Are Company Growth Strategies Behind the Curve?

Business StrategyMost businesspeople recognize the value of planning and implementing long-term growth strategies.

So it may be a surprise to learn that only a minority of companies are actually doing anything extensive along those lines.

That’s what the results from a January 2014 survey of ~825 senior executives seem to be saying.  The research was carried out by business strategy consulting firm Innosight, and included respondents active in 20 industry segments ranging from manufacturing and consumer goods to financial, healthcare and telecommunications firms.

There is near-unanimous agreement among the execs in the survey that their organizations need to be continually chang their core offerings, or their business models, in response to rapidly changing market dynamics.

As to whether those changes are actually happening — well, that’s another matter.

In fact, only ~42% of the respondents expressed confidence that their companies are setting the table for any sort of “transformation” at all within a 5- or 10-year horizon.

And here’s an interesting twist the research revealed.  One would typically think that the smaller the company, the less confident those execs would be about sufficient planning for future growth.

But the Innosight survey found exactly the opposite finding.  The confidence level is actually lower among those respondents who work at the largest companies in the research sample:  Only about one-third of respondents with $1-billion revenue companies expressed confidence.

The problem is that many companies are changing at a slower pace than the markets in which they operate.

Or at least that’s the perception.  About 40% of the survey respondents feel that their organizations are changing at a rate that’s slower than the market’s evolution.  (It’s the case with roughly half of the large company respondents.)

Tied to this concern is another finding that the Innosight research uncovered:  Only about one in ten of the respondents reported that their companies have formal growth strategies covering at least a 5-year horizon.

The rest have either no formal growth strategy at all, or one that’s extremely short-term and mainly tactical in character.

The reason for this lack of growth planning is the sense that markets are way too unpredictable in today’s business environment.  Long-term strategizing in such an environment seems more like a theoretical exercise and less of a practical use of time to many of the execs in the survey.

On top of that, pressing issues that crop up on a daily basis are prone to suck most of the planning oxygen out of the room.

Scott D. Anthony Innosight
Scott D. Anthony

As part of its report, Innosight managing partner Scott D. Anthony pointed out that despite its shortcomings, transformational innovation has an important role to play, even though it takes time to pay off — sometimes as long as five or ten years.

“Companies that invest in planning methods that help align senior leaders on long-term growth strategies are probably at a real advantage to develop new business models and open new growth markets,” Anthony contends.

And this:

“If you have a long-term strategy, you don’t have many competitors — a good thing — because most companies want a return on investment within three years.  In other words, a switch in timeline can e a real competitive advantage.”

By contrast, companies that are always working in the “here and now,” are usually facing multiple market players and a much more competitive environment.

You can review further survey findings in an executive summary of the Innosight report here.

Taking the Buzz-Saw to Corporate Buzzwords

No buzzwordsBuzzwords – those stock words or phrases that have effectively become nonsense through their endless repetition – tend to find their penultimate manifestation in forgettable corporate vision and mission statements.

If you look online, you’ll find that the “about us” pages on corporate web sites are littered with the detritus of high-mannered phrases. We all know them — terms like:

 Best-in-class
 Best practices
 Commitment
 Customer-focused
 Cutting-edge
 Delighting customers
 Exceeding expectations
 Expertise
 Green
 Innovation
 Integrity
 Out-of-the-box thinking
 Proactive
 Quality
 Solutions
 Sustainability
 Synergy
 Trust
 Worldclass

Considering how frequently these terms show up in company positioning statements, is it any wonder they’ve become nothing but meaningless pablum?

Here’s an interesting exercise: Try to find a published corporate vision, mission or positioning statement that doesn’t contain any of the terms above. I spent the better part of an hour looking, only to come up empty handed.

This is not to denigrate the aims of businesses. We all want our companies to embody the laudable qualities these terms describe. And why not? They’re good principles that are worthy goals in how to interact with customers, with communities, and with the larger world.

But companies also want differentiation, not sameness.

Unfortunately, you’ll find none of that with these terms here. Just mealy-mouthed nothings and “yesterday’s vision for tomorrow” … conveyed with all the pizzazz of a cold mashed potato sandwich.

So it’s back to the drawing board, or it should be. But considering the birth pangs most of these mission / vision statements must have endured in the first place — committee assignments and all — that’s probably not going to happen.