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If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, then it appears we may have a lot of insane management out there. Those are the managers who complain about how hard times are, or how their businesses have suffered over the last few years, or how they just can’t seem to meet deadlines or budgets, or even how their employees are driving them crazy. But they are the same ones who typically answer “not much” when asked what they have changed to address the issues, or what are they are trying to do differently to ease the pain. It makes you think some managers and business owners actually enjoy the pain. Why else would they continue to simply endure and complain?

I seriously don’t think they enjoy the pain. Rather, I think they simply have a very hard time changing. It could be their fear of the unknown, or their being really comfortable doing it the way they have always done it. It also could be they just cannot think of any other way to do it. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they are in a weak or a strong economy or whether their companies are doing well or are suffering. They always seem to have excuses for not changing. They say, either, “Business is slow, I don’t have money for that,” or “We are so busy, I don’t have time for that.”

Innovation and change, though, can fix what those managers complain about. They can breathe new life into a stale, or even a dying, business. Innovation and change need to happen in all aspects of a business, including: how things are done, how the company is managed, how the company is structured, how it goes after customers, what products it sells, and who it sells them to. No company can expect to prosper today without adapting and changing. Doing what has always been done or waiting to see what happens before changing does not work anymore.

I recently worked with a company that had been in business for a few generations. It had grown nicely and had earned both the family and their employees’ nice livings. But, over the last few years, the business seemed to plateau. Every time a quarterly statement was issued, management sat down and discussed the situation. What could they do to get rolling again? How could they “jumpstart” sales? How could they regain the “good” days? Their conclusion was always to do more of the same things that they had been doing but to do them better and work harder.

It wasn’t that they weren’t hard workers. The problem was what they were doing and how they were doing it no longer produced the same results. So, no matter how hard they worked, the situation was not getting any better. Eventually, the pain must have gotten too great and they agreed to go outside their comfort area and consider making some major changes.

In theirs, like in so many other industries, the basic model had to change. This company reexamined everything that went into their operating, sales, and financial models. They started with a very thorough examination of everything they did in the business. They continually asked the key question, “Why do we do it this way?” They asked their customers what they really liked and wanted. Then, over a period of months, they restructured their organization, changed their sales and marketing focus and methods, modified their product offering to better meet their customers’ desires, and changed their pricing and purchasing practices. Once they accepted that what worked yesterday was not working very well today and would definitely have to change to allow grow tomorrow, change actually became exciting and fun.

Their people, their management, and their culture are now different. They are not ever going to simply work harder or simply sit and moan about their plight, they will look for new and exciting ways to ensure their company continues to grow and prosper.

Everyone says that they want to grow. But, like most things in business and in life, saying it and doing it are two different things. Truly achieving growth requires strong commitment to that objective. This column illustrates the old adage that leaders need to “put their money where their mouths are.”

Everyone Wants To Grow … Or Do They?

The overwhelming majority of business owners or managers would tell you that they want to grow their businesses. The reality, however, is that no matter what they may say and no matter how sincere they are, only some of those businesses will actually achieve the growth that they desire. The others will continue to talk about their desire to grow but their desires will just not translate into reality. Their businesses, despite their desires and efforts will simply stagnate. What is the difference? What is it that it that enables some to achieve their dreams of growth while others can simply talk about theirs?

Obviously, there can be many reasons for achieving or not achieving growth, but there seems to be one underlying requirement forming the foundation for the companies that do achieve growth. The growers understand successful growth needs to be cultivated. Cultivating that growth requires companies have a clear vision, confidence in their ability to reach that vision, and the willingness to invest in the resources necessary to enable them to utilize their abilities. They know a clear vision is what establishes the growth target and the point of focus for all of the organization’s resources. Growers commit to that vision and become passionate about achieving it. Their passion, along with their confidence in their ability to achieve it, allows them to comfortably invest in the resources necessary to reach that vision. They understand there are no sure bets and that investing in a vision of growth can be risky. They understand investing in long-term growth possibilities may reduce short-term profitability. But they know without it, growth won’t happen; and without growth the future will never meet their expectations.

The “stagnators” seem to have a different perspective on growth than the growers. Their concerns seem to be “what if” type concerns. They ask, ”What if the investment in resources doesn’t pay off? What if we don’t reach our vision?” Their concerns point to a lack of conviction for their vision and a lack of confidence in their own ability to reach it. Because of that, they perceive that the risk associated with growth outweighs the reward. With this conclusion, their focus shifts totally toward today’s profitability. It is safer and there is much less risk there. They have said they want growth, but “what if” concerns overtake passion for their vision and their willingness to invest in it, and the growth just doesn’t happen.

Are the stagnators wrong? Aren’t short-term profits important? Of course they are. It would be impossible to maintain our businesses without them. But if a company is committed to growth, management must be willing to invest some of those short-term profits into the resources necessary for achieving that growth.

Do I advocate uncontrolled and undisciplined investment of current profits into resources required for growth? Those of you who have been reading this column know better than that. But do I believe companies must grow to survive and that to grow, companies need to establish a vision and have enough confidence in their own ability to be willing to invest in that vision (even if it means sacrificing some current profitability)? You bet your business future I do!

I believe it is really a case of understanding, or perhaps misunderstanding, what it takes to grow a business and what commitments are required. It’s not that the stagnators don’t want to grow. They may simply say it before they know to what they are committing. If business owners and managers really understood the commitment and investment required to successfully grow, maybe fewer of them would say they wanted to grow their businesses. They could adjust their vision to better reflect their own reality.

This post published May, 2014 by Joel Strom, Managing Director, CKS Advisors, LLC, jstrom@cksadvisors.com