Worlds apart: Measuring growth on a global scale

For all of our collaborative technologies and connectivity, businesses today remain worlds apart when it comes to the topic of growth and how to deal with the challenges growth brings.

Some company leaders choose to measure growth in terms of profit, while board members at other businesses see geographic expansion as the priority. Some businesses blame themselves when they don’t grow as expected - believing their lack of entrepreneurial spirit or restricted skillsets are holding them back - while others believe it to be external factors such as competition and economic uncertainty that prevent their growth.

Needless to say, for such a simple word, ‘growth’ is a more complex topic than first meets the eye and business leaders are certainly not always speaking the same language when it comes up for discussion.

The journey to growth

Recent global research by MORAR Consulting and Epicor Software Corporation has explored the different obstacles, stimulants and even definitions of growth throughout the global business community. The journeys businesses embark on, in order to grow, are different across the globe and some regions and sectors are more optimistic about their prospects than others. However, there are many similarities. Despite the varying business landscapes, 96 per cent of businesses surveyed across the globe admit they face significant obstacles to growth.

In mature markets, there is a strong inclination to blame external factors if a business is experiencing barriers to growth. Businesses operating in these markets consider economic uncertainty to be a major obstacle; with two-fifths of businesses in the UK and nearly half of businesses in the USA believing this holds them back.

Those operating in emerging markets however, are likely to see themselves as the barrier to their own success, rather than blaming external factors. Businesses in India are among the most likely to be concerned that they lack the ability to meet changing customer requirements as they grow. Similarly, compared to just nine per cent of Canadian businesses, one-in-five businesses in China are concerned that a lack of entrepreneurial spirit could restrict their growth.

Chinese businesses, perhaps unsurprisingly, place a strong emphasis on technological leadership, with 68 per cent of business leaders in China viewing technology as a key stimulant to growth. In Germany and India however, a skilled workforce is a higher priority, suggesting that in these regions, human resources (or a lack of the right skills) can make the difference between holding a company back from growth, and propelling its business success forwards.

Feeling the fear

Although there are regional differences when it comes to the stimulants and barriers to growth, when businesses do achieve growth, they agree it might not always be easy. Growth may not come in the form we expect - it could be a rushed product portfolio expansion, or an unpredicted surge in demand - and businesses can experience pitfalls in how to cope as a result. In fact, with as many as nine-in-ten organisations suffering from ‘unplanned growth’ worldwide, this is emerging as a challenging and potentially damaging business phenomenon.

Growing businesses have to find ways to tackle new challenges. So, when growth is not planned for effectively, or if an unexpected growth surge happens, businesses can be easily tripped up. The research demonstrates that around half of business leaders are concerned that growing their business can put excessive pressure on operations, damaging quality and customer satisfaction. A substantial number are also concerned that their business IT systems may prove unable to cope with managing a larger, more complex business model and CEOs in particular, are concerned with a perceived loss of customer intimacy that may come about as a result of growth.

Growth also poses a number of concerns about resource availability as business activities scale. Business leaders worry that their business might take on large or complex projects that they lack the skillset and technology to deliver effectively, damaging their brand reputation. They are also concerned that by growing the business, workloads may increase to a level that places too much pressure on staff, prompting key personnel to leave the organisation. Just under half of business leaders polled worry they are not personally prepared for the challenges of managing a larger, more diverse business.

It’s no surprise therefore that managing growth expectations is one of the most complex challenges that businesses are currently facing across the globe.

Making it look easy anyway

Despite the challenges posed by growth, and growth surges, businesses still want to - and will - continue to grow. Around 70 per cent of the surveyed businesses expect to grow this year. So how can they make this happen despite the obstacles we have mentioned, and, once they are growing, how can businesses resolve the challenges they come across?

Businesses are increasingly turning to technology to make growth possible and to manage the challenges that come as a result. Having an information framework in place is, for many business leaders, providing them with the essential tools and insight they need to make effective, informed decisions as they grow.

Next generation enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions present business leaders with a bird’s eye view of operations, allowing them to keep in touch with the nuances of individual processes where necessary, yet access the relevant internal data, customer feedback and financial information they need to remain on course and plan for the future. These solutions, when completely integrated with operations, can collect, manage and report on production line processes, financial performance and distribution times; in order to optimise efficiencies as a business grows.

Those businesses that have successfully harnessed ERP technology are taking the first step towards mitigating the risks that come with unplanned growth. It doesn’t mean that growth is always easy for them - after all, no matter how much we plan for growth, it can still surprise us.

But it does mean that these businesses are better prepared when it happens.

Sabby Gill, executive vice president for international, Epicor Software

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