Strategic Growth: A Primer

tl;dr: “Growth” is an abstract concept. Strategic Growth is a malleable and powerful tool to define and build your business. If you want to avoid common business expansion pitfalls, reframe growth as a strategic process as opposed to a passive outcome.

Having lived and (sometimes just barely survived) the full business lifecycle several times over, this primer is over a decade in the making and concerns that most ephemeral and all-important business concept: Growth. I’ve distilled my experience building and destroying companies down to the essential nuggets of wisdom contained therein, and will lay them out as offering accordingly.

 Pitfall! trained us all well.

Pitfall! trained us all well.

If you’re building or leading a company, your most important job is to lead (even if you’re a team of one). Leadership is fundamentally grounded in two functions: dictating the way in which your team operates (core values, vision, mission), and defining success for your team (goals, objectives). No respectable discussion of building a business omits these key top-level messaging elements, it’s pop-entrepreunership fodder of the highest degree. Unfortunately we spend a lot less time discussing their tactical application. Consider the following questions about growth through the lens of your top-level messaging:

  • How are you growing?
  • Are you growing too quickly or slowly?
  • Is your growth sustainable?
  • Is your growth profitable?
  • Are you growing productively?
  • Is your growth helping you fulfill your mission and vision?

How well your answers to those questions align with your values and goals may surprise you. It also highlights why targeting organic, market-driven growth is overrated. We do the entrepreneurial community a disservice by understating the myriad ways in which to build a business, and by passively undervaluing the different forms entrepreneurship takes. In an age where we worship unicorns and the rocket ships they ride in on, it’s easy to forget that not all growth is good for business. In reality, growth is an abstract concept littered with pitfalls, and a failure to strategically define, harness and direct your organization’s growth is a recipe for a real bad time.

Anecdotally, you can probably think of some of the common business pitfalls associated with the different incarnations of growth: diluted brand experience, overpromised capacity and inability to deliver, culture-shock, cashflow mismanagement, wholesale customer loss — to name a few. While these aren’t altogether avoidable in an absolute sense, they are foreseeable and therefore manageable, if you’re in the habit of thinking about growth as a strategic process as opposed to a passive outcome.

This series is designed to lay out the mental gymnastics to help you develop your operational definitions of growth, to dive deep into some common pitfalls business leaders encounter, and to build the foundation to help you design growth strategies that make sense for you and your organization. In the next (and technically first) installment: framing growth as a strategic process.