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From survivor to superstar: 5 traits that power growth in uncertain times

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There is no set formula for corporate success, but there are certain qualities shared by businesses which grow consistently.

In this article, we discuss the attributes which are common amongst growing businesses, and identify how management can encourage them.

1. Experienced, entrepreneurial executives

Recessions and economic slumps aren’t always bad for business. In fact, some of the most successful companies in the world were started in the rockiest of times, including Microsoft, Disney and General Electric.

Winners in the business growth race tend to be those whose management teams have experience of more difficult periods and an entrepreneurial edge. Mike Daniels, co-head of London, Corporate Banking at Barclays, says that successful executive teams will often be “fairly bold, taking calculated risks in response to market changes.” This quality is crucial in the modern day, when “market dynamics are shifting faster than they have done in the last 50 years”.

A way in which businesses often add additional experience and entrepreneurial attitude to their management team is through appointing a non-executive director, and the Institute of Directors can provide useful information on this, including a directory of potential candidates.

2. Optimism and boldness

Management must keep everyone looking forward. When it comes to a downturn, Daniels says: “You can’t change it, so draw a line and move on.” Instead, it’s key for businesses to focus on: “What do you need to get to where you want to be?”

As seen in previous economic downturns, even economically challenging times can be ripe for opportunity – with the right business proposition, this can be a great time to establish market share while the competition dithers, or as new customer trends appear.

3. A customer oriented-proposition

In developing a strategy to attain growth, it is important to place the customer at the centre of strategic decisions. Even when this may go against industry norms.

An example of this, is business law firm Riverview Law. Riverview spent nearly two years analysing the market before launching, and in response to customer demand, developed a fixed-price service model – rather than the industry-standard method of charging billable hours. Launching in February 2012, Riverview has grown swiftly and picked up numerous awards since.

Once the business proposition has been established, it remains vital to continue listening to the customer, in order to continue growing. Barclays’ Daniels states: “Customer service is of paramount importance. Get regular feedback on service levels and try to improve areas of deficiency.”

4. Embedding the right culture

Embedding the right culture within a firm is essential in developing the business. It is important that the entire workforce embodies the right characteristics and values to achieve success.

Obviously each business will have its own unique culture, but there are some common aspects among a large proportion of successful firms – in particular, flexibility and innovation.  Encouraging flexibility and innovation can allow businesses to ride out more difficult circumstances.

 “It’s important to be demonstrating as a management team that the business is leading not following,” says Daniels.  He says he has seen particularly successful companies where “everyone in the firm has to come up with something to innovate, based on what they’re seeing with clients”.

5. Continued learning

Finally, a common characteristic among fast growing companies is a willingness to learn. The most effective leaders continually educate themselves and stay alert to useful information.

“’Changes and trends in your own trading cycle might signify how to adapt,” says Daniels. “It’s important to understand the change in dynamics of the market you operate in, so speak to strategic partners too.”

Daniels says Barclays prides itself on providing insights for customers. Industry specialisation is key, as is “getting clients in front of each other” so they can learn from one another and make useful connections.

When you lead a growing business, every day presents a new challenge as the company expands. It is those who are able to take on new insights, listen and innovate, who are most likely to become winners in the growth race.

Produced in partnership with Barclays

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