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February 25, 2013

Think Big, Not Small

by marcobuchbinder

think big

Business leaders need to deploy big, bold strategies to stay competitive and continue to take share from the competition. These strategies need to challenge conventional thinking and span multiple years. But to deploy such strategies, leaders often need to overcome institutionalized small-culture thinking, narrow-mindedness and aversion to risk that block accelerated growth. If you do manage to overcome such internal challenges, your reward is bold, doable strategies that excite your employees and leave your rivals behind.

So why is there a prevailing think-small culture in most companies? Here are a few reasons:

  • Conventional wisdom considers historical performance and market growth rates vs. also including relative market share to develop annual objectives
  • Most compensation plans are geared toward quarterly and annual performance, so there is a natural incentive to set realistic goals to ensure their achievement and exceed them
  • Some executives will consider any strategy, focus of energy, or time beyond a year as unrealistic and not relevant to the current annual plan
  • Budgets are limited and there is often little left to fund accelerated growth plans

My own think-big experience was transformational– I first learned the think big approach from Adrian McDonald, current President of EMC EMEA. I had been given the challenge to grow EMC‘s EMEA Public Sector business faster than the market (Public Sector = Central/Local Government, Healthcare, Education, Criminal Justice and Aerospace & Defense). Here are some of the best practices I deployed and recommend:

Set Bold Goals

  • Always start with the end. Or in our case, the revenue/margin goals at the end of the third year and work backwards.
  • Include relative market share instead of only historical performance and market growth rates
  • Make sure this number is meaningful enough to your company (for EMC it represented a material percentage of the total incremental growth in EMEA)


Engage Your Team

  • Challenge your leaders to think as outsiders to create plans for attaining these goals
  • Question any conventional assumptions related to market trends, size, customer requirements, business models, competitive landscape and your internal selling capabilities
  • Assess the organization’s capability to execute the think big plan and implement necessary development plans and personnel upgrades
  • Implement rewards/accelerators around hitting these accelerated growth targets
  • Rally your troops by encouraging them to be part of this history-making event
  • Explain promotions will be given to those who demonstrate leadership skills in pursuing the think big goal

Get Executive Buy-In

  • Reach agreement with executive management. Tell them your plan, how you will reach goals, and gain their commitment. This way, if you hit a series of accelerated milestones along the way, they will likely fund further growth (including additional accelerators).


Develop a Communications Strategy

  • Create a simple but influential tagline that captures the bold goal. In our case, it was The Road to $500m.
  • Break down your three-year plan in phases to facilitate its understanding
  • Place posters in office hallways, publish quarterly internal newsletters, and always refer to your tagline in internal presentations
  • Always report your unit’s performance against the accelerated growth (instead of just the stated business-as-usual goals)

Our think-big strategy was a key enabler that allowed our EMEA Public Sector Unit to grow from $203M in 2004 to $530M in 2007. Have you developed your own strategy? Have tips to add? Share your own experience below.

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