Taming the Four Strategic Growth Gremlins

Whenever you launch a new growth plan, expect the unexpected.

You WILL meet resistance.  Some of it is obvious; some of it clandestine. And the latter is the biggest threat of all.

Understanding the potential forms of resistance may save your plan from becoming yet another academic exercise that leads to nowhere.

I recently met with a client who just announced their new strategic plan. The CEO, who once reveled in the plan and gained support from the Board soon after he showed them the plan, was becoming discouraged.

In spite of his best efforts, teams were not fully embracing its merits. When he sent out requests for feedback about the plan, few responded. Two of the key executives continued to publicly defy the goals outlined in the plan.

These episodes can be avoided if they happen to you.  Here is how you can overcome similar distractions and political battles that your growth plan may trigger:

1. Anticipate some executive turmoil and even attrition.  Balancing the entrepreneurial, can-do spirit with discipline makes many executives uncomfortable.
2. Keep the Board of Directors focused on oversight and Board issues.  They are NOT responsible for executing your strategic plan.  They should only be involved in your operations if you face ethical or legal snafus.
As the owner or CEO, halt “behind the scenes” Board discussions about the plan immediately.  If you hear that Board members are unhappy with the plan or the people who are responsible for implementing it, call them or visit them IMMEDIATELY.  You must find out the source of their concern and deal with it.  Tolerating naysayers and malevolent will kill your plan’s chance of success. Period.
3. Ensure that the CEO or President fully endorse and own the plan.  Do not assign its implementation to HR, a bright young executive on the corporate ladder, or an administrative person.  You are sending the wrong message.
4. If the plan is facing resistance, or you are not meeting your business goals immediately, do not seek out a “fall guy.” In other words, avoid blaming one person.  Another client of mine blamed the VP of Sales on their profitability woes.  When I conducted a root cause analysis, we found that the VP did not have clear, written goals.  The client also had not assessed the flow of financial and project delivery information, and whether that VP was set up for success.

Growth gremlins CAN be tamed.  In 2006, General Electric developed a Leadership, Innovation, and Growth (LIG) program. The January 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review outlines their program progress.

According to CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt, “the aim of the LIG program was to embed growth into the DNA of our company.”  This program is succeeding at that for several reasons:

1. Jeffrey is creating a consistent sense of urgency around LIF.  He sponsors and supports it.
2. Everyone on the management teams must participate TOGETHER and use the program to overcome their resistance to the change.
3. When managers complete the program in their teams, they understand through consensus how to address their opportunities and challenges. Therefore, their plans get implemented faster.
4. They realized that supporting new growth ideas takes patience and a tolerance for ambiguity.  According to Power Generation President Stephen R. Bolze, “it took…a good six months before it started to get a rhythm to it.”

Growth planning is not for the impatient, fainthearted, or people pleasers. Be prepared when these four growth gremlins rear their ugly heads, and respond quickly!

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