Are you in growth mode, or survival mode?
I have some clients who are growing, some who are hanging on – and some who are transitioning from one to the other. Although most businesses would like to be in growth mode, the point isn’t to say that one is right and the other is wrong – it’s to understand that different situations call for different approaches. And that can be an issue when transitioning from one situation to the other.
HOW GROWTH MODE AND SURVIVAL MODE DIFFER
I did a chart recently for a client of the differences that their company would see as it switched from survival mode to growth mode. There were 15 different areas that would see changes!
In survival mode, your “strategic horizon” (the timing you take into account when making decisions) is the next quarter. In growth mode, that horizon stretches out to 3 years.
And a lot of areas can be “good enough” in survival mode – but need to be tightened up when growing. Those areas include accountability, processes, and hiring. And the inverse is true, too – things that need to be tightly managed in growth mode should be loosened up in survival mode. (Why would you want less accountability or process? Because that takes time, and in survival mode, that time can be better spent talking with customers.)
THE IMPORTANCE OF FRAMING
When you’re having strategic discussions, one of the most important steps is to pick the right “frame” for the discussion. A more tangible way of saying that is, you have to know the right question to ask. This is something that you can do intuitively most of the time. But when companies are going through change, picking the right frame is much harder. And picking the wrong frame can be very costly.
Here’s a simple example. I can create a very different conversation, and a very different outcome, if I ask the question, “What should we do more of next year?” rather than, “What do we need to do differently next year?” The first question is appropriate for a company continuing in the same mode it was in the prior year – baked into the question is the idea that we already know the right “model” of how we do things, we just need to pick areas to emphasize. The second question is appropriate for a company in transition – and in that case, doing more of something you’re already doing may actually hurt you more than help you.
(And, yes, it often makes sense to ask both of those questions in your annual planning.)
As a leader of strategic discussions, you need to be aware of what frame you’re using for each discussion, and you need to build your toolkit of frames, so that you can bring the right one to bear in whatever situation you find yourself in.
As usual, the TV show Mad Men is a hot-bed of intrigue again this season – and it’s especially fun to watch the workplace as a management consultant. There are a few lessons that Mad Men can teach Second Stage leaders about Talent Management.
The focus needs to be on people, not work. As Second Stage companies grow, they need to spend less time focusing on how the work gets done, and more time focusing on who is on the team and how they work together. The firm’s partners are still focused on their work, not on managing their team, and I expect that we’ll start to see the team dysfunction increase as the season goes on. (If it does, it would be natural for the firm to break apart at some point – team dynamics usually overtake good work.)
Culture needs to be managed. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, like every company, has a culture – the question is whether it’s consciously acknowledged and managed. And the key to culture is defining just a few principles that drive the culture. In this year’s premier, Megan calls out one of SCDP’s principles: cynicism. There’s no inherently good or bad principles – they just have to work for the company. My guess is that the other principles for SDCP would be creativity, individualism, and fun. It’s hard to have principles that don’t fit the executive team.
Manage your high potentials. Pete Campbell is a huge asset to the firm, but because there’s no one helping him manage his development and career path, he’s a problem. High potentials are great – in many ways the heart of Stage 2 companies. But they come with a cost – you need to make explicit, valuable investments in them.
I suspect SDCP could use a better strategic planning process, too, but that’s a topic for another post…