The 4 Enemies of Growth

When it comes to growing companies, we see four main challenges that crop up again and again. Over time, I have named these 4 enemies in order to tame them. I call them: 

      1. The battle of the bicycles
      2. The problem of pond hockey
      3. The impulse to improvise
      4. The neurosis of numbers

The Battle of the Bicycles

Let’s start off with the battle of the bicycles, since in my opinion, it’s the biggest one. Now, let me ask you, have you ever tried to ride two bicycles? I tried when I was a teenager, and it’s incredibly hard. The truth is that if you’re in a hurry with a lot to do, odds are you’re going to drop one. 

In many organizations, a CEO has two jobs: President and CEO. And they are forced to choose a bicycle. The problem? They drop the growth-focused CEO bike and settle on the improvement-focused President bike. Now, don’t get me wrong, improvement is a wonderful thing. But it’s nothing without growth. You get mired in it. 

Why do they drop the bike? There’s only so much in one person. They just don’t have the time and the energy at the end of the day. But we have to remember that being a strategic CEO is very different than being an operational President. 

I would settle on a CEO spending 50-60% of their time on the strategy bike, though my ideal is that they spend 60-80% of their time deep in strategy. The reality? If you ask a room of CEOs, you’re going to find out that they fight to get 25%. This needs to change—

The Problem of Pond Hockey

Which brings me to item number 2, the problem of pond hockey. 

Pond Hockey is big in Canada. Hockey, after all, is our national sport. If you haven’t seen a game of pond hockey, allow me to describe it to you. A whole bunch of people go out onto an iced over pond. It’s disorganized but it’s fun. The idea is that whoever is there, you pull them together, you divide up teams and you play. But it’s a whole different game from what you’re seeing on the television during an NHL game. And why? You aren’t dealing with professional players. 

We all start off with pond hockey, even the big shots. But we realize that at higher levels of performance, we need professional players. Because if you don’t have the right people, it’s going to pull you out of growth. So, we call these folks A-Players.

An A-Player is someone who lives the values of the organization and consistently delivers excellent results. They’re really good at what they do and make great team members. And then we get B & C players who miss the mark, or toxic A’s who perform well but create drama and frustration.

What we see up close is that most companies have too much pond hockey going on. CEOs burn out because they’re carrying too much burden. So, the name of the game is to build a team with an NHL mentality. We need 90% A’s in those key roles. 

The Impulse to Improvise

Let’s move on to #3, the impulse to improvise. 

Did you know that the largest symphony in the world is 8,000 people in South America? Imagine the beauty of all those musicians playing together in harmony. Now imagine each of them playing their own tune. Individually, it may sound fine, but together it becomes chaotic and scattered noise.

And this is what happens to our companies as they scale. You see, it’s really hard to keep people focused and aligned, which is why you need to know your three big moves. What are the three most important moves you must make in the next three years to meaningfully grow your revenues, profits, capital, and capabilities as an organization? When this is clear, each member of your organization can align around and execute on the big moves needed to grow the company. 

The Neurosis of Numbers

Last but certainly not least, we have the neurosis of numbers. 

When it comes to mid-market firms, we tend to see two things: people either have insanely simplistic numbers that don’t tell you anything or complex monstrosities that also don’t tell you anything. Really tight and clear reporting is rare. 

When you think of your numbers, this is the thing that should guide you: your numbers should be so clear that each KPI on the spreadsheet or chart on the dashboard can provide actionable insights in 60 seconds or less.

So, that’s it. Those are the four enemies of growth and if you wrangle them, both you and your organization will be on track for amazing success. 

The Challenge

Pick one of the enemies of growth — the battle of two bicycles, the problem of pond hockey, the impulse to improvise, or the neurosis of numbers. What action can you commit to this week to stop being pulled out of growth?

Write it on a post-it note and stick it above your desk.

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