Step Back To Grow

Last week we looked at the fourth personal transformer that being battle entitlement. Today we delve into its partner in crime: stepping back to grow.

Despite what its name and description might suggest, the S-curve of transformation isn’t actually a smooth, continuous, onwards-and-upwards growth process. Transformation by definition involves moving sideways, back, or down, with all the negative connotations that conjures, in order to move forward. As a business owner, you part with profits to acquire the equipment you need to scale. As a manager, you sacrifice some of your own productivity to teach your employees new skills, making the whole team more effective down the road. As a professional, you may even accept a cut in pay or status to take the job of a lifetime. Furthermore, you might need to make course corrections, so reversing or moving in a new direction are key parts of the transformation process.

Sometimes the only way up is down. Think of the diver who crouches down before springing off the board, or the rower who strokes back to glide ahead. It’s Newton’s third law, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

It seems counter-intuitive yet those who can take a step back in order to grow will find that a sideways, backward, or downward move can become a slingshot up your personal learning curve.

When organisations get too big, they often stop exploring smaller, riskier – but possibly more lucrative markets because the resulting revenues wont have enough impact on their bottom line. It is terribly difficult to step back when you are getting better and faster at what you are current doing. But the benefits are sizable.

When you choose to step back, you can consider what you hope to learn or discover. You can do this in a planned way by deciding in advance what you hope to gain from the process – a sort of business plan for your backward move.

Whilst Yahoo does not have a large imprint in Australia it is a behemoth globally. In the nascent days of the web, Yahoo flipped the revenue model on its head when it introduced banner ads and shifted to tracking ad response rather than impressions. In pursuing the ever-higher margins and greater profits of banner ads, Yahoo dismissed opportunities like content marketing and mobile. These opportunities, once thought too small, or too much of a hassle to pursue, are now making a direct hit to the engine of Yahoo’s business.

At the level of personnel, you might decide to allow employees to rotate into each other’s roles, knowing that in the short term, there may be an impact on revenue. But in the long term, the ideas and experience that flow from this could deliver big rewards.

According to an in-depth study conducted by Accenture, high-performing companies, those that surpass their peers on financial metrics across business cycles and leadership eras, are those that develop capabilities before they need them. The average and low performing companies do not.

It is almost always better to step back than to be pushed back, but for nearly every company and individual, pushback at some point seems inescapable. A company may run up against a competitor it cannot beat and have to completely rethink its product or service, or you might be fired from a job despite your best efforts. In either instance, what feels like being pushed off a cliff can launch you to a new learning curve with greater opportunities for growth, profit and success.

Just as a company’s survival depends on revenue growth, an individual’s well-being depends on learning and advancement. For far too many, growth comes to a standstill at the top of the curve. Once we achieve a certain level, it seems there’s nowhere else to go – so we keep on doing the same thing. Those who want to grow have to jump to a new role, industry, or type of organization. The whole point of transformation is to move up the S-curve over time. When you decide to disrupt yourself through a new activity, you effectively decide to move to a new curve, possibly taking a pay and status cut, in the belief that your next curve will make transformation stick.

Just as a company’s survival depends on revenue growth, an individual’s well-being depends on learning and advancement. When organizations get too big, they stop exploring smaller, riskier but perhaps more lucrative markets because the resulting revenues won’t affect their bottom-line enough. Just as Borders was slow to embrace e-commerce in the bookselling industry, where it had been successful, people who rise to a certain tier in their careers may allow themselves to plateau. Personal growth often stalls at the top of a classic S curve. Transformers avoid that problem by jumping to a new role, industry, or type of organization and putting themselves on an entirely different growth trajectory.

Beware the undertow of the status quo. Tilt the odds in your favour. Lots of people may like you right where you are. You might like you right where you are. But there is no such thing as standing still. And sometimes, sideways turns into a sling shot.

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