Just last week I had a chance to meet a senior leader from a manufacturing firm for an introductory discussion. As we began talking, I could tell she was coming from a day of hard tactical work, and we’d need to elevate our viewpoint to get to the insight she was looking for.
The topic was why her group was having a hard time starting a key new project, and I could tell from her non-verbal cues that she felt defeated and stuck. I have found there are three questions that get to the heart of it quickly. So with her permission, I folded a piece of paper and penciled out:
- Is your value development system appropriate for your business stage?
- Are you positioning your growth teams for success?
- Are you positioning your growth leaders for success?
This led to a rich discussion and the development of a great agenda for building growth muscle in her firm. Before we get into the specific questions, a reminder to make sure your remove your armor when answering each of these so you can develop more than a surface-level response. The truth is that good questions change us and our viewpoint, so I encourage you to give yourself some space and spend a few reflective minutes on these.
In this day of “the five key things lists” we see everywhere, why do these questions get us to the key systems to build repeatable growth?
Question One speaks to the framework and structure you use to create investable projects and programs for growth. It also gets to whether you are using the right organizational model for establishing new projects, or if you are still using what worked when you were a much smaller firm.
The best firms have regular processes that support the first question. These vary in title, but include a good systematic and objective scan of the marketplace, competition and emerging adjacent categories. This scan is then put to work to develop a stack-ranked list of investable opportunities. Lastly, there is a decision structure that allows for the allocation of time, talent and funding to core and non-core programs.
Frequently in mid-sized firms, when they hit growth walls, the first response is to do what used to work, only harder. Commonly, what is really going on is they need a new more leveraged approach.
Question Two highlights that the vehicle for making this value come alive is the cross-functional team. Firms that recognize that establishing one of these teams is unlike any other function of the enterprise have a huge advantage over those that try to fold it under their regular program management process.
When the net new content of a program exceeds about 20% of the project, it becomes an expedition and not just a tour through existing processes and checklists. Understanding this complexity, the best firms carefully construct teams with a good structure of independence and governance, and establish appropriate metrics for success.
Question Three recognizes that the leadership of these efforts is intensely personal, and equipping the leaders of these team leaders is unique and different from the usual course of MBA or leadership boot camp that is used to equip leaders for the core business. There are a rich set of posts about these unique attributes here, here and here.
At a high level, a growth leader needs to have four key attributes, including skills as an architect, a champion and a catalyst all on a foundation of anchored-ness. Usually growth leaders are chosen for their deep skills in one of these areas, and need to gain the other three via a combination of self study, coaching and mentoring. Building this support framework around the leadership of these teams makes this work sustainable, rather than an unfortunate way to burn out top talent.
So, after we had the time to explore these three areas, it was clear to her where she was strong, which areas we needed to go to work on, and what the leverage was that she would gain towards achieving her goals.
If feel like there is a lot more to this, you’d be right on track, and we’ll do some more work in future blog posts. In the meantime, if you’d like to have a 20-minute virtual coffee session with me to explore these topic areas in a specific way personally or for your team, please send me an email or call me at 847-651-1014.
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