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When to Grow and When to Slow

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® has asked its global members to comment on when organizations should grow or slow their growth. "Bigger isn't always better," says SAC CEO Alan Weiss, PhD. "Just ask the Citibank board of directors."

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a San Francisco Bay Area executive coach and consulting psychologist. He is the president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management consulting firm (

"Dr. Brusman notes: This economy has created both winners and losers. The quickest road to bankruptcy is to sit on your hands, do nothing, and wait for the economy to improve. No matter what industry you work in a 'business as usual' mindset will sink your ship. You have to be innovative, stand out, and market your products and services in a new way. The most important type of intelligence to gather involves your customers.

  • Which changes in this global environment can affect your business?
  • Do you have up-to-date, detailed and unfiltered information?
  • How is economic uncertainty affecting customer behaviors?

"There is a dramatic difference between business leaders who react to difficult times with a sense of futility and pessimism and those who react with determination and optimism. Optimism, and a vision for what's possible, supplies the energy to keep going, persist through challenges and come out on the other side. One of the best ways to help you know when to slow or grow your business is to work with an executive coach, who can help you see what you don't yet see. An experienced coach will stimulate your thinking and conversations about what's possible."

Wayne McKinnon, a leading Service Improvement consultant ( believes that businesses have only two natural states: growing and shrinking. Remaining the same size is not natural. Constant adjustments have to be made to prevent either unreasonable growth or atrophy. Preventing growth makes no sense; the problem is that internal swelling is often mistaken for growth when it is really atrophy in disguise.

McKinnon recommends the following brief checklist for leaders to determine if atrophy is about to set in.

  • Do you have processes to follow, or are you making it up as you go?

  • Are key decisions made with appropriate speed, or are decision points a mystery?

  • Are staff at all levels aware of their role in contributing value to the end customer, or are they performing tasks that no longer make sense?

  • Are internal service providers working together as a team to satisfy the end customer, or are they in conflict?

  • Are repeat incidents occurring because patterns are not recognized, energy is not applied to determine what the root cause is, or because no one is empowered to rectify the cause?

"As a global business consultant and operations strategist, I've found that if you stop looking at how to grow profitably, you might as well close up shop," points out Lisa Anderson, President of LMA Consulting Group, Inc. in Claremont, CA. ( "Since volatility is the new norm, instead of evaluating whether to grow or slow, it is essential to build flexibility into your business so that you can leverage whatever opportunities arise. In addition, never stop attracting and retaining top talent! To surpass your competition as opportunities arise, you need to be better, faster and always looking for diamonds in the ruff."

Gary W. Patterson, the FiscalDoctor® Atlanta, Georgia, a Fiscal Leadership Change expert and author of Million Dollar Blind suggests the costs when leaders do not "know when to grow and when to slow" are glorious opportunities missed or solvable issues allowed to fester like a bleeding wound for a little too long.

Before you can confidently evaluate where you are on a scale of 1 to 10 of uncertainty to complete confidence on this issue, ask where you recognize something in your organization from these issues either today or as a long term issue.

  • Where is your organization playing too conservatively? Playing not to lose often loses to an opponent playing to win and taking risks.

  • How well do you accurately know fiscal balance strengths and weaknesses well enough to take aggressive risks?

  • How deep is your human capital bench and how well trained are they for your future unique needs?

  • Where can your business seize top people, customers or market position from hunkered down competitors?

  • Where is your business at risk of losing top people, customers or market position from hungry motivated underrated competitors?

Gayle Lantz is Founder of WorkMatters, Inc., (, a management consulting firm based in Birmingham, AL. She says, "Ultimately the decision to grow or slow should be a strategic one. Some businesses say they want to grow, but they're not clear about where they really want to go. Executives must ensure their growth strategies are aligned with the big vision for their business."

"Determine when to accelerate and when to hit the brakes by weighing a number of factors such as: market needs, trends, financial resources, business capabilities and talent. Don't confuse speed with growth. Smart strategy trumps speed when it comes to sustainable business growth."

John Carroll, growth consultant and president of Unlimited Performance in Mount Pleasant, SC says companies should have a bias toward growth. "Growth comes into play even in a defensive posture. A business can only hold its own by growing to offset inevitable losses in revenue and downward trends in margins. That means that if a leader wants true net growth, targets first must account for anticipated churn then add that to the desired position at the end of the month, quarter or year. They might say, 'We need 25 percent more in sales to finish the period 15 percent ahead.'

"Growth includes all aspects of the business-developing people, improving and simplifying systems and processes and reviewing and sharpening strategy. As such, growth is and should be a constant," says Carroll. "Businesses can actually reduce their offerings, focus more on their top-producing lines and services and generate higher revenue and income often with greater satisfaction at all levels of the organization. For most organizations and industries, slowing down should mean simply controlled growth, the level of growth that can be sustained over time."

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