Growth Insights for CEOs

How Are Mid-sized Companies Innovating for Growth?

Posted by Pete Hayes

It takes strategy and execution discipline to get it done

Last week, we spent a day with a couple hundred CEOs at the Vistage Executive Summit in Austin, TX. It was a terrific event. If there’s one coming to your city, you should attend. The “innovation” theme was appropriately bookended by a leading economist in the morning and an execution disciplinarian in the afternoon. After all, innovation without execution is only a bunch of good ideas.

Economist: Short-Term Forecast is Excellent

Vistage Executive Summit

The impressively informed and entertaining ITR economist Alan Beaulieu reminded us that while there’s prosperity ahead for many businesses, there is also looming inflation and an inevitable “Great Depression” on the horizon (late 20s). He told us that now’s the time to get ready to take advantage of three plus years of economic expansion. These actions were at the top of his preparation advisory:

  • Develop growth strategies
  • Find and eliminate bottlenecks
  • Invest in customer market research
  • People, process, metrics, training

Where Will Growth Come From?

Where will growth come from

Relating to growth strategies, we used the event’s breaks and lunchtime to capture the growth objectives and trajectories of many of the attending CEOs, specifically, how much they expected to grow this year and where that growth might come from. Would they:
  1. Take share, growing within current markets with current products?
  2. Expand markets and customer-types, extending the potential customer base?
  3. Introduce new products or services to current customers and markets?
  4. Or, seek entirely new markets with new offerings? (This is hard to do.)

Our giant foam board chart was quickly cluttered with colorful markers noting growth targets and sourcing splits. We summarized our data with these points of interest:

Vistage Central Texas Growth

  1. Vistage CEOs want to grow substantially, as 25% is a significant single year growth for established companies,
  2. Most of their growth will come from their core markets and offerings (44%),
  3. Most companies have expansion strategies that include entering new markets or delivering new offerings (21% and 23%),
  4. Some companies are likely trying to tackle too many expansion strategies simultaneously (not evident in the summary, but visually evident on the growth board).

One of our biggest takeaways is that the averages don’t tell the story as much as noting the variances in approach. And if there was one area of alarm, it was how many companies are placing bets in most or all quadrants of growth. In our experience, mid-market companies lack the resources and organizational discipline to address more than one or two key growth vectors effectively. It would have been insightful to capture whether or not these companies have the tactical plans in place to execute and reach their goals. 

Growth Requires Execution Discipline

Back in the main tent, a live text poll of the audience confirmed a fact that the Vistage organizers creatively planned for – that the largest concern mid-market business owners have is not around innovation and growth strategy, but their ability to execute. Thank goodness the next speaker was Patrick “Lips” Houlahan of Afterburner – the Flawless Execution™ process management expertswho came from extreme military units. This was a best best-in-class presentation.

One of “Lips’” key points was that flawless execution isn’t perfect execution but the impact of anticipating and responding well to the unexpected. Brilliant. While no one at the podium took the opportunity to relate this back to Alan Beaulieu’s check list, it was clear that being prepared goes beyond planning and includes enhancing sensitivities to the marketplace, as well as training your people. 

Identifying and Executing Strategic Growth Opportunities

In conclusion, CEOs are bullish about their near-term prospects for growth. They have general ideas on where that growth is going to come from, and they are concerned with their ability to resource and execute against their plans. Phew. Sounds like business-as-usual.

One of Chief Outsiders most popular and useful short guidance documents is “Identifying Strategic Growth Opportunities.” Perhaps it can help you generate a prioritized plan for growth and organize your resources to execute.

** Chief Outsiders is a Vistage member company. Our CEO, Art Saxby, participates as a CE Group member in Houston. Plus we have a dozen other partners who benefit from CE, Key and Trusted Advisor groups across the country.


Topics: CEO Strategies, Innovation, CEO Networking: Vistage

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