The plateau: Can (should) we rediscover the growth elixer?

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island in the sky plateau
Hardangervidda, the biggest plateau in Europe (Wikipedia)
Hardangervidda, the biggest plateau in Europe (Wikipedia)

As we prepare for this business’s annual meeting, I’m intrigued and challenged  by the year’s financial projections. Things are, well, about the same as last year . . . and the year before, and before that.

The planning meeting process started as we recovered from a near death experience in 2005-2006 (before the last great recession started). Sales then had spiralled to a level I hadn’t seen since the earliest years of the business, and for a while, it seemed we were heading to oblivion. Undoubtedly, the survival through that crisis had qualities closer to divine providence than any business brilliance on my part. Yet, since the recovery, the sales have remained stable, through relatively hard, as well as good, times.

Is there a reason for this plateau? Some consultants (I especially enjoy the observations of Bruce Johnson) would suggest the business leader has the greatest responsibility – in other words, I’m doing something to prevent the business from growing beyond its current size (and possibly, though I don’t want to take credit for it) also preventing it from failing.

The “why” may relate to comfort zones, personal values, and other qualities, but I’m not sure it is so simple. Technological revolutions have created crisis-type experiences in traditional advertising-supported publishing businesses. A few of our old competitors (in business long before me) have survived by evolving, generally by creating enough value in their core database and online abilities to generate subscription and transaction revenue. (Traditional broadcasters and newspaper publishers are suffering, though.) We’ve been able to maintain enough market share within our specialized niche and enough pricing power to survive — and we’ve outlasted most of our major more recently established competitors, as well.

I would like to visualize starting the planning meeting with a growth vision that will take things forward to bigger and much better things.  Maybe the plateau isn’t such a bad place to be. Maybe, however, we’ll find some answers to rekindle the growth spark.

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