5 Steps To Delivering Rapid Growth

When trying to achieve rapid growth for your business, if you try to reach top speed immediately, without going through the gears, you will simply stall

When it comes to accelerating your business’s growth, pace is not about being reckless or taking unnecessary risks. There is a clear difference between pace and haste. If you try to reach top speed immediately, without going through the gears, you will simply stall. Even the great Usain Bolt didn’t reach top speed until 50 metres in a 100-metre race!

This means that you should follow a clear sequence when delivering new strategic initiatives. Those companies that choose to miss out critical steps do so at their peril. Just ask Tesco about Fresh & Easy, the retailer’s failed US business!

Here is how I worked through the steps while leading the store development function at Boots the Chemists:

  1. Set a big, compelling objective.

    The bigger the goal, the bigger the commitment to achieving it. At Boots, we were once looking to grow the sales of a key product category. We could have set a smaller goal that was more easily achievable, but, instead, we set out to deliver double-digit growth. The goal changed the team’s mindset from incremental to breakthrough.

  2. Develop alternative concepts and ideas. 

    We organized a one-day workshop of staff from across the company to create new ideas to test. We didn’t over-think this, but established some creative exercises to ensure we had new and different concepts to try out.

  3. Test initial prototypes at a single site.

    For the next two days, we took the 10 best workshop ideas, developed a series of ‘cardboard and string’ prototypes and implemented them in a single store, and simply observed shoppers’ behaviors. One of the ideas immediately hooked customers – there was a clear winner.

  4. Prove and refine the concept.

    Over the next 4 weeks, we created a more physically robust merchandising solution and tested it in more stores, refining as we went. The results were the same, and in line with our double-digit goal.

  5. Build scale and roll out.

    Within 3 months the new merchandising solution had been delivered across the chain. This created a better experience for customers and higher levels of sales for the business.

The sequence of five steps can revolutionise your ability to rapidly deliver your goals. But there are a few critical factors you must follow:

  • Starting small may seem counterintuitive to pace, but it is in fact fundamental. If you focus on a single product, factory, store, team or region, rather than taking on your entire organisation, you can learn far faster. You have the ability to change things on a Monday, for instance, and see how it’s gone on Tuesday.
  • What’s more starting small doesn’t mean limiting your ambition. On the contrary, if you narrow the scope of your implementation, you can raise your performance aspirations and become more experimental.
  • Finally, the decision makers must be fully engaged with the process and need to be open to both the possibility of new ideas and to the reality of your trial results. A critical element of our success at Boots was getting the decision makers into the store, both to help develop the ideas, but, even more importantly, to observe the trials. A couple of hours watching real customers in action was worth 1,000 research reports in terms of their commitment to action.

You will drive rapid growth when you think big, start small and learn fast. Starting small gives you the ability to learn quickly and to build the knowledge and confidence to fire the investment rockets.

How can you incorporate the 5 key steps to start small, learn fast and deliver rapid results for your business?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – My First Hero

What are the leadership and management skills you need to thrive in your role and lead your organization to success? Are you your business hero?

This week’s riff. Glen Campbell, the great guitarist and singer, died earlier this week after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Along with Rod Stewart and George Harrison, Glen was one of the first pop stars I can remember. I can vividly recall seeing him sing Witchita Lineman on TV in the early 1970s. He had a guitar slung over his denim-jacketed back and I thought it was the coolest thing ever – and for a six-year old growing up in Morecambe, it probably was! He was my first hero.

Unsurprisingly, when I heard that he was coming to play in Nottingham a few years ago, I immediately bought tickets. Glen’s illness was just starting to take hold and, to be honest, I felt a little uncomfortable that he couldn’t remember the names of his band members or recollect all the lines of his newer songs.

When Glen played Wichita Lineman, however, the words came effortlessly to him and his guitar solo was as clean, crisp and beautiful as it was when it was first recorded.

Campbell’s guitar playing that evening was the best and most heart-wrenching example of ‘unconscious competence’ I’d ever seen – you can see him play the song on Later With Jools Holland, on the same tour, by clicking here. As Siggy Sjursen, Glen’s bass player, said in a recent article, “The style he’s playing does not sit in his memory; it sits in his muscles and his emotions that he will always remember.”

What are the leadership and management skills you need to thrive in your role and lead your organization to success? And what steps are you taking to build those skills and, like my first hero, reach a level of true ‘unconscious competence’?


Off The Record: Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell

I hear you singing in the wire

I can hear you through the wine

And the Wichita Lineman

Is still on the line


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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You Can’t Chase Two Hares

There is a Japanese saying that translates as ‘you can’t chase two hares’. If a top-class hunting dog chases after a hare it has a 10% chance of catching it. But if the dog hedges its bets and tries to chase two at once, its success rate is reduced to nil. The dog quickly learns that 10% is the way to go!

Yet I know from my own corporate experience and from my observations in different businesses how difficult it is to chase one hare. Dashing from meeting to meeting, executives and managers are almost assessed on the amount of work they have. And the length of their ‘to do’ lists. “Are you busy?” is a typical opening question at the coffee machine.

The problem is that effectiveness is not related to ‘busy-ness’ in any way. On the contrary, busy people can be truly detrimental to an organisation. By trying to achieve many things simultaneously they run the big risk of achieving precisely nothing. What’s more they often create spurious and needless work for others.


The pressure for you to be busy rather than effective comes from three main sources:

  1. Organisational requirements. 

    At work your time does not always belong to you, but to others, particularly your boss. As long as the organisation pursues a busy, two-hare approach to work you are likely to be caught up in it to some extent.

  2. Peer pressure. 

    Within the organisation, others will be seeking to be heroic on many different projects and initiatives. What’s more, they may well be rewarded handsomely by the organisation for their efforts (if not their results). In these environments, it is easy to be seduced into following a similar route to the top.

  3. Your own work ethic. 

    Many of us carry around a strong work ethic and gain satisfaction and feelings of self-worth, not by how effective we’ve been, but by how many things we are seeking to do and how much time it demands from us

So, what can you do about the situation? Here are five practical actions you can take to help you focus on one hare rather than seeking to bag two:

  1. Know your #1 priority. 

    If you achieved nothing else in the next 12 months, what one thing are you able to do which would most contribute to the success of your organisation? What is it that you can do that others will not be able to achieve?

  2. Plan for success. 

    Once you have an understanding of your #1 priority set out milestones for the next 90 days which, once achieved, will help ensure that it is delivered effectively within the year.

  3. Critically review your diary. 

    Understanding how you really spend your time will help you understand what is really important to you. Review your diary regularly to ensure that enough time is spent on the things that matter, and not just on stuff that you have difficulty recalling even one day later.

  4. Block out chunks of time for your #1 priority. 

    Can you find a day or half a day a week to work on the important things? Or can you schedule all your meetings to one or two days a week? As Peter Drucker wrote, “Even one-quarter of the working day if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done. But even three-quarters of the working day is useless if it is only available as fifteen minutes here or half an hour there.”

  5. Don’t expect perfection.

    You can’t control everything and shouldn’t expect perfection. But, for many of us, there is a great deal we can do by re-focusing our time. Being effective on the things that matter, rather than merely being busy on the many things that don’t.

The bottom line is that you can’t chase two hares no matter how hard you try. Remembering that being busy does not mean being effective will allow you to better focus your efforts on the things that matter.


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – Your Way

This week’s riff:

As a leader of your business, there are some tasks that you cannot outsource. Establishing the values of your organization, developing the strategic direction and goals of your business, engaging and aligning your people with the strategy and values, determining your big priorities and ensuring their delivery and being a symbol of the organization are all tasks that you can’t simply hand over to others.

And, apart from one of those tasks, most leaders willingly take on the responsibility for each of these actions.

So, which task is the odd one out? Well, many CEOs and executive teams seem happy to hand over the development of their strategic direction to third parties. Most times, they give the job to external ‘expert’ consultants, but I’ve also seen occasions where they ask an internal team to do the hard yards and report back to them with recommendations.


There’s only one problem with outsourcing strategy. It doesn’t work.

Engagement and ownership starts with involvement. It doesn’t matter how polished and logical your consultant’s presentation is, if you’re not involved in the development of your company’s strategy, you will simply have less emotional attachment and commitment to it. And leading the delivery of any strategy – with the inevitable issues and barriers you will encounter along the way – requires a ton of commitment from the leadership team.

Whenever I work on strategies with my clients, we do so in true partnership.  They are responsible for most of the ‘blocking and tackling’ and coming up with the goals, options and decisions. My job is to provide structure, process, ideas and challenge. But it is not to do a job that should never be outsourced.

I am currently developing an exciting new strategy product to help leadership teams with this critical task. I’ll be sharing more in the coming weeks. But in the meantime ask yourself this question: How far has your strategy been developed by the leadership team, and what is the level of executive officer commitment to its delivery?


Off The Record: My Way by Frank Sinatra

This classic, written by Paul Anka and others. This is the perfect song to express the importance of doing the important things yourself and not simply following the crowd.

For what is a man, what has he got?

If not himself, the he has naught

To say the things he truly feels

And not the words of one who kneels


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks – The Power of Added Extras

This week’s riff: I was talking to my son, Dylan, about his favourite pizza restaurants. Without hesitation, he told me his very favourite was Pizza Hut. Why? Well, they have an ice-cream station where you can serve yourself as much dessert as you want!

In other words, he doesn’t want to go to Pizza Hut because they have the best pizzas! Instead, his choice is driven by the added extras he can get there.

‘Added extras’ can be critical in building loyalty and differentiating yourself from your competitors. Back in the 1990s, the growth of Tesco was inextricably linked to the introduction of Clubcard, while, more recently, Amazon’s ‘added extras’, offered through Amazon Prime, have become a key driver of loyalty and growth.

Meanwhile, every time I use my loyalty card at Waitrose I’m offered a free coffee – which seems to be hugely popular with the shoppers I see there – and that same ‘trick’ is used by my client 7-Day Windows for its trade customers, so that when they arrive every morning to collect the windows they will be installing that day they can get an ‘added extra’.

So, what is the ‘added extra’ that could make the difference to the loyalty of your customers and the growth of your business? What’s your equivalent of Pizza Hut’s ice-cream station that will help you become your customers’ number one choice?


Off The Record: Don’t by Ed Sheeran


And for a couple of weeks I only wanna see her

We drink away the days with a take-away pizza


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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Cross Shots: The 2 Best Words to Start Any Strategy Discussion

In this latest episode of Cross Shots, Stuart Cross talks us through the 2 best words to start any successful strategy discussion…

You can view previous episodes of Cross Shots here

© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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Actions Speak Louder Than Plans

Little boy playing electric guitar

Dylan, my oldest son, has been noodling with the guitar for a couple of years now. He can now play a few songs and a couple of licks. When I ask him if he wants to improve, he tells me that it’s on his list of things to do. However, that list is long and it he usually finds that other things end up taking priority.

My youngest son, Louis, has never shown an interest in playing the guitar. That is, up until three weeks ago. Since then, however, he has shown a huge interest in wanting to play some Ed Sheeran songs. As a result, Louis has regularly been on YouTube learning the chords to various Sheeran tracks and has now taught himself how to play three songs – if anyone wants to listen to Castle On The Hill continuously, you know where to come!

In other words, three weeks of dedicated action by Louis has enabled him to catch up with two years of intermittent practice by his older brother.


It’s the same in business. All of the businesses that I know that have delivered consistent and continuous growth demonstrate an ongoing willingness to take rapid action. These organisations may not always be the best at developing detailed plans, but they are led by executives who want to see ideas turn into action quickly.

Often, this means developing prototypes, running trials or developing a new solution for just one product line or customer. These rapid steps allow managers to learn about what works and it may take several iterations before something is workable and scalable.

The key to success is not to have brilliant systems or the most capable managers – or even the best plan. Instead, it is about attitude and behaviour. In short, to deliver rapid growth, you must be willing to act, willing to fail and willing to learn. In the end, this is the only route to sustainable success.

It’s not so much the old adage of ‘fail to plan and you plan to fail’, but more a case of ‘fail to learn and you learn to fail’.


Here are three quotes I use to remind me of the critical importance of taking action:


  • Goethe, the nineteenth-century German philosopher: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.
  • Michael Bloomberg, the founder and head of the Bloomberg media business: “We made mistakes of course. Most of them were omissions we didn’t think of when we initially wrote the software. We fixed them by doing it over and over, again and again. We do the same today. While our competitors are still sucking their thumbs trying to make the design perfect, we’re already on prototype version No. 5. By the time our rivals are ready with wires and screws, we are on version No. 10. It gets back to planning versus action. We act from day one; others plan how to plan – for months.”
  • Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan – until they get punched in the mouth!


So, whether you’re trying to learn the guitar or grow a business, what steps can you take now – today! – to increase the speed and boldness of your actions? And how can you move away from developing plans you’ll never implement, to discovering the best way forward through a series of rapid action steps?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

Posted in Growth, Leadership, Speed and Pace, Strategy | Leave a comment

Business Rocks: Brexit Blockage

I’m not making a political point when I say that the UK’s approach to the Brexit negotiations looks pretty shambolic. What can we learn from the situation?

This week’s riff: I’m not making a political point when I say that the UK’s approach to the Brexit negotiations looks pretty shambolic. Over a year on from the referendum vote to leave the EU and it’s still not clear what the UK government actually want from the negotiations. While ministers say that they need to keep their cards close to the chest, I’m still not sure they’re holding any aces or have simply dealt themselves a hand of jokers!

So, what can we learn from the situation? Well, Brexit actually provides us with some clear change management lessons.

Specifically, if you intend to deliver any level of organizational change, you must first ensure that three factors are in place: (1) Dissatisfaction with the current situation; (2) A clear vision of the future; and (3) Clarity on the initial action steps required to deliver your desired change.

With respect to Brexit, there was clearly dissatisfaction with the current situation, which is why there was a small majority vote to leave, but there does not seem to be any clear vision of the future or clarity on the steps to getting there. Until the government makes progress on these two fronts, it is likely that resistance to any new negotiated deal will increase.

Why not review your own major change initiatives? In particular, where they are struggling, which of the three key factors are missing, and what do you need to do to get the initiative back on track?


Off The Record: Changes by David Bowie

I still don’t know what I was waiting for

And my time was running wild

A million dead-end streets

Every time I thought I’d got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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The Innovation Imperative

Creative Designers Team Working by 3D Printer.

There was a time, not that long ago when companies didn’t necessarily have an innovation-related objective on their strategic agenda. Instead, they would, for example, be focused on reducing costs, expanding geographically or creating operational excellence. It wasn’t that product or service development wasn’t important, it was just that the level of detailed executive and organisational focus on this area of the business varied in line with its perceived relevance to the company’s growth ambitions.

As Bob Dylan once sang, though, things have changed.

Innovation is no longer a strategic alternative; it is a strategic imperative. It is impossible to gain and sustain a leading position in your market without a systematic and comprehensive commitment to innovation. You must be constantly adapting and changing at least as fast as your environment, raising the bar on your performance to find new ways to win, rather than simply relying on your perpetuating your existing successes.

Innovation is, of course, far more than product and service development. In corporate terms, innovation can be seen as the delivery of an important and original idea that provides you with new competitive advantages. When you take this wider view of innovation, you can quickly identify different types:

    • Product and service innovation.

      This is what most people mean when they talk about innovation. Dyson’s bagless vacuum cleaner, Apple’s iPad and Nespresso coffee capsules are all examples of product innovations that have fundamentally shifted the dynamics of their market. More than that, these products have expertly met customers’ latent and unmet needs and have created new market segments, enabling these products to deliver superior levels of growth and profitability. Even with patent, trademark and brand protection, however, the competitive advantages offered by these products erode over time through competition. Despite the new pulses of growth that are driven by new sub-brands, such as the iPad Air, the iPad’s share, for example, steadily declined from its launch in 2009 as competitors led by Samsung offered consumers a range of attractive alternatives. In other words, even with game-changing innovations, entropy will inevitably take over and your advantages, revenues and cash flows will decline. Relying on single-hit innovations, rather than a stream – or even a torrent – of new innovations, will not create sustainable success.

    • Operational innovation. 

      Some companies drive innovations through their operating model, often led by investment in technology. During the 1980s and 1990s, for example, WalMart gained huge advantages against Kmart and its other rivals through the company’s massive and sophisticated investment in supply chain systems and technologies. Unlike product innovation, however, you are far less likely to be able to protect such innovations with patents and trademarks, unless you were willing to make the investment in proprietary technologies, and so any competitive advantage you accrue are at even greater risk of decay. Again, as your rivals catch up you will be required to find the next stage innovation if you wish to maintain or extend your operational advantage.

    • Business model innovation.

      It’s possible to innovate at an even higher level than product or operations. Ryanair and other low-fare airlines, for instance, have transformed the air travel market by creating and deploying an entirely new business model that traditional carriers find difficult to compete against. The limited service, use of less popular and costly airports, rapid turnarounds and use of a single type of aircraft (the Boeing 737 being most common) enables these companies to run at costs far below the bigger, full-service airlines that are focused on their hub and spoke business models. Product innovation can also go hand-in-hand with business model innovation. Nespresso, for instance, not only sells a range of coffee capsules but also does so through a system that the company either controls or strongly influences. The coffee machines can only use Nespresso capsules and the capsules can only be bought through company’s online portal or from its small chain of boutique stores; they are not available in grocers or other retailers. Innovations focused around entire business models are harder to copy than product or operational innovations, but are equally harder to develop and deliver.

    • Organisational and cultural innovation.

      Finally, companies can innovate around their culture and organisation. In the 1980s, for example, ABB created a high-growth business by breaking the huge engineering company into a series of smaller and entrepreneurial business units. Back in the 1930s, Alfred Sloan created a scientific, profit-focused and strategic approach to management at General Motors that shaped how generations of managers approached their own businesses. More recently, Toyota has developed a brand and business success on the back of a cultural approach to quality management at the auto manufacturer that puts the focus on the line teams to manage their own performance. And in 2009, Amazon paid $1.2 billion for a shoe retailer that only started trading in 2000. The rise of Zappos was driven by the relentless focus of its leadership team on customer service, and the development of an organisational culture that provides a great experience for its workers, encouraging them to go the extra mile for their customers. In other words, it is possible to create a serious competitive advantage through your organisation, management approach and culture that other companies can find hard to match.


Using this broader view, you can immediately see that the potential for better and faster innovation in many businesses is huge. In most organisations, however, there is a yawning gulf between senior leaders’ rhetoric on innovation and the reality on the ground. Managers remain fixed on fixing issues with the current business rather than raising the bar and creating new opportunities for growth.

If you think about the innovation of your business across these four types of innovation, what further potential for growth can you envisage?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.


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How To Develop A Business Strategy In 48 Hours

The creation and delivery of a business strategy is a Sisyphean act; it is never-ending. The work is never done. But you can develop a strategy in 48 hours

The creation and delivery of a business strategy is a Sisyphean act; it is never-ending. It is developed in formal meetings and corridor conversations and is delivered through major change projects as well as the daily conversations between your customers and front-line teams.

The work is never done. But, at various stages in the life of any organisation, the work has to start.

Sometimes your market changes rapidly, demanding a strategic re-think, while, at other times, a more gradual decline in results leads to questions about the company’s strategy.

Whatever, the reason, there are times when you need to focus on clarifying the future direction of your business, its purpose, how it will succeed and the handful of priorities you need to focus on.

So, here’s how, with a little bit of preparation, you can develop a clear strategic direction in just a couple of days….

First, some pre-work will be required. When I’m working with clients, I will lead the creation of an insight pack that highlights: (1) Where you’re making money and where you’re not; (2) Where you’re growing and where you’re not; (3) What your customers think of you and your competitors, and their buying behaviours; (4) The big trends and uncertainties in your markets; (5) Your competitors’ strategies, performance and competitive positions; (6) What your people feel about working with you, and their overall commitment and capability; and (7) An understanding of your key assets and capabilities that help you (at least potentially) stand out from the crowd. I know this sounds like quite a lot, but I am usually able to get to a good position in just 2-3 weeks with my clients.

The second bit of pre-work is to give the attendees some homework. Ask them to visit competitors, talk to customers, research some benchmark companies in other industries and meet with other industry leaders. All of these tasks take people out of the ‘here and now’ of your business and helps to prepare them for a series of broader strategy discussions.

When it comes to the development of a high-level strategy, I find the best approach is an off-site 48-hour, two-day session of the leadership team. This allows your executive team to settle into the strategy discussions, forget some of the immediate operational issues and start to focus on the future. The key is that the team do the work, not me; after all, it’s their strategy, not mine, and if they are to inspire themselves and others to deliver it, they must first truly own it.

The meeting runs something like this:

  • Day 1: Clarify the issues and opportunities.

    We meet in the late afternoon and work through a 3-4 hour session to meet, agree objectives and to review the insight work, idenityfing major issues and agreeing some areas of focus. By doing this on the first evening, I find that people really hit the ground running on the following morning and are far more productive than if they meet in the morning.

  • Day 2: Develop the outline strategy.

    The day starts by reflecting on the previous evening’s work and then looking at the future possibilities for the company’s markets and its business. New ideas are generated and we build on this momentum by using a series of tools and structured discussions and exercise to develop an outline strategy, covering (1) A #1 strategic goal; (2) An understanding of the potential future playing field of the business; (3) Agreement about how the business will win going forward; and (4) The major areas of focus for action and development to bring the strategy to life.

  • Day 3: Moving forward.

    We generally work until early/mid afternoon, as people are generally worn out by this time, and focus our discussions and timetable on (1) Defining the type of organisation required to deliver the strategy: (2) Setting out an initial view of the major milestones and performance requirements for the business over the next 2-3 years; and (3) A clear action plan to get moving at pace. With specific goals for the next week, month and quarter that will move the business forward.


At this stage, the detailed work of exactly what needs to be done to deliver the new strategy still has to be done. I generally appoint leaders of these workstreams in the meeting and ask them to report back with their plans in two weeks’ time. But you will already have achieved a lot.

You will have clarity on your big, strategic performance goal. You will have a shared understanding of how you want to lead your markets and differentiate yourself from your competition. And you will have agreed your big strategic priorities for the next 2-3 years. Not bad for a couple of days work!

How much would your business benefit from taking 48-hours to clarify its future direction and establish how it will grow and thrive?


© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.

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