Bigger… or Greater

I recently had the opportunity to hear a talk by Bo Burlingham, author of Small Giants, and his latest endeavor, Finish Big.  Most of his comments were about lessons learned from his ongoing studies of small, but great companies. One of the common themes of these companies was that the desire to be great was a much more compelling factor than the drive to get big. Anchor Steam and Clif Bar are a couple examples of these types of companies.

In listening to him, something began to dawn on me. The annual objective setting process for most companies with whom I have worked, begins with the identification of increased revenue growth. All of the other financial dominos line up after that, and hopefully the revenue targets result in higher net profit. For nonprofits, funding may be substituted for revenue growth, but you get the picture. My guess is your organization follows a similar pattern.

My curiosity now has me wondering how many organizations start their growth conversations with a question like, “what must we do to be 15% greater this year,” (vs. how do we achieve 15% more sales growth). Another way to ask the question is something such as, “if we are going to be truly great for our customers, employees, communities, and everyone else, what do we have to do?” You have probably had conversations like that. However, which question gets the most emphasis – revenue or greatness?

Recognize that these questions are by no means mutually exclusive. In fact, those great companies, regardless of size, tend to grow, but it is often more intentional, maybe even controlled. Bo cited examples of organizations which deliberately passed on converting their wonderful and distinct small operations into some kind of national franchise. The lure of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars by expanding into more markets was not as important as remaining loyal to their pursuit of greatness.

I remember talking recently with a fellow who had started a small car service. In our conversation, he mentioned that the business was doing quite well. In the Lyft and Uber world, he had s string of businesses that used his company for local transportation in the city where he operated. The customers paid a little more, for what apparently was a lot more fulfillment. Most likely those customers saw his service as great, while the others were viewed simply as good. I might even go out on a limb and suggest that many of you, have continually done business with – even paid a little more for – a service or product provider that in some way wow’ed you a bit.

In today’s wacky world, you better be doing more than just focusing on revenue. You can make the case that it is possible to achieve some degree of success here, simply by raising prices across the board, or acquiring another organization and combining revenues. If this is your plan, you had better hope that there are no disruptors in your market, small or large, who want to be great for your customers. Heed this warning: you are not entitled to your customers. You have to earn their business every day. Finding ways to increase value is usually the better strategy than relying on price hikes.

Perhaps this year as you have your annual objective setting meetings about growth, you can interject the notion of greatness into the conversation. If it is always going to be solely about the numbers, you need to know that. You may be OK with it, or you may need something more. Personally, I hope the concept of greatness becomes ongoing, because that is when a lot of cool innovations occur, and fulfillment in the work dramatically increases.

Lead On.

Share Your Thoughts