The Growth Leaders Challenge: Bridging the Gap Between Ideation and Execution


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The question hangs like a fog over every firm I have the opportunity to work with.  Simply stated, how do we get a hard driving and skeptical leadership team to be willing to adopt this promising, yet nascent, new project?

Inevitably, once they have an established business and more than one hundred employees, the organization settles into groups that identify with one of two agendas: either the operational team or the creation team.  Ironically, the more successful the firm, and the stronger the supply chain, the stronger the force field that grows between these two entities.  I use the word adoption carefully above, because what the sponsoring team needs is a commitment to stick with the new project through the inevitable disillusionment until it’s fully operational.

Connecting the island of creation to the island of operations is the purview of the Growth Leader.  

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You might be asking yourself why product development just doesn’t create what the customer is asking for and keep the firm on track.  The subtle issue is that the firm is only perfectly aligned to customer need early in its organizational life.  Once it has developed into a full-fledged firm, self-serving patterns begin to settle in remarkably quickly and soon, you hear things like, “that change in the product will not work with our current software.” Then just like that, a gap between customer need and what is being built has been established.  Product development begins to align most closely with the operational team, and subtle guardrails are established about the range of options they can consider.

The triad of organizational culture, business model and technology sets the boundaries that the core development team is held to, and the more established the product line or service, the more rigid those invisible barriers become.  

There micro-misalignments add up over time and create significant gaps that the core product development process cannot overcome.  Symptoms of this begin to show in a couple of places, first the sales team notices the customers are less engaged, secondly the sales team itself starts to “mail it in,” and finally the top line metrics come under pressure. What is then needed is a lift and change and it’s usually felt and led by a Growth Leader.

Time and time again, I see these tensions develop and the corresponding resistance to change rising right along with them.  The tension alone is not enough to trigger a change, it takes a Growth Leader to make the issue tangible and specific enough to someone in the firm that can take action and secure the above and beyond resources that need to be brought in.

So, the truth is that external pressure needs to be coupled with a catalytic internal event to trigger a change to get back on course.  The Growth Leader does this in a way that is anchored in authenticity and the culture, while being clear and unequivocal about the results that need to be achieved.

Let me share a historical example from my own work of how powerful this can be.  In the late 1980’s Motorola owned the public safety market, but leadership could sense something was not quite right.  In a officer’s meeting, Bob Galvin, then CEO asked for minority reports on what was off.  The EVP of sales, Art Sundry shouted out “our quality stinks,” and not only got to keep his job, but kicked off an initiative that became six sigma.

Getting to it: three action points:

    1. Get crystal clear on what the relevant change is from the customer’s point of view.  The only way to get at this is to do the deep work of customer empathy with resources sufficiently detached from the business’ influence to give you the unvarnished truth.  
    2. Do the hard work of translation of the customers expectations into specific impacts on your firm.  This will allow you to make the business case to your operational leaders in financial terms (their language of choice).  Internal resources almost always underestimate the impact (I have seen some amazing cases of denial), so do invest in having an objective outsider look carefully at the market, potential substitution products and services, and your role, measured in specific financial outcomes.  Use this as a rock solid tool to show clearly the cost of not addressing the mismatch.  Then have the conversation.
    3. Don’t over promise.  Savvy Growth Leaders know that projects are formed and worked in layers.  Projects of this category need to be formed, then carefully examined for risks.  By stack ranking these risks by impact, we are able to sequentially reduce the risk/reward ratio.

By creating the case for change early, Growth Leaders fend off the major business disruptions that play out if the issue is allowed to fester.  Companies like Xerox, HP, Nokia and yes, Motorola, even after their early start, all come to mind as firms that didn’t alter course at the same rate as customer demands.

If you are a Growth Leader or a sponsor for a Growth Leader who wants to improve their game,  I have a robust program to help you.  Please send me a note or give me a call at 847-651-1014 and let’s talk.

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