1. Be willing to develop and consider radical alternatives – you never know what you might find. A few months ago I worked with a £400m financial services company that had established a 3-year plan that was solid but unspectacular. It was only when we considered more radical strategy alternatives that we found solutions that could deliver more breakthrough levels of performance. The company didn’t blindly pursue the radical option, but took a couple of the ideas and solutions that it could use alongside its existing plans. But without creating a more ‘leftfield’ option, the company would simply have left money on the table.
  2. Commitment starts with involvement. When I helped a market-leading bathroom company develop its new growth strategy I did so by leading a process that, in the end, involved over 50 of the company’s top managers. To be honest, I was a little sceptical about having so many people having their say about the company’s future direction. But my fears were unfounded. The teams’ energy and desire to get the best outcome overcame any notion I had that they would protect their own areas. And their involvement in the process has led to levels of commitment to delivery that are far higher than I witness in most companies.
  3. Identify your #1 goal. Too many businesses have too many goals. This makes it far harder to set priorities and allocate resources. The executive team of a £600m retail services business I worked with did the hard work up-front and agreed which of their goals was the most important. For some of you sales or profit may be the guiding goal, but not so for this business. Instead, the directors agreed that increasing their number of customers was their top priority. They knew, that other things being equal, more customers would generate into more revenue and greater profit growth. The insight they gained by identifying their #1 goal accelerated their ability to clarify their strategic objectives and set initiatives and activities in place to achieve their ambitions.
  4. Results start with accountability. It is tempting for many CEOs to set objectives with their team and then simply expect these highly-paid executives to deliver. Unfortunately, given how busy we all are, this does not always work: you must also put in some tools to ensure accountability is embedded. I have recently worked with a £700m retailer that wanted to make faster, more effective progress on its strategic initiatives. We focused on driving accountability through regular executive reporting. Importantly, however, we have been able to do this on simple one-page documents that focus on results, not complex multi-level reporting systems. That way the monthly reporting updates are not seen as a bureaucratic nightmare by the responsible executive and the CEO can quickly see what progress is being made and follow-up accordingly.
  5. New ideas come from taking time out. The constant and relentless stream of issues that you face mean that you are likely to be spending all your time working in your business and have no time to work on your business. Many ideas and innovations come from taking some time out, however. The buying team of a major UK retail company managed to carve out a few days to spend time talking about new ideas for growth. Among other things, the sessions involved creating pictures of the future, but, a few weeks later, these ‘cutting and sticking’ sessions had turned into plans for driving significant levels of new growth for their category. If you don’t take time out – at least occasionally – you will find it hard to create the space to consider the future of your business and to create the ideas that will ensure your ongoing success.

© Stuart Cross 2011. All rights reserved.