5 Questions CEO Should Ask to Get Serious About Growth

Source: Richard Browne, Professor of Practice, UNCG Bryan School; CMO, ChiefOutsiders

Many of us focus staff meetings on the burning operational issues of the day, or on reviewing operational dashboards with little discussions of the 3rd, 4th or 5th “why” for what’s behind average or lackluster performance.

Jeff Bezos, when asked during his first meeting with Washington Post writers how he’d define success at the Post, replied “Growth”.

If we’re agreed that the role of the CEO is also Chief Growth Officer and Chief Marketing Officer, wouldn’t it benefit our firms if we shifted the focus of staff meetings from the here and now to the where are we going? Our functional leaders should be empowered and accountable for running the business, our strength as a leadership team is ensuring long term viability, which, as Bezos states, is the result of growth.

Here are five questions that I suggest putting on the agenda and discussing for a half hour, one per meeting for your next 5 staff meetings. If these questions don’t result in some shifts in your strategy and execution, either you’re running a top 10% firm or you’re not serving enough coffee at your meeting!

  1. Why do we lose business? (Have participants write down their top three reasons, then share). Do you, and your staff, really believe price is a top reason?
  2. Who are our most profitable customers? What do they have in common? Are there more of them? Are they delighted with us? What other problems do they have that we could solve?
  3. Are any of our value propositions interchangeable with our competitors? If so, where is our unique value and are we communicating that clearly?
  4. Should we be offering more, or less, choice in our product portfolio? Why? How would our demand and cost curves change if we eliminated the bottom 20% of our offering? If we expanded our range of goods or services, including aftermarket? When was the last time we zero base budgeted our product range? Is there a clear owner of SKU count and range rationalization? A clear champion of finding new applications for our existing products?
  5. What potential sales partnerships and industry alliances should we be planning for in our future? We don’t have to do it all! Are there channel partners that could take us to adjacent markets? Technology partners that could help us expand our range without a significant engineering investment? A complimentary player that would allow us efficient entry into an international market? An emerging technology that by partnering now with a pioneer we could gain both insights and an early market presence?

We often assume people on our teams are thinking about these questions. The reality is that these questions are often put on the back burner due to the pressures of daily business. Research from the University at Texas McCombs School of Business highlights that growth focused companies outperform operationally focused companies.

Asking these questions at your staff meetings has the potential to not only change the trajectory of your firm, but also to make your meetings more engaging and aligning.

Which of these questions is most effective for your situation? Or do you have others that have provoked a new line of thinking about growth?

Richard Browne is Professor of Practice at the Bryan School, University of North Carolina Greensboro where he lectures on business strategy. He is also a CMO with Chief Outsiders, providing interim CMO services to clients nationally, with a focus midsized B2B and B2C firms.  Follow Richard on twitter at @JRBrowne or contact him at rbrowne@chiefoutsiders.com

 About Scale Finance

Scale Finance LLC (www.scalefinance.com) provides contract CFO services, Controller solutions, and support in raising capital, or executing M&A transactions, to entrepreneurial companies. The firm specializes in cost-effective financial reporting, budgeting & forecasting, implementing controls, complex modeling, business valuations, and other financial management, and provides strategic help for companies raising growth capital or considering M&A/recapitalization opportunities. Most of the firm’s clients are growing technology, healthcare, business services, consumer, and industrial companies at various stages of development from start-up to tens of millions in annual revenue. Scale Finance LLC has offices throughout the southeast including Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, Greensboro, Wilmington, Washington D.C. and South Florida with a team of more than 40 professionals serving more than 100 companies throughout the region.