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Wednesday, 15 February 2017 13:06

Ten Key Factors in developing company Growth Strategies


In the past 5 – 10 years, despite the economic slow-down in South Africa, many companies continued to experience strong growth, but the persistent low-growth economic climate, political uncertainty and external disruptors, will mean that sustaining growth levels becomes increasingly difficult. To continue to produce strong shareholder return, companies will have to develop innovative, robust growth plans and implement these in a nimble but comprehensive manner. 

In writing this article, I have drawn from more than 15 years’ experience of working with companies and executives to develop and implement growth strategies.

I propose that there are 10 seemingly simple factors that can kick-start any growth strategy. Here they are.

1. Think Long Term

All too often companies’ incentive structures force short term thinking and executives are focused on quarterly or at best annual results. This often means that clearly articulated strategies and plans are somewhat (if not entirely) missing. With the rate and pace of change happening in organisations globally, particularly driven by digital technologies and changing human preferences and needs, companies have to think way beyond catching up with competitors. They need to imagine the future beyond the imagination, mostly with an intense microscope on the long-term trends in customer behaviour, resource scarcity, global geopolitical shifts and changing market dynamics. This longer-term mindset, will enable companies to position themselves appropriately, and provide some foresight and warning for major disruptors that may face their industries.

2. Consolidate your existing value proposition

Know what you offer. While this statement sounds painfully obvious, it is my experience that all too often, companies and their employees have no common or clear understanding of what their unique offering or value proposition is. Organisations need to be sure that they have a clear and consistent view of what they offer, where, how and to whom – that is, what their full customer value proposition is. There is often work to do in tightening this up before expanding it even further.  

3. Ensure success in your current market before exploring new options

This is an age-old truth, but still holds. While the excitement of doing a start-up in the US, or expanding across the Middle East can be really attractive, bedding down in your own market and then being considered about the next step will be key to sustainable future growth. This does not mean being slow to market. Disruptive technologies and globalisation have allowed for quick access to customers around the world and companies, particularly start-ups, can make use of the opportunity this presents, but doing this from a stable successful base is always preferable.

4. Explore a variety of different options, and select based predefined criteria

Growth strategies can be built on a number of axes. Selecting which axis to grow on depends on existing capabilities (or ability to access and build new strategies), growth ambition, fit with the organisations overall positioning and strategy and the opportunities available. It is advisable to consider a few options evaluating what kind of return they will generate and how easy it will be to extract the value.

The options for growth are simple:

  • Geographical expansion (preferably to a large market, with similar cultural environment and high ease of doing business)
  • Product or service expansion (ideally along the value chain)
  • New target market entry (i.e. moving from the high income to the middle-income market)
  • Increase market share (marketing and tailoring CVP)

5. Expand on one axis at a time

When defining the growth strategy, and especially the timing thereof, it is advisable to anchor the strategy on one axis that already exists while entering another that is yet to be explored. For example, taking an existing product/service into a new geographical market, or a new product into the existing market, rather than trying too many new aspects at one time.  Leveraging existing learnings into a new area will increase the chance of success.

6. Prepare your operating model

The operating model is how the organisation is set up to deliver the value proposition to the selected markets. It goes beyond structure, to people, processes, technology and service delivery models. With a new growth plan, it is advisable to carefully consider the impact on your people, processes, technology and service delivery model and to prepare for this before embarking on the roll out of the growth strategy– so that the new offering is given the best chance of success, effectively planting the seed in fertile ground.

7. Invest in people and expertise ahead of the curve

Often, companies spend money and time in getting a growth strategy clearly articulated. Thereafter however, they put the strategy on the desk of one of the executives (who already has a full-time role) and expect her/him to implement on top of other responsibilities. All of the aspects of expansion: geographical, product expansion, target market entry or even the push on sales to increase market share, will take expert knowledge, dedicated time and a proper support structure to make them successful. If the business case for the growth strategy is done correctly, there shouldn’t be anxiety about considered investment in the necessary skills and expertise ahead of the curve of realising the growth and return on investment.

8. Show leadership

Leadership needs to be aligned and fully committed to the growth strategy and implementation plan and needs to demonstrate that through communication and action. Consistent messaging throughout the organisation, but especially from top leaders will unite the organisation around the task of expansion and ensure greater success. 

9. Implement

In most companies embarking on big growth journeys, the biggest stumbling block is implementation. Implementation capacity is low and capabilities are few. This is partly due to under-resourcing implementation teams and not aligning operating models (see 6 & 7 above), but it is also partly due to a lack of rigor and dedication to the implementation process and the tracking and performance management system for measuring results. Where there is not enough depth and breadth of implementation skill, external and/or temporary support should be seriously considered to ensure the correct rigor in implementation.

10. Track, monitor and measure impact – and react to what you see with iterations

Don’t assume success. Incentivise, monitor, track and plan for iterations as part of the implementation process. Visible indicators demonstrating progress against plan can help unite the team in the goal of achieving the growth targets. Ongoing iterations and the ability to be flexible to change tact where plans are not successful also help to empower the team individuals to achieve the objectives and success for themselves and their organisations

Despite the fast-paced changes that industries are facing, many of which are driven by technology and digital advancements, these ten key factors in developing growth strategies still ring true for organisations, large and small and yet are still often missed by even the most advanced and successful organisations. Achieving strong solid and sustainable growth in a company places the organisation in a space of positive energy, which allows for further investment and breeds further success. With a considered approach and strong implementation ability, sustainable growth is possible to achieve.  

Cecily Carmona

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Cecily is a management consultant and strategic advisor, with 16 years of experience in local and international consulting houses. She has worked across industries predominantly in the field of strategy development and implementation, turn-arounds and operational improvement. Most recently she was part of a global management consulting firm, where she built up the financial services practice in South Africa. Cecily is passionate about economic development in South Africa and across the whole of Africa and has spent significant time working on projects related to development and poverty reduction across Africa. This includes investment promotion, Africa expansion, financial inclusion, small holder farmer development and large-scale institutional transformations to improve public sector service delivery.

Cecily is active in promoting women in business, conducting guest lectures at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, writing and contributing to thought leadership on the topic. She mentors a number of young women in order to help them achieve their personal and professional objectives.

She is a trustee on the Board of the Helen Suzman Foundation, a Director on the Board of the Foundation for a Safe South Africa, is a non-executive director of Scaled Impact (a not for profit organization) and is a Fellow of the African Leadership Initiative and the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Cecily is also mentor to entrepreneurs on the Endeavour Network.

Cecily holds a Bachelor of Science and an MBA from the University Of Cape Town, South Africa. She also participated in an exchange program at the Anderson Business School, UCLA in the United States and has completed Master I Consciousness Coaching.