The Rise of Growth Strategies

Companies and organisations have reacted differently to the economic difficulties, some with failure, some with declining sales and a few with success. As I look back over the last two years, reflecting on my client work and projects and reviewing others, I see a trend in company responses. It can be summarised, simply, as disbelief, cost cutting, staff layoff and trying to sell more. Although I have written it as linear, in reality this has often been circular, with companies seemingly going round in circles trying different things, finding it not to work and then trying something else.  I think the way out of these economic difficult times is a company-specific, tailored Growth strategy. Some companies have started to look at a more strategy, concerted and structured approach to generate growth. What I would call ‘Growth Strategy’ – and which is where, I believe, we all should be focussing our energies.

There is only so much cost cutting a company can do, only so many staff to lay off, only so much equipment and technology not to replace or purchase. Cost cutting does not necessarily mean increased sales as so many companies have discovered. Yes, we do need to keep costs contained and in line with sales revenues and profit margins, but I advocate that we need to seek additional sales and search after new customers and markets. This is what I mean by a growth strategy – a planned and structured approach to growing the business in as many different ways as possible resulting in increased sales revenues and bottom line margins.

I think this is true of both the private sector as well as the public/voluntary sectors. I will write about ‘growth strategies in the public/voluntary sectors in another blog – but for now, I will concentrate on what a company growth strategy should look like.

As I reflect and analyse what I see and have done, I think it is possible to write a growth strategy in terms of a simple formula. I think there is value in this as it demystifies strategy into something that people at all levels in the company can understand. This is important because we need our people to actively engage with our growth strategy if we wish for success. In all my successful growth projects with clients, and I have many, there are recurring key themes or components that must be included and optimised for growth to happen. I represent it as this: –

Growth = [CI+ I] . S . R

I explain the terms and my thinking like this:

Growth – I think we need to move away from simply saying growth and try to put a value on it. A successful growth strategy will have a target number and a logical and defined approach for its achievement supported by appropriate milestones. Whilst not all my clients set numeric growth targets experience suggests those who do have more probability of success.

CI = Continuous Improvement. There are two key aspects of growth and one is the relentless pursuit of excellence, what we call Continuous Improvement. It comes from the Japanese word ‘kaisen’ meaning small improvements involving everyone. This is best done as a team or small group series of projects/activities continuously working on real issues at a low level. The benefits from these small improvement projects can best be seen by using the Productivity Triad:

Quality = or rather the Cost of Poor Quality (CoPQ)
Time = time saved is money, but only if you use it to do something else
Cost = hard pounds saved

Research has shown that as much as 15% annually. Can be added to the bottom line for up to around 5 years. It requires commitment, energy and focus and is not easy to do.

I = Innovation. Small improvements by themselves are not enough. The Japanese economy has been in a 10-year recession and still shows poor growth. Breakthrough thinking and the execution of change are required in an ongoing and structured way. Innovation is not easy to understand as it can mean different things to different people. People also find it quite difficult to do on a daily basis that actually creates new or additional value. I ensure that innovation that I work on with clients is focused on the high priority/impact areas such as problem solving, process design, new product/service development, new business model, market niches, customer classifications and delivering customer service in new and exciting ways.

S = Skills. If you want people to work differently, more productively and creatively, then you have to give them new skills. It’s that simple. I have seen much good Organisation Development (OD) fail because of a lack of skill in people, and this is true at all levels from owner/SMT right down to operator level. It’s why in all my client work I ensure a transfer of skills so that when the project is executed and I leave the company has the skills to continue to grow and develop. It’s what is call teaching people how to fish (see my other blog).

R = Receptiveness to Change. Why is it that most OD, improvement projects and growth strategies either fail or at best do not live up to expectations? I think it is the level of receptiveness to change, not just of the company but also of the market in which the company operates. I think it can be written algebraically this way:

R = IC . M

IC is the Internal Company receptiveness for change. All companies are at different and varying levels of organisational development. Some are ready for change, others less so. As I reflect on success and failure, I have developed this simple scale to help put a number on it:

1= Perfect receptivity, usually brought about by a loss of a major contract, substantial fall in sales, staff losses or pending layoffs or a new senior leader or manager.

0.75 = Good receptivity, usually brought about through a wake up call, or a severe shock or warning.

0.5 = Fair receptivity, the usual state of most companies in the current economic times. Everyone knows its bad and change is required, but maybe it’ll not happen to me, my team, or my company.

0.25 = Poor receptivity, not a good situation to be in, a feeling of misplaced belief that it cannot happen here or to me.

0 = Disaster is imminent.

M = is Market Readiness to accept the change. The condition of the market, your competitors, problems and perceptions all have an impact on its readiness or receptivity for change. As I reflect on success and failure, I have developed this simple scale to help put a number on it:

1 = Perfect receptivity, usually brought about by a market failure, sever problems with current solutions, customer awareness of ‘there must be a better way than this’.

0.75 = Good receptivity, usually brought about by knowing and understanding current problems and issues your customers have with your products or services. Good problem solving, process improvement or improved design will be well received by most current customers.

0.5 = Fair receptivity, the usual market reaction to SME’s, companies without strong brands, local businesses, when competing against large multi-national corporates or where your products/services are often seen as commodity like or without clear competitive advantage or differentiation.

0.25 = Poor receptivity, usually where your company is just a small player or one of a large number of players and you have little market impact or influence.

0 = Disaster is imminent.

You will notice in the formula I wrote it as R = IC . M
I believe this is what happens, as the impact is magnified when you multiply the two numbers (or quotients) together, making the lack of receptivity much more impacting.

In Conclusion

As a reflect on my work and the work of others, always I am trying to observe patterns, comparisons and differences, trying to see insights and new perspectives. During this last year I have worked with many clients from micro-enterprise, SME through to large corporate, and this framework accurately reflects some of I successes that my clients and I have enjoyed.

This growth framework or formula Growth = [CI+ I] . S . R is best used in two ways, firstly (i) as a framework for a focused and ideally facilitated deep-dive discussion to identify where you should be focussing your efforts and resources for maximum impact and secondly (ii) as a formula to work out some numbers and see just exactly what growth is possible, ideally over a, relatively short, 2-year period. This growth strategy now becomes an important document, helping you in conversations with banks, financial advisers, stakeholders, key customers and suppliers and staff.

Like all these things, it’s easier said than done. I have a range of new thinking tools, techniques, methods and approaches to facilitate clients helping them to design and execute their most appropriate growth strategy, transferring the skills as I go.

I will write about Continuous Improvement and Innovation in my next blogs and explore in more detail how to execute these components of my recommended growth strategy.
Dr Adrian Gundy is an Organisational Development consultant with the Centre for Competitiveness. If you would like to discuss with me how I could assist you design your business growth strategy please contact me

Minister Launches Gold Star for Customer Service Excellence

A word from the Minister at the launch of Gold Star for Customer Service Excellence Recognition Scheme on 23 June 2011.

A healthy and vibrant SME business community is vital if we are to grow the private sector, rebalance the economy and create new jobs. Northern Ireland, as a relatively small regional economy on the periphery of Europe, faces significant economic challenges.

The capability of our SME community to compete in Europe and further afield is essential if our private sector is to grow and prosper.

The ‘Gold Star’ for Customer Service Excellence Recognition scheme implemented by the Centre for Competitiveness, working with NI Chamber of Commerce and The Consumer Council, is a significant milestone in the area of business support.  The pilot programme of six companies has been particularly successful with the participants all reporting tangible and real business impact.

I welcome the opportunity to launch the Gold Star Scheme, which will help small and medium businesses develop the world-class levels of customer service that will help them to compete effectively on the global business stage.


Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Industry

Arlene Foster

Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment


Airporter Wins Gold Star

This is a really good example of the work I do with clients. Airporter is a family run business based in Derry/Londonderry that runs the bus to the Belfast airports service. In September 2010 they enrolled in the Gold Star for Customer Service Excellence programme. I worked with them over a period of six months, and they were accredited Gold Star on 15th April 2011. They were presented with their Gold Star certificate on 23 June 2011 by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment Arlene Foster MLA.

I worked along side the company at key stages in the Gold Star organisational development process, facilitating workshops, coaching staff, bringing insights and a fresh perspective on designing processes to deliver sustained and repeated world-class customer service. This was very much a ‘do it with you’ facilitation, transferring skills as we went thus ensuring  maximum impact. Here is a short mini case study setting our some of the early wins and benefits. If you prefer you can watch the short film! –

Company Name: Airporter

Address: 1 Bay Road, Culmore Road

City Derry~Londonderry       Post Code BT48 7SH    Tel 02871 269996

Contact Name Jennifer McKeever             Position Director


Company Background

Airporter is a family run transport company based in Derry/Londonderry providing a direct scheduled coach service connecting the North West with the 2 Belfast Airports. The business was established in 1996 and now carries 80,000 passengers a year and employs 20 people. Airporter has developed a reputation for being an industry leader in innovation and quality of service. In 2009 Airporter was the first coach company in Northern Ireland to introduce free WiFi on board the whole fleet and in 2010 introduced the first online reservation system for coach travel in Northern Ireland.

Why we committed to “Gold Star” Customer Service Excellence

We were looking for a system to ensure consistent delivery of service and best practice across the whole organization, a way of defining everyone’s responsibilities with regards to how we treat our customers, and ultimately, a way of promoting our customer service standards to attract more passengers.

Reaction and Impact

The reaction from staff was excellent, and the results from the first audit were startling: we could clearly see that while the management team were involved with activities which clearly addressed Customer Service excellence, we weren’t sharing nearly enough with the staff so we had many areas of what Adrian called “divergence”. We also found that while there was clearly an ethos of customer service, we had a great deal to do to clearly define what was expected by staff, management and customer. We began with customer service training (including Customer Service NVQ’s for 13 staff members) and then began to put in place tangible guidelines including a Customer Service Charter, a staff handbook and set up monthly team meetings. While we were delighted to have successfully achieved our accreditation, we are even more pleased with the process and the results at the end of it.

Expected Medium & Long Term Business Benefits

  • A more empowered staff who are better trained to deliver excellent service and to promote the company and our values.
  • A better communication channel with our customers to ensure we are developing in a way that is responsive to their needs.
  • A more comprehensive system which captures complements, complaints and comments and tracks the progress of improvements
  • A more defined brand for Airporter, which encourages our customers to leave their cars at home and use the Airporter.
  • A more structured approach to business planning which will make expansion more ambitious, more profitable and more organized
  • A better management system including new KPI’s and definition of success.
  • Ultimately, a more stream lined and profitable company making Airporter a role model for small businesses in transport and beyond.
Intention to Work Toward “Gold Star” Role Model – Yes!!!!!

Airporter - the bus to the Belfast Airports

New Approach to Consultancy

Skills transfer as part of any consultancy project is very important to me. My style is very much facilitative with an emphasis on ‘do it with you’ and not ‘do it to you’. The transfer of new skills so that clients can take on the new working routines and further build upon them is a key strategy in my consultancy projects. I design and deliver many training workshops, both as stand-alone sessions and as part of in-house projects, and the design and delivery of these workshops is of critical importance to me. I wrote this white paper on my thoughts and reasonings that underpin all my training.

I am a Chartered Marketer and a fully accredited Associate Higher Education Lecturer, I holds a Doctorate in Divinity, am a licensed EFQM Excellence Model European Assessor and Benchmark Index Adviser. I am registered with Invest NI as an Innovation and Business Direction (Marketing) solutions consultant. I have developed a portfolio of training and personal development workshops from a blend of bought-in syllabi, licensed materials and original work. They are all characterised by my 4-step learning approach and engaging delivery style as explained below.
Training workshops
I have over fifteen years experience in the design and delivery of training, technical skills and personal development training workshops and programmes. I currently have over ten (10) training workshops in my portfolio covering all aspects of management and leadership development at all levels from Director/Senior Manager to Team Leader to Entrepreneur. This extensive portfolio is fully modular in design and delivery, enabling full tailoring and customisation for personal development programmes to be bundled to meet specific needs of clients.

Learning Methods

Each training and development workshop designed by me is delivered against my specific model of learning: –

Educate – Formal teaching of principles, techniques, tools and methods. The focus is on the concepts and rationale behind the learning, the high level context.

Demonstrate – Worked examples are used to illustrate and demonstrate how the technique, tool and method works in practice, how it is deployed and executed.

Imitate – Trainees are asked to mimic the learning by working through an actual problem or scenario, using the learning to reach a conclusion. This active problem solving type approach challenges trainees to think about the technique, tool or method in its application.

Consolidate – Trainees are asked to present back to the wider groups their feelings on how it went, their learning and insights. This is an important part of learning as the challenge of presenting back to the wider group makes them think differently about their learning experience.

Buddy and Group – Looking for a different perspectives and viewpoints, discussing issues and sharing ideas.

Presentation – Listening to how others see it, their views, what they learned and how it was for them. People learn in different ways and see different things. Learning from other trainees experience is a powerful addition to the formal training of the trainer.

Participation – Learning by doing, proven to increase to over 80% the learning effectiveness.

Sharing the learning – Identifying key learning points and valuable insights.

Learning by playing games – The majority of sessions include games in the first module, to act as an icebreaker and build team spirit, an emotional commitment to learning. It is much more powerful than this, research has shown that learning effectiveness can be increased by over 100% with good, well researched and designed games that fit the training objectives. I have a supply chain of USA based training and research companies and purchases its games from proven reputable companies.

Learning by discovery – A powerful technique that build an emotional understanding and connection between the trainee and the learning point, they feel that they have worked it out for themselves, and dramatically increases learning effectiveness.

Learning Style

These new and effective learning methods are integrated into a linked and compatible combined or bundled approach, and are delivered with new training workshops styles and protocols, including: –

De Bono 6 Thinking Hats – Harnessing individual and team learning behaviours, White; Red; Yellow; Black; Green; Blue.

There are no stupid or silly questions; care and time is taken to create a safe environment to learn.

Personal Risk Assessing & Taking is encouraged, encouraging challenge and using the power to change personally as trainees develop, to make change back in the work place less of a barrier to growth.

Establishing Creativity and Lateral Thinking as the normal practice and way of working, working smarter not just harder.

Engaging a commitment that all trainees will want to learn something new.

Taking time to the building of a “We are a Team” approach to learning and development.

Typical Workshop Design

It is practice for me to tailor and customise all offerings to clients to ensure they meet the specific needs expressed and to maximise learning effectiveness, behaviour change and value for money. This is an example to illustrate:

Half-Day Training Workshop – Building the Team

This training module is built upon research carried out into the characteristics of successful and high performing teams. The learning is presented in the form of a game, The Seven Seas Company. A participants guide is included in the appendices. The Seven C’s of effective and high performing teams are:

  1. Clarity
  2. Capability
  3. Collaboration
  4. Commitment
  5. Communication
  6. Continuous Improvement
  7. Creativity

The game involves delegate getting into teams and constructing a ship’s mast from a bag of plastic materials, performing against a set of criteria. Each team then reviews their performance against the Seven C’s and captures learning and insights. The game is repeated two more times with changing criteria. The overall session outcome is a strategy and action plan to commit to improve personal team performance and effectiveness back in the workplace.

This game is typical of the games used by me in learning and training workshops. It is based upon academic research with proven learning outputs and outcomes. The materials are professional and attractive, there is a full participants guide and information pack to take away. The focus is on learning in the style described above, with a focus on action and encouraging changes in behaviours. Training with consequently behaviour changes is quite meaningless.




10 Welcome and Overview – participants discuss challenges that affect their work team’s effectiveness
25 Game Round #1 – Introduction of the Seven C’s of successful team building. In teams, participants build the tallest ship mast possible using the materials provided. Facilitator monitors team performance.
20 Round #1 – Debrief and discussion. Participants complete and assessment. Both participants and observers (if used) share thoughts and reactions to the experience. Facilitator leads a large group discussion on the team’s effectiveness at working together.
25 Round #2 – In teams, participants build a ship mast faster, better and cheaper than in round #1. Facilitator observes team performance.
20 Round #2 – Debrief and discussion. Participants complete an assessment and share thoughts, reactions and insights regarding their Round #2 performance.
25 Seven C’s to Effective Team Performance. Facilitator presents information about the Seven C’s. Participants explore strategies and actions for improving in each of the Seven C’s.
20 Round #3 – In teams, participants creatively design and build a ship model using specific criteria. Facilitator (with observers if used) observes team performance.
15 Round #3 – Debrief and discussion. Participants share thoughts, reactions and insights.
25 Action Planning – Participants think about their work teams and identify strategies and actions for improving at least one of the Seven C’s on the job.

Summary of Training Workshops

This workshop example for a half-day demonstrate the typical design type, learning outcome focus and delivery style of my training workshops. Full details of the materials for all my workshops are available on request. My approach to learning and personal development is clearly set out, with the focus on both learning outputs and, more importantly, learning outcomes, and is built into every consultancy project so that the project is not just executed, but the client’s staff “learn to fish!”.

Dr Adrian Gundy. Innovation & Leadership. e-mail