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The difference between winners and losers


Of course it’s hard to be successful by employing average people and delivering average work. But great people and work alone are no guarantee of business prosperity or longevity. Sadly, it’s much more complicated. That’s why most of the organisations whose work we have all admired over the years are also incredibly effective businesses - and why many of the up and coming stars fail to realise their potential and disappear all too quickly. Although there are some amazingly talented people around, navigating a good course through this challenging business world is harder than ever before.


Growth is almost always on the agenda when business leaders talk to us about their ambitions. Some of their expectations are unrealistic, but many do indeed have genuine potential. But only if they go about growing in the right way. This means both winning more business and managing the growth process. Even if the desired growth in revenue is generated from existing and/or new clients - without the required management focus and adaptability the experience can be very painful and end in tears.

Senior teams are rightly involved in delivering client work but very often they all get sucked deeper into working on clients as the business grows. In this situation they can feel they never have the time to address the required organisational and operational changes and things just slip. The ability of leaders and key managers to adapt their roles to the changing needs of an expanding business is a key differentiator between those that win and those that don’t.

And even when leaders do manage to create the time to focus properly on the business issues, they need to really understand the workings of their business. There is a big advantage for those who really understand how the elements of their business link together and know which levers will genuinely change their performance.


We’ve reviewed a lot of businesses and helped many of them to become more successful. Along the way it’s become clear to us that beyond the points we’ve just commented on, there are four factors that have a major impact on success.


Unless people are clear about the longer-term objectives, and the related timings, it's difficult for any business to push forward. And then the chances are that the wrong decisions will be taken at the wrong time. Too often people think they have defined where their business is going but when challenged it’s only a half-hearted attempt. There’s just some sketchy target numbers, occasionally supported with a few phrases that don’t really address what the owners really care about or what’s really important to them. It can be amazing to see how inspired and empowered a leadership team can be when the ambition is defined properly – and, in turn, the success that follows.


Everyone agrees that business development is important. But there is a huge difference in the results achieved by those businesses that really get what it’s all about and those that don’t. Too often we see businesses wasting time and money continuing their business development activities in ways that haven’t worked in the past and won’t in the future. The best organisations understand that success depends on actually winning (or defending) against competitors, rather than just being one of many in the game. They know that their positioning, clever content and marketing activities are vital business development tools and they are uncompromising in their commitment to creating new opportunities and in building relationships with their existing clients.


Quite rightly, most businesses will explain to their clients that they need to respond to the changing world around them. But doing it for themselves seems to be a very different issue. Very few are able to understand the dynamics of their clients’ worlds and evolve their own businesses accordingly. This is a characteristic associated with leaders in all service sectors – making them more successful and giving them longer life. Propositions, services, skills and ways of working all need to evolve to match client requirements. They also need to fit with the stage of development of the organisation. Even those who think they are the sharpest, smartest new business on the block need to have an eye to the future to avoid ending up playing catch up.


The old expression ‘time is money’ has never been more true. Time is indeed the enemy of progress and the ability to operate at pace is perhaps the biggest differentiator between the winners and the losers. We don’t just mean getting client work done quickly (although that does count). We mean the speed at which businesses progress initiatives, address problems, develop their people and adjust to stay on track. At the heart of this challenge is the ability to make good decisions quickly on key
issues and not to be distracted by other less important tasks. This is in part a personal skill that leaders have or need to acquire. But it’s also a question of having the right structure, people and responsibilities to allow critical issues to be identified and be dealt with fast.


There are many talented people out there with so much to offer clients and potential clients. And almost everyone is working really hard to create success for their clients and their own businesses. You may already be ahead of the game, or you may feel a bit behind and under pressure – but whatever your business situation you’d do well to focusing on the areas we’ve highlighted above. You’ll have much more chance of catching up and staying ahead.


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