Leaders take big swings, Managers make incremental changes

August 21st, 2017 / Dan Cooper

Some companies need tweaking. Improve customer service, decrease cost of goods, add a key player … and they experience growth and prosper.

But what happens when you what got you here, won’t get you there? When you are seeing a shift in the market that gives you enough pause that you know you need to take a big swing?

As an owner or CEO, it’s likely that you’ll have to make 1 big decision in the next 2 years that will change the course of your company for the next decade.

I lead an e-learning company for 10 years.  For the first 4, we were a totally custom shop. Everything was personalized, branded, and storied for you, the customer.

Around that same time, we took a big swing: that we would become an off the shelf (generic content) provider first, then add on custom programs when needed.

The problem was that we were creating the same course over and over again.  It cost a fortune and we could only sell enterprise level clients due to budget size needs. They took forever to sell and the account management was expensive due to heavy hand holding. Our revenue was stagnant and we were bumping into the same challenges again and again. Adding people or process wouldn’t fix the issues.

So, we decided to take a big swing. Changing our model would put us in a position to grow with larger target markets, multiple price points, and leverage our internal intellectual property.

But it was totally against everything we created up to that point. Process, people, messaging, philosophy – all had to change.

It was an idea we chewed on for 6 months. What if we missed? What if people weren’t on board? How would it affect our current customer base? Revenue? Cash flow?

After the first year, we saw an increase in purchases with our current clients (more bang for their buck and serving multiple departments), we created a reseller strategy which allowed others to sell our products and increased our sales without investing in new sales talent, and we increased our offering from 50 courses to 250.

It paid off, and set us up for the next 5 years of growth.

How do you know you need to take a big swing?

It’s usually in your gut. You can just see the market changing. But you’ve always done it this way, and it starts to become your biggest worry.

Your current path might become the elephant in the room at your executive meetings. Everyone knows it’s there but no one wants to be the one to bring it up because of politics, change, and how much hard work it will take. It’s easier to just sit in the foxhole and hope no one throws in a grenade.

Trust your team and put it on the table. Allow the conversation to challenge your bias and thesis. Be able to argue all sides. Then, make your decision – keep tweaking, or take the big swing.

Once you decide, you’ll need to hold onto the idea and recast the vision. For a lot of leaders this is where it goes off the rails. It’s not a shiny object anymore so onto new things and people. This will ruin the company. If it took 2-3 years to get your business off the ground, it will take at least that long to change the direction.

You might only take 2-3 big swings in your company over a decade but they are what will take you into the future with confidence.

Check your gut. What do you need to swing at?

Dan Cooper

Dan is a Partner and Growth Catalyst for Acumen, a mastermind community that exists to sharpen, challenge, and inspire CEOs and Owners through affinity-centric advisory teams, executive coaching, and leadership acceleration workshops.