How Companies Accidentally Slow Down Their Growth

In current economic times, many companies are struggling to figure out how to keep their growth going strong amidst market slowdowns. This is especially true in some industries, like technology, which enjoyed an accelerated pace of growth in recent years, thanks to the forced digitization of many businesses during the pandemic. This phenomenon created abnormally high growth rates for some companies, which reset the idea of what was normal and sustainable, and artificially inflated market expectations.

But whether in times of economic boom or bane, growth initiatives within companies frequently fail. Leaders of areas of high potential for growth face one major challenge that underpins all others. It’s a challenge that is quite complex, but subtle (often invisible), and therefore not discussed very often: gaining mindshare.

Ironically, the areas of a business that have the highest potential for growth are not usually the ones that naturally get the most attention from everyone at a company. Instead, the area that constitutes the majority of revenue and customers tends to reign supreme. Unfortunately, those areas are also usually the slowest growers. Yet, when a particular area of business makes up the lion’s share of business operations, they also get more mindshare, and thus, the budgets and staff that tend to follow.

A fast-growing area of a business must gain enough mindshare to be top of mind. It can fuel a company’s growth, but without enough visibility, employees will not pay attention to it. When teams divert their gaze to the part of the business that makes up most of the revenue, instead of the fastest-growing areas, they fail to prioritize the areas of highest-growth potential. Then, businesses slow down. Sometimes they may even lumber to a complete halt.

Unfortunately, this common phenomenon within a company creates inertia, making it difficult for the larger business to ever pick up the pace of growth and accelerate. This predictable, gravitational pull tugs everyone toward the area of a business with the most revenue and customers, even if the biggest area happens to also be the slowest. While allowing a company to deprioritize the fastest-growing areas might seem to defy all business sense, most employees do not naturally want to focus on what will drive the highest growth for your business in the long term and create momentum. They tend to focus on the more familiar areas instead. As a result, the high-growth business area suffers, and the entire company misses the opportunity to truly accelerate velocity.

Three Ways the Battle for Mindshare Can Manifest

This common fight for mindshare shows up in several ways in businesses. Here are a few examples.

1. New Product Lines That Get Too Little Attention

Companies notoriously come up with new product lines, only to fail to properly support them to sufficiently so they can realize their full potential. When I oversaw new product development at a company that had most of its revenue concentrated in just two products, I had to continually advocate for mindshare — from salespeople, from marketing, from customer service, and so on — to get more attention on these new products that could enable more cross-sell opportunities for our top two revenue-producing product lines, new hooks into larger accounts to boost retention, and most importantly, generate net new revenue to keep the overall business growing.

2. New Markets Fight for Visibility in Global Businesses

As anyone who has worked within a global company will tell you, the same phenomenon commonly unfolds with international business too. At most global businesses, the domestic market enjoys most if not all of the mindshare at a company, but is rarely the fastest-growing market. Employees naturally shy away from the complex and the unknown that new foreign markets represent. They want to stay comfortable and focused on the familiar, their home market, which usually drives the majority of revenue. But when they do, they miss out on the areas that will yield the best overall growth for the company in the long term, which are frequently outside of their home market.

3. Recent Acquisitions Struggle to Get Any Sunlight

A third scenario where mindshare is difficult to garner, but vital to growth, is with mergers and acquisitions. Of the trillions of dollars spent annually on acquisitions, between 70 and 90% end in failure. Companies often acquire new businesses with the goal of keeping the revenue growth fire burning strong, only to find operational challenges ensue. So many of the companies that are acquired become deprioritized, orphaned, and neglected. When they don’t get sufficient mindshare, customers, employees, executives, and even investors lose out.

When I worked at a research and advisory firm with an M&A practice, we helped with financial due diligence, and to determine whether a business would be a good initial fit. But where we often saw the acquiring companies fall down and miss out on the true potential was later down the road. Even if they did a good job initially with integrating the new business into their overall structure, they often failed later on to support the newly-acquired, faster-growing area of the business, so it could get enough attention internally to keep fueling growth longer-term.

Strategies to Capture More Internal Mindshare

It’s not enough to politely ask for more support and sponsorship for high-growth areas of your business. The challenge of capturing more mindshare, especially in large companies, requires tactics that are much more specific and direct.

Here are some strategies I’ve used to keep the energy levels up for high-growth areas of business, and that you can employ to capture more internal mindshare to help your company grow.

1. Make the employees in the high-growth business area aware they have strong advocates

As a first and foundational step, you’ll need to focus on building trust with the employees in your overlooked but high-potential area of growth for your business. Meet with as many of them as you can, and not just existing leaders. Extend your efforts to build relationships as many layers deep as you can. The reason you should do this first is that if you don’t, employees can feel the gravitational pull. They know the area of business they’re associated with isn’t a high priority. Let them know they have champions who are going to help.

There will always be a percentage of leaders who are about to move on, and especially in areas of the business that don’t get enough attention. If you start creating relationships with these individuals and their direct reports as early as possible, you can support them and possibly even help retain key leaders. They need to know that you see their business value in the bigger picture, even if others don’t yet, and that you can see they have an integral role to play at your company in the long term.

2. Enable greater visibility for the high-growth business area

Cast a spotlight on the employees and leaders of your high-growth business area. Pull them into meetings with executives and allow them to shine. Make introductions and bring them into key conversations. By doing this, you are weaving them into the broader fabric of your company. Additionally, use your voice to promote their efforts in company communications channels, all-hands meetings, messaging channels, and so on.

And while it might seem a bit counter-intuitive, place them in cross-functional task forces that have little if anything to do with their area of the business. This will not only give them visibility in the least expected places, but allow them to contribute in ways that are non-traditional, perhaps giving them access to teams and departments they normally wouldn’t encounter. I’ve often referred to this as a “cross-pollination strategy,” in which I try to plant people from the high-growth business area in initiatives where they can gain exposure and make an impact, thereby drawing attention to the area of the business they’re most strongly associated with.

3. Infuse the goals of the high-growth business area into the broader organizational goals

No amount of work you do for visibility and advocacy is going to succeed if the high-growth business area doesn’t have targets that show up in the goals for other parts of the business. They simply won’t get the support they need if there isn’t shared accountability that extends beyond just their own business area. Teams around your company simply will not care about the part of your business that is contributing the highest levels of growth if it doesn’t show up in their own functional or team-based goals. It often takes time, but it’s incredibly important to ensure that other teams are valuing your highest-growth business area within their own KPIs and OKRs.

That said, this is not easy, because no one person, outside of the CEO or perhaps the COO, can possibly have the cross-functional reach to ensure that the fast-growing area of business is considered, let alone incorporated across all departments and teams that need to have it in mind. For this reason, turn to operational leaders and ideally executives who already have purview or influence across many different functions. Only then can you truly cascade the priorities of the fast-growing area of business into all the places that will require alignment in order to pave the way for success.

4. Piggyback the high-growth business area onto other important initiatives

One technique that can prove successful to help elevate mindshare for a high-growth business area is what I call the “hitch your wagon to a star” play. When you use this tactic, you clarify the important role the high-growth business area can play to fuel or enhance other popular initiatives at your company. Perhaps the CEO has a pet project and a new team focused on getting it off the ground, but the high-growth business area happens to have people with experience and knowledge in this area. Is there a way the high-growth business area can play a role in it? This often helps to forge new relationships to promote further integration, but also grants more visibility to key people from the high-growth business area along the way.

In order to have success with this technique, you’ll need to have your antennae finely tuned to the top priorities that already have buy-in. Also, you’ll need to make it clear that your fast-growing business area can help them achieve their goals. You might also need to think creatively in order to figure out where you have an “in” to connect the high-growth business area to the broader business. For example, let’s say your product development team has some key priorities on their roadmap for the year ahead. Will those initiatives make an outsized impact for the high-growth area at your company that can help the product team accomplish their goals? If so, size it up, make it clear and tangible, and approach the team to build a relationship and join forces.

5. Make human connections, even if it’s “just” one by one

You’ll need to take a hands-on approach to connecting individuals from the fast-growing area of business to the rest of the company. While tedious, this is critical work. People will be more likely to take the high-growth business area into account if they know people in that part of the company personally and can attach names and faces to the mission. Never underestimate the value of simply connecting people, and encouraging folks to build relationships, even if it’s just one at a time. It’s amazing how fast this can spark new energy and communication between disparate teams.

At one company, I created a program to simply “match-make” two people from our fastest-growing geographies with our domestic employees, in order to get them talking to each other with a virtual coffee chat of 30 minutes. Before long, more than 30% of the entire company had been introduced to someone in another part of the world they otherwise would have never met. It’s incredible how large numbers of small connections between teams can generate a massive input, especially if sustained long term. You might be tempted to think that such relationships should be built organically. But the reality is that people often need far more than a nudge. They need someone to directly manage this kind of program to make it happen. Be intentional to promote such efforts and oversee their execution and explain to employees why they are important for the financial viability and long-term growth of the business.

6. Keep the growth uplift metrics front and center

Whether it’s a new business unit, a recent acquisition, or your non-domestic business, you’ll want to keep a steady drumbeat going to ensure your employees, managers, and leaders continually hear about the metrics that matter, and why they are important to your overall growth. How many points of additional uplift did your overall company enjoy, thanks to the high-growth business area? Make it clear. Repeat this until it becomes a mantra. When you hear other people start to repeat it who didn’t hear it from you first, you’ll know you’ve succeeded at communicating the message!

Also, don’t be afraid to paint the negative picture of what will happen without continued focus on the high-growth area of business is lending to the broader company. Will the overall company slow down? What will that mean for your overall targets and long-term trajectory? Sometimes, fear of what can happen if you take your eye off the high-growth area of business can help underscore its importance. Continually keep those numbers in focus for everyone, so that they all remember how important this business area really is, and why it matters overall.

7. Engage multiple executive sponsors to sustain momentum

It takes an incredibly strong and passionate advocate to not only lead the rallying cry for any vital but low-visibility area of high growth at your company. It also takes sustained efforts over multiple years to truly get the fast-growing area of the business fully integrated into a company. Any leader of such an initiative cannot do so alone. They must first build consensus with other leaders and convince them to do the same. Only then can they keep people focused on the areas of highest growth potential.

For example, it takes a concentrated, multi-year effort and a whole lot of determination to get an entire business to lift its head up from focusing on just its domestic market, and to see the potential that new markets offer for global uplift. The same is true when integrating a newly acquired business into a larger company, or when you’re adding a new product into a larger product portfolio. Often, those leaders wear out, because the ongoing efforts to gain visibility become extremely taxing. It’s far easier to jump onto the bandwagon that already has more sunlight, than to keep fighting for the high-growth underdog. For that reason, make sure you work to engage many executive sponsors, and champions at many levels, so that the advocacy you’ve worked so hard to achieve for the areas of your companies that generate the greatest growth can continue. This way, your efforts can outlive you when you move on to the next challenge.