Cog:ent workshop series: Successful strategies for growth

Moore Stephens, in partnership with Telos Partners and HSBC, host the second series of Cog:ent workshops.

Cog:ent is a free two year programme of quarterly thought leadership workshops, helping ambitious business owners to build successful and sustainable businesses against the background of an improving economic climate. Cog:ent is aimed at key decision makers, such as the chief executives and managing directors of ambitious, growing owner managed businesses in the Thames Valley.

The latest workshop explored the theme ‘successful strategies for growth’. In our conversations with ambitious business owners, we often hear two schools of thought – those who support the development of a strategic plan for their business and those who don’t. When you look beyond the subjective argument of these two camps, which is often based upon a personal bias, there is strong evidence for longer-term strategic thinking in business. Despite this overwhelming fact, many ambitious business owners struggle to realise the ambitions for their own business.

We find them asking:
  • What is it about strategic planning that works?
  • What strategic options do I face?
  • Which strategic choices carry with them greater chances of success?
A ‘light bulb’ moment
We were privileged to hear from Richard Gyselynck, co-founder of Acorne PLC. The business started life as a private pilot training school and became the UK’s first nationwide experience voucher for flying lessons. Richard developed Richard Branson’s Virgin Voucher and Acorne now successfully run Virgin Experience Days.

Adam Campbell of Telos Partners commented that “for us, the story brought to life some elements of a good strategic approach” and shared the following insights:

The importance of gaining insight about the real value you bring to your customer

Richard spent time trying to understand the customer and what motivates them to buy? That ultimately provided the stimulus for a different approach to the business. In understanding this, Richard began to realise that what they were doing was not providing flight training but giving ‘the person in the street’ the opportunity to participate in a high-value experience at an affordable price.

Understanding that value and purpose drives strategy

This shift in purpose began a more deliberate and strategic pursuit. The new perspective freed up new ways of thinking, and subsequent experimentation honed and fine-tuned a range of ideas linked to a rejuvenated purpose for the business.

The importance of using an external perspective to strengthen internal thinking

Richard realised early on that marketing was a core requirement. He brought in external support to develop a deeper understanding of what drove success in their new business model. What dawned was the realisation that as a marketing business, it was distribution of the vouchers that was critical to a successful strategy for growth.

The slow and steady march to add things to the core

With the niche essentially defined by a revolutionary shift in perspective, over a number of years, the offer was then refined and extended (evolutionary growth). In the beginning, growth was fuelled by airfield-related activities, added to this were adrenalin-based experiences, but in the last 12-24 months it is the rise of ‘afternoon tea’ that has stimulated further growth. The disciplined growth of the core has created a very different business to the original, but the core purpose remains the same.

The role leadership plays in guiding management

Crucial to all of this appears to have been Richard’s ability to bring capability into the business to complement his own. Whilst arguing that delegation simply demonstrates his aspirations of laziness, recognising what capability is required to successful implement the strategy (as well as finding and motivating that resource) appears to be a key aspect to Acorne’s success. By freeing themselves from the shackles of running the day-to-day, Richard and his business partner have been able to become non-executives in their own business. They now spend the majority of their time ‘creating the future’ and ‘nurturing the identity’ of the business.

Lessons learned in a joint exploration of strategic success
Participants were given the opportunity to reflect on Richard’s story by applying the thinking to their own business. The following additional themes of discussion confirmed and strengthened the view of what drives a successful strategy:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

People and relationships are the key to any strategy. So whilst hard factors and objective thinking are important to getting the right strategy, it is the soft elements of people, relationships, engagement, motivation and alignment that are crucial to getting strategy right.

Good strategy adapts and evolves with the changing tide

With the rapid pace of change, and the increasing need to be responsive and agile, the five year strategic plan is all but dead and buried. However, taking a long-term perspective and updating the strategic approach on an annual basis appears to be an option that is viewed as sensible by all.

A shift in strategy often requires a shift in approach and people

This came to life in the exploration of a strategic shift from product selling to solution selling. What seems a simple change on paper is more fundamental in reality. More importantly, your sales team needs to be equipped to resource the adapted approach and sometimes this requires bringing in new capability to the business. Finally being proactive in creating the shift for yourself seems a better choice than waiting for the shift to be created for you.

Upcoming workshops
14 July 2016: Technology enhanced business

For more information or to sign up to any of the workshops, please contact Daniel Henwood, Director at Moore Stephens.

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