When the growing gets tough, the tough get growing

September 21, 2015

by Jeffrey Hesse, Principal

Successful businesses continuously draw upon their strengths – and their people – for new growth.

How do you describe the strengths of your business now? How would you describe the strengths that you’ll likely need in a year? …In a few years? And how do these strengths translate into the skills your people will need in the future? For most companies, the answers to these questions are always evolving, as disruption increases and the pace of business picks up.

After all, we’ve seen the recent booming evolution of companies’ capabilities: Like fast-food chains rolling out deluxe coffee-shop menus. Or utilities companies delving into smart home appliances.

A lot of organizations have solid processes for evolving their business strategies. But as sound as the development and approval process is, it often leaves out an important aspect: Can your people evolve, too?

Most CEOs aren’t certain that theirs can. In our latest CEO survey, nearly 80% of US business leaders say they’re concerned that a lack of key skills threatens their organizations’ growth prospects.

This stat begs the question: Are some of these organizations taking their growth strategies too far afield, beyond their core strengths, in a desperate search for faster growth?

In strategy+business magazine, we recently wrote about how companies that deliver sustainable growth remain true to what they do best, and take advantage of their strongest capabilities—what we call a capabilities-driven strategy.

It takes a substantial effort. As we say in the story, “If you respond to disruption by changing your business model and capabilities system, you can’t dabble. You have to commit fully.”

That level of commitment is only possible, of course, with the right people to step up and deliver on your company’s greatest strengths.

Think of the potential talent issues at hand for so many businesses: How does a legacy technology company avoid disruption and commoditization? How can a fast-food chain turn up its café side of the business without trained baristas on hand? How can a utilities business amp up the tech-savvy talent needed to design Internet-and-data-fueled thermostats and security devices?

They’ll all need to align their talent strategy with their business strategy.

In our advisory work with clients, we are in frequent talks with companies that need to make these moves. And talent is at the top of the priority list.

Before preparing to grow your strengths, think about the capabilities in your current ecosystem of people, and where gaps might pop up:

People strategy, leadership and culture: Does our people strategy support our growth initiatives (and more importantly, is there a strategy)? Is the right leadership development system in place, including a robust global mobility program? Will our culture support the execution that’s required?

  1. Reward: Does our compensation and benefits strategy still fit? Is pay competitive? Are there areas to be restructured that could free up capital for re-investment?
  2. Talent acquisition: Do we need to pull in brand-new talent by strategically hiring from the outside, or by making new, strategic acquisitions?
  3. Organization design & operating model: Have we designed an organizational structure and operating model that have clear linkages between all our capabilities?
  4. Change management & communications: Do we have the right program management structure and strategic change methods for execution? Do we know who the real information brokers are in the organization who will informally drive the change?
  5. Technology: Do we have the right technology to support the kind of employee experience our people need? Are we leveraging workforce analytics to retain our top-performing people, and are we conducting frequent employee surveys to understand the pulse of the organization?

These are just a few of the talent areas that are important to understand.

Odds are you won’t need to revamp all of them. But a carefully designed and innovative talent strategy underlies the successful evolution to get growing.

 To read more details on the strategic changes you may need to make to stretch your growth, read the full article, “Grow from your strengths” in strategy+business magazine.  

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