After years of experience working as an executive in large companies as well as startups, I have concluded that business growth requires both a good strategic vision as well as excellence in execution. Some business leaders I know have the right strategy but can't avoid one or more execution pitfalls that prevent success. Business growth requires both strategy and execution.
As a result, I was impressed recently with the pragmatic guidance and recommendations on leading business growth in a new book, The Growth Leader, by Scott K. Edinger. Scott speaks from decades of experience working with senior leaders as a consultant on how to achieve growth. I have paraphrased his key pitfalls to avoid here, supplemented by my own insights:
1. Too much activity and urgency for action.
The primary focus of strategy leadership must always be creating and sustaining attention to the outcomes that need to be achieved. It's easy to confuse activity with making meaningful progress that advances projects and initiatives to completion. Don't be drawn too quickly into the tasks required.
Also, you must remember the 80/20 Pareto principle, that strategic growth means finding and catering to the right customer sets, rather than trying to satisfy all customers. Spend adequate time planning before you jump in to complete all possible growth activities.
2. Indicators of progress are unclear or missing.
In managing results, look for and nail down leading indicators and milestones that distinguish what to do and what is done from how to do it. These help you to see if you are on track and, if not, how far off track you are. Make sure they provide data to make course corrections and keep you focused.
In my experience, too many companies think of strategic planning as an annual event with a fixed outcome that cannot be changed until the next cycle. In reality, course corrections, or pivots, need to be made monthly based on feedback and changes in the marketplace.
3. Complex or overengineered project management.
Planning and documentation should never become an end unto themselves. Your time, attention, and commitment should be dedicated less to adherence to a process or model than to production results. Overengineered workstreams distract from addressing the real issues in execution.
4. Leaders get caught up in perfectionism.
Balancing the desired results with reality is the key. Making everything a priority slows down execution, maximizes rework, and causes a lack of focus on the high-level strategy. Perfectionism often leads to defensive debates on key elements of the strategy, unrealistic expectations, and failure fears by team members.
5. Too many priorities slow down execution.
Too many priorities usually mean that nothing is a priority. You can end up inching dozens of projects and the overall strategy forward, instead of advancing the most important by miles. Make sure you rank your priorities early, negotiate flexibility, delegate where possible, and eliminate distractions.
6. Operational issues consume your time and effort.
Don't allow day-to-day operational problems to monopolize your attention and energy. Block out time every day to focus on your growth strategy, including acquiring resources, measuring progress, and providing feedback and mentoring to the team. Allow your customer-facing managers to do their jobs.
7. Projects are missing well-defined objectives.
Poorly defined assignments usually cause implementation teams to miss their goals, spin their wheels, and complete only part of what you expected. Your primary job as a strategic leader is always to make sure everyone on the team understands what's expected and has the tools and skills to deliver.
8. Unwilling to give up control or micromanagement.
The essence of micromanagement is thinking you are the only person who can manage a given project. Most often this attitude is a matter of you being unwilling to fully trust the implementation team or unwilling to give up the reward or recognition you expect to receive for successful strategic results.
Some people will tell you that profitable growth is primarily a function of sales and marketing. In my experience, these are necessary but not sufficient, and must be first aligned with a clear strategy and inspired execution leadership. I urge you to start today by setting up organizational strategic initiatives (magnets), with solid milestones to monitor your growth and success.
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