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Conventional wisdom says many startups fail within the first few years and people tend to agree with that. Keith Speights at the Motley Fool revealed data suggesting that half of all newly founded companies survive until about the fifth year. While only a third of businesses run for a full decade, the ones that last that long start to accrue serious advantages. “The good news is that survival rates begin to flatten out after several years of operation. The longer a business lasts, the more likely it is to last even longer.” That means scrappy upstarts and eager small businesses have to focus their efforts on sustainable growth rather than instant success.
So what is sustainable growth and how should business leaders realistically approach it? Rosemary Peavler at the Balance Small Business did us all the favor of breaking it down in accessible terms. “The sustainable growth rate in a business is the maximum growth rate a business can achieve without having to increase its financial leverage or debt financing,” clarified Peavler. In other words, the sustainable growth rate is the business equivalent of the Goldilocks zone—not too little and not too much.
There is, unfortunately, no way to guarantee sustainable growth when each and every organization is trying to realize a unique value proposition. There are, however, several factors likely to contribute to it. Faisal Hoque at Fast Company emphasized as much back in 2015. “Even though modern circumstances are different for entrepreneurs,” he wrote. “[The] fundamentals of sustainable growth remain the same.” Hoque proceeded to highlight everything from developing an authentic purpose and a powerful brand to forging powerful partnerships and cultivating adaptive leadership. Readers should recognize that the activities described by him are no trivial undertaking—there’s significant nuance involved.
We can use cultivating adaptive leadership is an illustrative case in point. Countless organizations devote precious time and resources to leadership training expecting positive outcomes but rarely see them realized. Researchers at Harvard Business Review explained why it fails and what to do about it. Many efforts are doomed from inception because they aren’t aligned with those responsible for the learning itself. “The primary reason senior executives and HR invest in management training is to make their leaders and organizations more effective,” stressed the authors. “[The] results on that front have been disappointing.” Few of us probably relish the idea of forced or coerced instruction, especially if it’s for the sake of productivity.
This isn’t to imply that formalized career education is somehow worthless, only that sincere forethought has to be applied to the initiative before people are asked to comply. Thoughtful approaches might look very different depending on the situation, but suffice it to say inclusivity ought to prevail. In other words, treat employees like the key stakeholders they really are. Consider enlisting the aid of experts to better champion the cause. TrainingABC is one such specialized firm focused on helping companies actively improve leadership.
It’s essential for business leaders to acknowledge that motivation dovetails with performance. Asking employees to adopt and master things deemed important by some else who isn’t responsible for the learning is a recipe for disaster. That means having the right buy-in and incentive structures. Inc. contributor, Kristopher Jones, insisted a nearly identical stance while describing the five most common leadership mistakes. Poor communication, inadequate focus, improper delegation, and excessive micromanagement, were all cited as major culprits. Jones then concluded the article by promoting appropriate training, motivation, and reward—the perfect trifecta.
The nature of our global marketplace invites tremendous complexity and with that so, too, comes unprecedented uncertainty. There are very few corners to cut when it comes to building a thriving business from scratch. Corporate leadership is no exception. Sustainable growth demands judicious decision making, yet far too much attention is often paid to strategic initiatives and debating product or service improvements when it is the leadership in charge that must be addressed. Now is the time to reconsider whether or not leadership training is having a positive or detrimental impact on sustainable growth.