Guest post by John Bell
This post celebrates the launch of former CEO John Bell’s new book, Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World. It’s easy to preach about the merits of simplification, but John takes it to the next step with real-life examples and tactical advice about how to improve results by doing ‘less better’. This post gives you a sense of where the book might take you.
The dictionary describes “momentum” as a strength or force that keeps growing. Gamblers in the rush of a hot-streak believe it. Sports teams enjoying this hidden force go on inexplicable winning streaks while opponents can’t seem to string two wins together no matter how hard they try or how ‘talented’ their roster. Those of us who watched the recent near impossible comeback by the Seattle Seahawks against the Green Bay Packers with a few minutes on the clock witnessed the incredible strength of momentum.
Business isn’t all that different. But unlike finite measurements such as sales, market share, profit, stock price or market cap, momentum remains an intangible – a powerful one. Companies short on momentum have a heck of a time finding it, and those who enjoy momentum can ride the big surf for extended periods of time. But take momentum for granted and the tide will turn – at first you won’t even realize that it has gone. And then, all of a sudden, the signposts are everywhere. No matter how hard you work to stop the erosion, the reversal is evasive.
Sustaining high growth over the long haul isn’t easy. Winners are suddenly losers. Look at Kodak, Blockbuster, Blackberry, and Nortel. Each rode the wave of success, only to come crashing down. Like the phoenix, some rise again. Leaders who suffer the tough days of turnarounds and manage to resurrect a business are the ones who think about momentum in strategic terms. These folks know the success factors that raised them from their corporate cesspool. Most will continue to leverage the factors with unabashed zeal. For example, if it was innovation and creativity that brought revival, chances are high that innovation and creativity will remain a cornerstone of their corporate culture. This is how one sustains this intangible asset.
Early in my career, I was part of a management team that swam in four years of red ink at Jacobs Suchard’s Canadian subsidiary. We just couldn’t find the momentum even though we thought we were doing all the right things. And then suddenly, our innovations in the market took hold and market share started edging up. At first we were cautiously optimistic, but after a year of impressive sales growth, it was clear that we had rediscovered momentum. Profitability followed, and with that, a very important intangible asset – confidence. Those of us who suffered those dark days of red ink would never forget the agony. Never would we allow ourselves to take momentum for granted. The shareholders benefited handsomely, and so did several young managers who were part of that company before the takeover by Kraft Foods. Those talents went on to become CEOs and business unit Presidents for such notables as Nestle, ConAgra, Anheuser Busch In-Bev, Warner-Lambert, Rogers Communications, Electronic Arts and Coca-Cola.
This lesson in sports momentum and business momentum is also a lesson in life. Think about it.
John Bell is a retired consumer packaged goods CEO and global strategy consultant to some of the world’s most respected blue-chip organizations. His latest book has just been released by Macmillan USA. Do Less Better: The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World is available at all online book sellers.