No longer growing? The problem's probably not what you think

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

The bomb usually drops with little or no warning.

For years, your organization's growth has been steady, if not spectacular. Then one day, you seem to have hit a wall.

Has your business model suddenly become obsolete? Have you waited too long to adopt the latest strategy du jour? It's possible. But in all likelihood, the problem is something else: You're stuck.

As Chris Zook and James Allen point out in the March issue of Harvard Business Review, your stalled business has probably become too complex. For that you can thank a bureaucracy that makes being agile and quick all but impossible.

Things that once got done in a few days or a week seem to take months, unless they get buried along the way. There was a time when a few key people in a room would talk, think, sweat and possibly curse until the problem or opportunity was hashed out. Now there are committees and shared minutes for anyone who might be vaguely interested. Sound familiar?

If it's any consolation, you are hardly alone. The authors analyzed 8,000 companies and found that most have to deal with a stall out at some point.

That's the bad news. The good news is that it can be overcome. The authors offer a challenging but doable three-step strategy for operators who want to escape the rut:

  • View your firm as an insurgent that is fighting on behalf of underserved customers.
  • Become obsessed with the front line, where your business meets the customer.
  • Develop a deep sense of responsibility for how resources are used to get long-term results.

As these qualities are often seen in companies led by driven founders, they call this approach “the founders mentality.”

There is little doubt that stall outs can be a frightening prospect. After all, few businesses operate with the idea that growth is optional. But in their own way, these hiccups can unleash a liberating experience.

For by being forced to return to your core and redefine yourself, you are likely to emerge more nimble, more responsive and far more likely to succeed.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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