Leading Growth


Robert M. Tomasko


[This is a revision of articles originally published by Celebrity Speakers International and Leading Authorities, Inc. in 1997]


As the century draws to a close, many businesses - and the managers within them - seem to fit into one of two categories.

Some are fixers. They are adept at problem solving, cost cutting and reengineering. They deserve a lot of credit for having kept their businesses afloat through the past decade of economic turbulence.

The others are growers. They know how to advance a company by movement into new markets, products and services. Some create, others imitate, all focus attention outside their existing corporate boundaries. All are driven by a clear image of what they want their business to become in the future.

Both types are needed. What needs to change, in many companies, is the relative proportion of each.

The decade of downsizing, reengineering and restructuring is ending. Many businesses have gotten whatever benefits are to be gained by looking inside, cutting costs and people. They are finding you just can't shrink your way to prosperity.

Successful leadership is increasingly leadership that focuses attention on growth . Growth is what gives a business, and its employees, positive momentum, a renewed sense of purpose.

The past few years' concentration on improving corporate inner workings has left many managers out of practice planning and executing growth strategies. Leaders need to learn what the new rules for growth are - the rules have changed quite a bit since the go-go decades that followed World War II. For example:

- Growth doesn't always mean getting bigger,

- Mistakes can be powerful clues about future opportunities,

- Cooperation can have bigger payback than conquest - growth does not always result in your competitor's decline.

[For more on these new rules click here.]

Leaders also need to know what the new paths to growth are, and how to pick the particular course best for their business. One size doesn't fit all anymore. And most importantly, they need to know what kind of people are going to be happiest, motivated, and most productive on the particular growth path they've chosen.

There are five distinct types of growth companies.

·Rule Breakers, fast-moving entrepreneurial upstarts that grow through innovative products or services - and whose vision is bold enough to destabilize entrenched competition and create new industries.
(Like Apple Computer was in the early 1980s, Silicon Graphics and Southwest Airlines today.)

· Game Players, businesses that excel at satisfying the marketplace desires that Rule Breakers are so good at creating. Game Players are rough-and-tumble competitors, masters at acquiring market share, and seldom shy about imitating another company's product success.
(Like Marriott, MCI in the '80s, Pepsi, or Starbucks)

· Rule Makers, companies so good at doing all the right things that they have come to "own" their industry. These are the standard-setters of business, companies that know how to stay on top by guiding the behavior of their customers, competitors and employees.
(Like Disney, IBM in the 1970s, Microsoft, or Wal-Mart)

· Specialists, masters of focus and stability, able to seal off and protect profitable market niches from all comers. Some lead in price, others in service or selection; all are "the place" to go for their particular product.
(Like Nokia, NordicTrack, or Rolex)

· Improvisers, companies that survive and thrive in chaotic and uncertain markets by rolling with the punches. They make up for a sharp focus with speed, cunning and flexibility.
(Like Apple Computer, MCI and IBM today, the Baby Bell phone companies and Kodak)

No one approach to growth is better than any other. The real trick is to match the path to growth with the needs of your market and the capabilities of your employees. And to sustain growth, be ready to shift paths as circumstance change.

Going for growth implies significant change for many businesses. For some the transition will be difficult, but as companies such as Coca-Cola, IBM and Kodak are finding, the rewards far outweigh the costs.


© Robert M. Tomasko 2002



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