Plans. Think of each quarter as a 13-Week Race. You can get very clear about what’s most important right now and what you can realistically accomplish in a thirteen week period. You should start every quarter with an execution-ready plan. This will include a handful of priorities that you know will move your company forward, a clear picture of what the successful completion of each of those priorities looks like, and ownership and accountability for who will do what by when to achieve that success.
Once this is done, there’s one last step in your Plan Rhythm that you can’t forget. You must communicate your plan to your people! A great plan that no one knows about or cares about is useless. Share your plan, explain why these priorities are important, and let people know how they can help. Great companies will take it one step further and not just communicate the plan, but cascade the plan. Cascading the plan gives each department, business unit, or cross-functional team the opportunity to create a plan for themselves that aligns with and supports the company’s plan and makes it clear what their 13-Week Race should look like. Your ability to execute well depends on your ability to create a great plan.
Doing the Work
How you do what you do matters. “Are we on track to successfully complete our quarterly priorities?” You should be able to answer this question at all times. And if the answer is no, then you should also be able to answer the question, “what adjustments do we need to make to get back on track?” Executing a plan requires the right discipline and habits, it requires a healthy Do Rhythm. You need visible dashboards to track your progress along your 13-Week Race. You need to have Weekly Adjustment Meetings to engage your team in breaking through barriers as (or before) they arise. You need Daily Huddles to keep your people aligned and in sync with the pace of change. And you need a culture that embraces accountability and is determined to succeed. Growing with purpose requires executing with purpose, and in order to do this, everyone needs to understand how the work they do every day impacts the company’s long-term success.
If your goal is to grow your business, you can be sure that along the way you will encounter at least one ceiling of complexity. That’s actually a good sign. Maintaining the status quo is easy and not very complicated, but growing your business requires you to be ready for change, ready to make adjustments, and ready to break through the next ceiling at any moment. And, the best way to be ready is to already have the right habits and rhythms in place to recognize when it’s happening, to know what to do, and to take action and achieve success.
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