When you hear the phrase “Head for higher ground”, the most common association is to think of a pending natural disaster such as a flood. In this case, we view the higher ground from a personal perspective and a tactic to enable both personal safety and security.
Seeking a more literal definition, we look to Merriam Webster for the dictionary definition of “Higher ground” which states: “a position of advantage or superiority; especially an ethically superior position”. While this definition introduces the concept of moral superiority, for purposes of this article the more interesting element is the phrase “a position of advantage”. It is this characterization which can hold valuable implications for a discussion on both business and strategic planning.
In business, senior executives that reach the higher ground enjoy a unique competitive advantage. On the higher ground, companies command a clear 360-degree view of the competition. The organization can see what lies ahead and can plan strategically for how to chart the most efficient path for revenue and profit growth. And from the higher ground, the executive team can also view 180 degrees behind and 90 degrees to either side. Those three points of the compass are logically where you would expect to see both competition and new paths or markets for entry and additional growth.
If the higher ground offers both safety and business advantage, why don’t we spend all our time on this unique vantage point? The answer is because there is a lot of work to be done at the base of the mountain. The day to day challenges of running the business can consume all available time. The focus on quarterly results and operational challenges restricts the management view to a much shorter horizon. Executives can be so focused on the achievement of short-term goals that they may not receive warning signals. On the horizon or around the corner, trouble may be forthcoming. If we look back, there are likely several decisions and approaches we would do differently if given the opportunity. A statement we often hear is: “I never saw this coming”.
Let me illustrate the challenge with a real-world example. Several years ago, General Electric (GE) decided to enter the water technologies business. At an operational level, it appeared to be a reasonable strategic investment. However, from a higher ground perspective, it would have been clear from the onset that GE would face significant challenges with this growth strategy. For firms like Northpoint that closely follow the water technologies space, we understand that the water industry is a very fragmented business. That one factor alone should have put up a red flag for the GE executive team. Trying to take an inherently decentralized business such as water technologies and fit that business into the “GE Way” proved to be very challenging. Several years later, in 2017, GE finalized the sale of the water business to Suez. With a higher ground vantage point, strong advisement and an external perspective, this multi-year investment and loss could have been avoided.
There are essential steps that an executive team can take to maintain the safety and competitive advantage of the higher ground. These steps include:
- Annually establish a regular cadence to take a step back for 2-4 weeks from day to day business and reflect on the current business, market dynamics and forward-facing opportunities.
- Facilitate deep listening sessions without consequences to create an environment and forum that generates unvarnished input from others, inside and outside of the organization.
- Develop a set of listening posts, both inside and outside the relevant industry and market.
- Engage with objective external advisors that have a deep understanding of the industry, market and channels and a willingness to provide the executive team with unvarnished counsel.
At Northpoint, we do not believe in a single stand-alone approach to driving sustained and profitable revenue growth. Rather we recommend a focus on the revenue growth Value StackTM of which Sales Enablement and Social Selling are one critical element.
If you are interested in learning more, please contact Northpoint for an initial consultation. We are very interested in your perspective and learning more about your organizational challenges.