“We must grow the business!” I have heard this rally cry so many times over my 25 years as a business consultant. It is often followed with some sort of planning retreat of leadership for brainstorming.

“Let’s reorganize because if we just shift everyone around, certainly we will get better results.” “Let’s hire more salespeople. If we covered more territory certainly sales will skyrocket.” “If we offered more products and services. That’ll do the trick!” “Or what if we combine all of these so we have more new products with new people, and we try new management spans of control.”

Finally, there needs to be a way to entice the customer. “Let’s offer really deep discounts. It will be irresistible! We will make up the margin in volume.” Feeling accomplished, leadership leaves the retreat patting each other on the back because an action plan with 20-30 different initiatives was created.  “At last, we have clarity.  If we do it all, then we will have growth!”

The next day this grand plan is shared with those not in the meeting. What they see is a mass of to-dos to add to their already overwhelming list. No apparent rhyme or reason, just zigzagging paths that distract and keep them from achieving their objective. No details about how to get anything done or what success looks like.

The team does the best they can. They take one or two actions on every initiative, just enough to report at the next monthly status report that something was done. Phew! They survived the status reporting. Now only a few more weeks and the next big crisis will take over and these initiatives will just go away. This, my friends, is the nature of the Business Survival Trap.

So, how do you escape the maze and work on what will drive you towards meaningful business accomplishment? 

  1. Create a Compelling Vision of the Future – this is not a feel-good statement to place on HQ walls or a tag line on employee e-mail signatures. Instead, this determining what your department or business is meant to do; what value do you provide to your customers? Are you addressing an industry or market gap? What problem do you solve for your customers?

Clarity here will align all resources to focus on achieving the future state even when challenges arise.

  • Complete a Realistic Current State Assessment – Do not be afraid to ask difficult questions. All businesses are built on a Hierarchy of Needs that drive success. By evaluating how a business is performing at each level you find the bottleneck that prevents or inhibits growth.

Yes, it is just one thing that is holding you back; there is a critical path to improved business performance.

  • Measure Impact and Progress – Good project management practice tells us that once a step in a plan is complete, that is accomplishment. That is just part of what needs to be done. The steps in a plan are there to make sure we implement all the changes, but we must also select measures that reflect the impact of change. Did the change have the impact we expected? Are the results being sustained? If yes, then celebrate the win.  If no, adjust.

The Business Survival Trap is completely avoidable with simple, structured systems analysis, strong project management and diligent impact tracking.

Do you feel like you are stuck in the Business Survival Trap? If so, what have you tried to fix the situation?