Risky Business

Thinking about the journey ahead

What are you thinking?!

As I look at my numbers it occurs to me that, for most entrpreneurs, managing growth is an oxymoron, and I’m no exception. We talk about the growth we want to see in our business (at least more than 20% in the next year!) but we don’t invest to make it happen – our actions don’t support our intentions. And, inevitably, we’re left dissatisfied with the results.

In my experience, most disappointments around growth are due to unrealistic expectations and unfocused execution. For years, I would set “stretch” goals – well beyond what was reasonable. We would push to get there and, of course, it just wasn’t within our capacity. As my Mum would say, “our eyes were bigger than our stomach.”

After pushing all year to meet the numbers that could never be met, we would feel frustrated with ourselves and question our abilities, rather than our targets.

Why do we sabotage our own growth?

One of the contributing factors I come across is a tendency toward complacency. Things are going well, we set big growth goals, and then we work the same way we always do, expecting different results. Wasn’t that what Einstein called the definition of insanity?

As business owners, we fixate on growth. Then, despite our best intentions, nothing changes. The risk of growing may seem too much or we get an offer and sell out to avoid the responsibility of capturing the future growth potential.

So, what do we really want – growth or comfort?

As much as we say growth matters, I believe many entrepreneurs are afraid of what it really entails. We often feel isolated and, as a result, tend to question whether we have made the ‘right’ decisions. Managing daily tasks rather than leading the vision becomes the easy choice. However, the key to truly reaching our potential requires real commitment.

Problem solving – a core value of many entrepreneurs – can be part of the solution. We can embrace our desire to take on a good challenge to help accept the risk inherent in growth.

Another answer lies in putting an end to the belief that growth means doubling or tripling our business. How often does that kind of growth ever happen? Almost never. In fact, less than 4% of companies grow by 10% annually for even five years in a row – and less than 1% do it consistently for 10 years.

We know that growth involves risk. And yet, keeping risk at a minimum is actually built into our human DNA. So, as much as we want to expand and grow, we still get in our own way.

We are surrounded by smart, passionate entrepreneurs, and yet our level of risk aversion holds us back from realizing our potential. Rather than holding on and seeing it through, we have become the discount shopping mart for innovation, with other countries willing to take on the risk and earn the rewards. We need a shift in mindset to commit to growth and risk so we can push to the next level.

Committing to growth means committing your own time and energy:

  1. Ideally, you should devote about 40% of your time to being actively involved in growth initiatives. Most importantly, you must clarify the goals so everyone understands the end game and is engaged in the win.
  2. The numbers have to be realistic, based on your capacity.
  3. Growth is not something you work on off the side of your desk. Your strongest team members need to be involved in making the initiative work. And you must regularly assess, resolve, and keep moving the initiative forward – it is never a straight line.
  4. The right goals need to be measured to keep perspective on real progress and hitting milestones that matter (not just numbers).
  5. Finally, you need to lead the initiative. Stay involved, without having a hand in all the tactics.

Growth and risk go hand in hand. To achieve one, we must own the second. Staying comfortable or selling out should not be the only options for entrepreneurs. We must commit to growth, deal with the risk, and stay focused on the win.