Sustainable growth is the ultimate goal for most companies, but, like a mirage in the desert, the vision rarely becomes a reality. And even when companies appear to have grasped success, they find that it can easily turn to sand and slip away through their fingers.

Two of the biggest-selling business books, In Search of Excellence and Good To Great, for instance, are full of examples of companies that have ‘made it’, but that, a few years later, are struggling or even cease to exist. NCR, Wang Labs, Xerox, Fannie Mae and Circuit City, lauded for their ability to deliver sustained success suffered declines, problems and, in some cases, bankruptcy not long after publication.

Success is not a condition; it’s a process. In fact it’s a constant and chaotic battle involving business leaders trying to navigate their company through turbulent, rapidly changing markets whilst simultaneously dealing with the inertia that’s inherent in any organisation. Even when you know where you want to go and how you want to get there, there’s no guarantee that the perilous tides of your market or the inertia of your organisation will allow you to reach your destination.

As the chart demonstrates, there are three factors that you must focus on if you to are to have any chance of success:

  1. Pace. If you are to succeed you must be able to change and react at least as quickly as your markets. If you fail to evolve rapidly enough you will fail. Period. Many successful companies fail because they become trapped by their success, including some of those listed above. Companies with pace possess certain characteristics that help them to avoid such failure, including a lean, low cost organisation, few layers and large spans of leadership control in order to avoid unnecessary decision-making overlaps, the autonomy to take action throughout the organisation, and a highly-skilled and flexible workforce that can rapidly shift focus to new challenges and opportunities.
  2. Precision. You must continue to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations. Pace can’t come at the cost of precision. The two must go hand-in-hand. In fact, given the relentless rise of mobile technology and social media precision has become more important, not less. Once you fall short of your expected standards your customers will be telling their friends and colleagues about it – just ask the leaders at Toyota, for instance.
  3. Persistent Prototyping. Success is not a one-hit wonder. When markets are constantly in flux, your offer and business model must also be constantly evolving. This means that prototyping is not a stage in your NPD process that is carried out in a remote R&D laboratory, but is a mindset and approach that you must take to your whole organisation. It is not enough to be fast and to spot and pursue a new opportunity, you must also have the determination and patience to develop pilots and prototypes that you are constantly developing, testing and improving. This approach is just as important to your organisational development as it is to your new services and new product offers. In the twenty-first century everything is transient, and you must organise accordingly.

Which of these three pillars do you score highly on, and which, if any, do you need to address if you are to be able to sustain your company’s growth and success?

© Stuart Cross 2013. All rights reserved.