How Companies Can Speed Up the Business of Business Building

New ventures often fail—but digital capabilities change the odds. By following a business-building playbook based on your company’s strategic assets, you can accelerate growth dramatically.

Cracking the growth code: The ten rules of growth explained

Experts behind the rules of value-creating growth discuss how leaders can apply these insights to their growth strategies.

Growth rules: Which matter most?

Ten rules should guide how companies select pathways to profitable growth, but each rule’s impact on performance varies considerably.

Chris Bradley, Rebecca Doherty

If you can achieve consistent growth, that’s the surest ticket to outperformance, but only 10 percent of companies manage to do that over a decade. Those that can’t should consider a strategy we call “shrink to grow.” This is like pruning back and then growing from there. Over a ten-year period, you may have one or two major dips in your growth that represent large … [ Read more ]

Chris Bradley

Oftentimes, companies think that growth is sacrificial—you have to endure long periods of low profit to generate growth. That is not true. The order is not growth followed by profit; it’s high returns followed by growth. In fact, companies that begin with returns on capital higher than the cost of capital go on to grow at double the rate of those that don’t start out … [ Read more ]

Ron Carucci, Jarrod Shappell

Governance design — which defines who gets to make decisions and allocate resources — is often too complicated or unclear to be effective. For a strategy to be successful, those closest to the most relevant information, budgets, and problems are the best equipped to make decisions. When leaders have proximity to an issue but no authority, authority without the needed resources, or control of the … [ Read more ]

Time—The Next Source of Competitive Advantage

The ways leading companies manage time—in production, in new product development and introduction, in sales and distribution—represent the most powerful new sources of competitive advantage.

Editor’s Note: This is a classic HBR article that was assigned reading when I was a student. It has held up pretty well 35 years on.

Choosing to grow: The leader’s blueprint

Driving sustainable, inclusive growth requires the right mindset, strategy, and capabilities. Here are some steps that could help foster successful growth.

George Stalk, Jr.

At most companies, strategic choices are limited to three options:

  1. Seeking coexistence with competitors. This choice is seldom stable, since competitors refuse to cooperate and stay put.
  2. Retreating in the face of competitors. Many companies choose this course; the business press fills its pages with accounts of companies retreating by consolidating plants, focusing their operations, out-sourcing, divesting businesses, pulling out of markets, or moving upscale.
  3. Attacking, either

[ Read more ]

George Stalk, Jr.

Today’s new-generation companies compete with flexible manufacturing and rapid-response systems, expanding variety and increasing innovation. A company that builds its strategy on this cycle is a more powerful competitor than one with a traditional strategy based on low wages, scale, or focus. These older, cost-based strategies require managers to do whatever is necessary to drive down costs: move production to or source from a low-wage … [ Read more ]

George Stalk, Jr.

Avoiding price competition by moving into higher margin products is called margin retreat—a common response to stepped-up competition that eventually leads to corporate suicide. As a company retreats, its costs rise as do its prices, thus “subsidizing” an aggressive competitor’s expansion into the vacated position. The retreating company’s revenue base stops growing and may eventually shrink to the point where it can no longer support … [ Read more ]

Uniting Strategy and Risk Management to Seize Opportunity in Uncertainty

Today’s more uncertain environment calls for newer, more dynamic approaches to risk management and strategic planning. Successful companies foster a culture of strategic humility, anticipatory preparedness, and a willingness to act to own the future as it unfolds. And they have four critical characteristics:

  • They see risk as a two-sided coin with challenge on one side and opportunity on the other.
  • They explore the strategic implications of

[ Read more ]

James Heskett

One useful way to think about the relationship between culture and strategy is that an effective culture can provide a competitive advantage for a very long time, often much longer than any strategy. This is a particular advantage in a world in which some claim that strategy today confers only short-term competitive advantage.

How to Move from Strategy to Execution

Three out of every five companies rate their organization as weak on strategy execution. When you dig into the potential barriers to implementation, there is a general lack of understanding of the various factors at play, resulting in the inevitable managerial justifications — “poor leadership,” “inadequate talent,” “lack of process excellence,” etc. This article suggests three key steps to build the right execution system: 1) … [ Read more ]

Ecosystems for the rest of us

Before companies can benefit from collaborations, they must be clear about their role.

Andrew Campbell, Mikel Gutierrez

Strategies rarely say much about specific operations. In fact, when a strategy is complete, there are usually many questions left to be answered: what do you want me to do? by when? how much will this cost? do we have the budget? do I have clearance to hire extra people? what IT changes are needed? what can be outsourced? what new skills will we need? … [ Read more ]

Design Your Organization to Match Your Strategy

An organization is nothing more than a living embodiment of a strategy. That means its “organizational hardware” (i.e., structures, processes, technologies, and governance) and its “organizational software” (i.e., values, norms, culture, leadership, and employee skills and aspirations) must be designed exclusively in the service of a specific strategy. Research suggests that only 10% of organizations are successful at aligning their strategy with their organization design. … [ Read more ]

Ulrich Pidun, Martin Reeves, Maximilian Schüssler

A business ecosystem is a dynamic group of largely independent economic players that create products or services that together constitute a coherent solution.

This definition implies that each ecosystem can be characterized by a specific value proposition (the desired solution) and by a clearly defined, albeit changing, group of actors with different roles (such as producer, supplier, orchestrator, complementor). The definition excludes some of the more … [ Read more ]

Four Questions Every Marketplace Startup Should Be Able to Answer

Marketplace businesses can be messy, and every gain is hard earned. After all, you’re dealing with an ecosystem of participants — buyers and sellers — that’s constantly in flux, their needs and desires changing over time. Unfolding in both online transactions and offline interactions, marketplaces are organic and dynamic.

Marketplace leaders need to be experts in the dynamics of their platforms. Identify those dynamics in … [ Read more ]

How the 100 largest marketplaces solved the chicken and egg problem

This essay presents the findings from a six month marketplace research project. There has been a lot written about online marketplaces and the goal was to test these theories by exploring data from a broader set of companies. The authors started by making a list of every marketplace founded, identifying 4,500 companies in total, then collected public data to classify and compare these companies