Growing up in New Jersey, I loved visiting Great Adventure amusement park. The idea of a flat rate admission for as many rides as time would allow really appealed to me, especially compared to the tickets they collected at each Seaside Heights ride that seemed to gobble up my newspaper route savings faster with each visit.
The one thing featured at Great Adventure that I did not like early on were the signs that restricted me and my friends from going on rides that had a height requirement. Yes, the dreaded “You must be this tall to ride” signs were tough for 3rd and 4th graders who hadn’t yet hit a growth spurt. After the first visit, I was tall enough to ride all the rides, but that wasn’t true for all my friends who came along, and having to split up or defer rides for another time put a damper on the fun. I remember discussions in line where we rehearsed vouching for one of our friends, saying he was very strong and could hold on even if he wasn’t as tall as the gorilla’s outstretched hand.
As a parent today, I can see that as reckless talk by people eager to have a shared experience, yet ignorant of the risks of taking a course of action where some basic requirements aren’t met. It seems so obvious, and it relates to what I’m currently hearing from some business leaders.
Entrepreneurs and executives today invite me into their offices and boardrooms to ask questions about creating and using particular methods to grow their business. The types of business growth I’m most often asked about include new customer acquisition, a new product launch, improving profitability, and market share expansion. With each type of initiative, there are different requirements that will raise your chances of success. For instance:
- Before you pursue a new client or strategic partner, how is your company positioned from a public perspective?
- Before you launch a new product, what feedback can be used from an early adoption group to identify key selling points or field credibility proof?
- Before you re-work a product or process to improve profitability, have you looked at how the human factors inform the spreadsheet numbers?
- Before you take steps to expand your market share, have you done an environmental scan to find the path of least resistance or ways you can exploit conditions better than your competition?
In other words, it’s important to check that you are tall enough to enjoy the ride safely. With amusement park rides, it is a liability risk to let someone on who isn’t ready. In business, it is a waste of time and other resources to make a splash when you’re not really ready for the next steps. In both cases, someone could get hurt. Whether you’re leading the team or the initiative, you need to be able to avoid missteps that could lead to embarrassment, customer backlash, or worse.
The key to making your growth initiatives successful lies in taking an honest assessment of where you are, and if you’re not ready for a step that you want to take, being willing to put in the time and effort to get ready. With the amusement park rides we take our friends and children to enjoy, we pay attention to the height of gorilla arms, and it makes just as much sense to look for these guideposts in our business, as well.
Your Steps to Success
When you’re eager for growth and see an opportunity, you’re likely to charge after it. I know – I’ve not only been there myself many times, I see it each week with very successful companies with very capable leaders. Take a moment to plan. Involve other perspectives to catch things that you might have missed alone. Below are three stepping stones to help you get on your way to success.
- Ask, “What needs to be in place for this initiative to be successful?” If you were going to get married next month, for example, you’d expect that the wedding and reception locations, caterer, DJ, and florist have all been reserved (and confirmed!), and invitations have been sent out months ago. If not, you’d need to move your timeline back and then put the things that haven’t been done on your to-do list in priority order. Growth initiatives are like weddings, because without thoughtful preparation and enthusiastic follow-though, neither will lead to the kind of ongoing, evolving, hoped-for relationship that the kick-off event marks (may my wife only roll her eyes and forgive me if she happens to read this paragraph!).
- Ask, “If these are the obvious requirements, what are the non-obvious ones?” Here is where having outside perspective makes such a big difference. It’s very difficult to see past “this is how we’ve always done it” or “that’s Pat’s area.”
- Determine in advance how you will measure success. Avoid the “let’s wait and see how it turns out” method of evaluating a project. Figure out in advance what you want to occur and how you will measure those changes. It might be a surge in new leads. It might be an uptick in net profit. It might be TV coverage or a radio interview. It’s likely to be a combination of key metrics specific to your initiative and market. When those benchmarks are determined in advance, it helps everyone involved know where to go and how to contribute to the ultimate success of the endeavor.