Executive Education

How to grow a business in testing times

By Stephen Archer, Director, Spring Partnerships
Executive Education
Published: 23 March 2017

In the Spring Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond stated that Britain’s economic growth in 2016 was second only to Germany, and with UK employment at a record high and the stock market performing at unprecedented levels, the outlook may seem positive.
Mr Hammond also warned against complacency as the UK prepares for a future outside the EU, and, with the process of negotiations starting with Theresa May triggering article 50 on 29th March many leaders will be sceptical of forecasts.

Given the current uncertainty, what steps can they take to ensure their businesses continue growing?

One of the most important things for leaders to do now is to go back to the fundamentals of leadership and remind themselves and their employees of their company’s mission and purpose. This will ensure everyone knows the company’s goals and where it is heading.

Being ready to adapt and change is also important. I would recommend that leaders make contingency plans for potential change as those that bury their heads in the sand could find themselves at a disadvantage.

Creative thinking at all levels should also be encouraged. In times of adversity some of the greatest innovations have appeared, for example, the first electric dry razor and car radio were invented during the Great Depression in the USA, and in the UK in the 1930s Sir Frank Whittle invented the jet engine.

During testing times companies also need to differentiate, to become more competitive and establish more intrinsic value in their organisation especially as people’s needs change in response to a new environment. Leaders therefore need to establish a culture where intellectual power is harnessed to improve innovation and in so doing, motivate staff and increase productivity and profitability.

Developing an entrepreneurial spirit amongst employees can foster innovation. Companies need to look to those employees who will happily undertake something new without being asked to do so, if they have new idea, help them transform them into a profitable venture for the business.

Such individuals can be hard to find, but they can be inspired and home grown. If companies adopt a different approach and cultivate a culture where innovation and creative thinking is encouraged and supported, every employee could become more entrepreneurial.

Here are some tips for ensuring your business grows in uncertain times:

Know your competitors
Competitors of all kinds are the minimum benchmark for which to aim. Matching a competitive offering is rarely going to suffice – always ensure you are moving to stay ahead and offer something your competitors aren’t. Look at every weakness in a competitor’s offerings and operations and use advanced brain storming tools such as ‘meta planning’ to develop and refine the winning concepts.

Allow time for innovation and creativity
Give employees space and time to innovate and invest new ideas, different ways of doing things, and look to them to come up with solutions to problems. However, be clear that a decision is expected; set a time limit and stick to it. Allow time but be mindful that a good pace is better for business energy. Remember to act on suitable ideas, to encourage others to think more creatively.

Set bold goals
Set audacious goals. Being bold and confident is essential for success. Bold goals could take years to achieve, but they need to be specific enough that everyone in the organisation understands them, buys into them and is willing to work together to achieve them. Bold must also mean achievable.

Trust employees with the truth
Don’t do everything yourself. Great leaders surround themselves with talented individuals who can offer their own solutions. Set the vision and determine the goals, but trust people to make it happen. Communicate the vision for the future and if things need changing, tell people and involve them in making the changes. Show your confidence by letting them participate in the design of a new strategy.

Employees should be treated as customers and friends
The best innovation can come from co-operation between employees – this is an effective way of bringing out entrepreneurs. Identify and appoint innovation ‘champions’ around the business. These people will be the leaders on innovation development and manage the process. They must drive the culture.

Get people to think the unthinkable
Many businesses suffer from internalism and parochialism. This stunts growth, innovation and saps energy. Assume that your business could be killed off by new entrants to the market or new innovations – people or technology based. Get people to think the unthinkable, develop thinking around scenarios that may seem unrealistic.

Be radical, act swiftly
Leaders need to take a risk and be radical in their thinking, especially during tough economic times. Playing it safe is never a good business rule, and leaders must make sure their business stays ahead by acting quickly on new ideas and innovations.

Be passionate, enthusiastic and proud
Practise what you preach. You must believe, in order that people follow and buy into your vision. Show you are passionate, enthusiastic and proud. People spend a large part of their lives at work, and having a leader who is genuinely excited about the future of the company is hugely motivating and inspiring.

Allowing time for creativity and innovation leads to new ways of doing things and new potential revenue streams, all of which contribute to business growth. Remember there will be always be opportunities for growth, even during turbulent times and leaders who recognise this will be able to steer their business to success, no matter how tough the challenges.