Just as a golf course designer lays out a course that challenges the skill of the player to place the ball around sand traps, executives that undertake growth initiatives will have their skills challenged in predictable locations that require anticipation, preparation and skill to deliver results. These three common “sand traps” come to the growth leader that takes the initiative to create a way forward and then puts that plan into action.
Sand Trap #1: Too Many Possibilities
The first sand trap is the sheer number of potential ways forward.
In today’s highly distracted environment, it’s common for a senior leader that is accountable for growth to be presented with a dizzying list of potential program opportunities. While it’s exhilarating to work through the list and inventory them all, the shiny object syndrome quickly settles in. Then, rather than making forward progress, the group gets paralyzed out of the gate. The temptation is to not stay at the mezzanine level long enough to make purposeful choices, and instead get pushed quickly into following a favorite of the internal organization. The problem, is that this favorite may not speak to your customers’ most urgent and unserved needs.
The reverse issue arises as well. I often see a strategy that is not really a useful tool, which I call “survival of the fittest.” This is when the senior team puts a 100,000 foot view over the top of the dizzying choices, culls them into herds and declares that this view “pulls it all together.” What it does instead, is allow none of the needed focus – dooming the firm to massive internal tensions. A famous example was Microsoft’s strategy presentation from mid 2005 in which Bill Gates laid out a very obscure path for cloud services.
Getting to appropriate prioritized action makes use of rich dialogue using filters that takes the available choices and turns them into options that are clear, well ordered and specific. In my work with leaders and teams, we develop a clear view of the internal DNA of the firm, then identify and short list opportunities with tools that yield top priorities. We then engage in collaborative project development, often with an outside partner, to find the right project for the firm’s target clients.
Sand Trap #2: Talent
The second sand trap reached is talent.
This is a multi-faceted issue that involves both the right leadership and the right subject matter experts. Carrying the golf analogy forward, the growth leader needs to use the clubs he has in his bag to get the needed information and results. Leaders of growth initiatives need to take a similar view by using the talent available to them – those who can turn intention into results.
A nearly universal issue is not assigning the best available talent to the team early in the program. It takes an unnatural act of leadership for the team to commit its best to the program, yet that is exactly what’s required to deliver on the promise of new growth. In working with clients, I have found that in most cases, it’s not an issue of whether the best talent wants to make a contribution, it’s that they are fearful of their work becoming a bottomless pit, where there is no structural beginning or end. This create a “quick sand” syndrome where no matter how hard they work, they can’t make progress. Once a key resource gets burned in this way, they are very reluctant to raise their hand again.
The work of leadership here is to make sure that the best voices are involved from day one with structure that allows contribution without them being pulled into quicksand. For more details on forming teams that deliver, check here and here.
Sand Trap #3: Strategy
The third hazard shows up after these two are handled.
Every project needs a strategy of implementation that provides for both efficiency and flexibility of engagement. The main profit engines of the firm need to be undisturbed during the work on the growth program, but the intelligence and know how that has been identified and is a critical key to success needs to be available to the project team.
Similarly, marketing and distribution know how that is necessary to the program’s success needs to be brought forward, especially during the early stages of the work when the information can be most leveraged.
At a high level, there are two large steps handled in this hazard: the crafting and execution of a “proof point” program that validates the growth program has what it takes to be moved to a full on implementation plan, and the change program necessary to build it to scale. The growth team is given a wide road to choose paths with firm guardrails that keep them from deviating.
In firms that do this well, the project is well planned, and a trusted senior leader is set up as a gate to assure that inquiries and resources from the main profit centers are available and provided in a way that maximizes both the option value of the new program and the current horizon promises to shareholders. This strategy work allows for judicious use of external resources to support the core teams as needed.
These three issues of project selection clarity, effective resource alignment and good clear implementation strategy are the most common issues I’m called in to address. If you are chartering a team and would like to have a pre-launch chat, or if you have team that’s mired in one of the sand traps, I’d be happy to speak with you. Please send me an email or call me at 847-651-1014.
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