Seven guiding principles to growing your business

8 min read

27 September 2017

Here are seven guiding principles that I have relied on through my 20 years of working with organisations. Their purpose is to stimulate your thinking about the critical challenges and opportunities in improving and growing your business.

It is also intended to show how you can avoid some of the trial and error which otherwise might stifle your potential or, worse, derail your ambitions of growing your business.

As you read this, score the current performance of your business against each on a scale of one to ten: one being ten per cent of the time and ten being 100 per cent of the time. How does your business shape up?

(1) Simplicity

We have an innate ability to over-complicate and over-engineer life and this certainly applies in business. A question I frequently ask to bring the principle of simplicity to life is this: would you describe your business as being like a tugboat or an oil tanker? In the early stages of the life of a business it is fast, agile, responsive and able to move quickly (the tug boat).

The challenge is that over time, when growing your business, complexity is introduced: additional layers of people in the organisational design, multiple sign-off processes and procedures, key performance indicator overload, an unhealthy obsession for governance, reports for the sake of reports, decision-making by committee, and – perhaps worst of all – bureaucracy that makes it difficult for a customer to do business with you (the oil tanker).

Is your business a tugboat or an oil tanker? Perhaps utopia is to have the scale and size of an oil tanker, yet have the mentality and agility of the tugboat!

(2) Primary purpose

Strategically the primary purpose of a business is to acquire, maximise and retain the right customers. Everything that contributes to this is an investment. Anything that doesn’t is a cost! This is the key principle that underpins the way you go about growing your business. Aligning all your available resources (people, financial investment etc.) to this principle will create the focus and momentum for accelerated growth.

Imagine if you completed an audit of every process, system, and procedure in your business and as part of the exercise asked the following question: Strategically the primary purpose of a business is to acquire, maximise and retain the right customers. What’s an investment and what’s a cost in our business?

What’s helping us deliver this goal and what is detracting our focus? This process alone will help you simplify your business and ensure you maintain “tugboat status”.

(3) “Outside in” thinking

Are you thinking “inside out” or “outside in”? Great bosses think “outside in”, the customer is the focal point of everything they do and how they do it.

They are fanatical about looking at themselves through their customers’ lens and culturally are self-challenging, asking probing questions: How easy are we to do business with? Are we delivering a world-class customer experience? What are our customers’ real needs and wants now and in the future? Are we fulfilling them?

(4) Empirical validation

Thinking beyond and testing small before growing your business. Measuring the right detail allows you to make proactive, informed, well-educated, empirically validated decisions about how you can deliver accelerated, sustained, and profitable business growth. The challenge for most businesses is threefold.

First, some bosses just don’t have performance measures in the first place, second, they are measuring the wrong things, or third they are not paying enough attention to what the measures are telling them and how this subsequently informs their decision-making on strategy and helps you in terms of growing your business.

Read on for further tips on growing your business

(5) Disciplined execution

Consistency of action, consistency over time. This is the difference that makes the difference for high-performing organisations. You can spend an eternity creating the best strategy in the world and on paper you should be a phenomenal business, however you fall down on disciplined execution.

I’ve seen so many businesses achieve accelerated growth, but delivering sustained and profitable growth requires a whole new set of skills and disciplines. It requires focus, it requires rigour, and it requires boundless levels of energy, commitment and resilience. Perhaps most importantly it requires alignment of all individuals behind a common purpose and ambition. How good are you and your business in terms of disciplined execution?

(6) Productive paranoia

Zoom out then zoom in! What if you lose your biggest customer? What if a competitor makes a game-changing move that affects the way you are growing your business? What if a key person in your company leaves? What is your plan B? Your plan C? Or even your plan D? Great leaders have the ability to zoom out and take a helicopter view of their business and when required, zoom in to the detail.

Mohammed Ali said: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses. It’s won behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

Productive paranoia is preparing for the unforeseen, and running scenarios, however improbable, to combat possible roadblocks and curve balls, which suddenly appear out of left field.

Are you spending too much time working “in” your business or are you making time to work “on” your business?

(7) Proud factor

Are your people proud to wear the company badge and are they brand advocates? This should be the first question on every single employee survey. When your people are out on a Friday evening with friends, and the friends are all griping about work, do your people say: You know what, I’m sorry you’re in that position because I work for a great business and I am really proud of working for them?

Are you setting a foundation of great habits? Are the habits you have in your business today enabling your success or derailing you from realising the goals and ambitions you have for your business? There is no such thing as a closed window of opportunity when it comes to embedding good habits, it just takes action.