Breaking Down The Door To Growth

Paul Heagen Vision and Strategy Leave a Comment

Ah, these Irish are a clever and resourceful lot.

On the eve of St. Patricks Day, I recall a trip to County Cork a few years ago where my wife and I explored some of the more modest and oft-overlooked feudal castles. The tours served to dissuade me from any romanticized notions of life in a medieval castle (they hung their long coats over the latrine so the rising ammonia fumes would suffocate the lice, for goodness sake). I was, however, quite taken by their inventiveness in protecting the barbicans (the gateway front door) in the event of an attack.

The door frames were angled outward so it became nearly impossible for a band of Viking thugs to hoist a nearby oak tree and use it as a battering ram to break down the door. If their ambition to plunder the place was at that point undeterred, they were left to somehow affix a hook to the door, attach it to a rope and a team of horses, and hope they could spur the beasts in unison to wrench the door from its hinges.

It took a lot more time, much greater effort, and certainly posed a much greater challenge to focus their effort. All while the wily Irish were shooting at them.

It’s the difference between push and pull.

It’s the same dynamic that plays out between a business that has had to punch through an existential business challenge versus trying to marshal energy toward growth.

When markets collapsed seven years, you have little choice but to pick up the proverbial tree trunk and focus your energy on one thing – keeping the business alive. Abraham Lincoln said a man facing a hanging in the morning lives a very focused life the night before.

Yet, applying that same urgency to growth – pulling an organization forward to capture the leading wave of a rising tide – is a far different challenge.

  1. You need a strong hook. “Growth” for the sake of growth is not a compelling rallying cry. Can you identify the target clearly enough? Are you taking away market share, creating a new category for yourself? Selling old services and products to new customers or selling new offerings to old customers?
  2. You need a strong rope. Does your organization have the strands to support a strong pull into new markets? Has the company uncovered new strengths having come through tough times? Are you straining your core capabilities or do your processes, people and market presence have capacity to take on new opportunities?
  3. You need a team pulling together. It sounds obvious, but alignment of the leadership is just as critical in a pull scenario as in a push crisis. Do they agree on the need, the approach, their role in the effort? Do that have the right skills and mindset to create and respond to opportunities?

For anyone who made it through the last economic attack, marshaling the forces for growth can seem easy compared with survival. In many ways, it can be the equal challenge.

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