Plan Is Nothing, Planning Is Everything: My Interview with Growth Strategy Expert Lucio Furlani

Today, I welcome Lucio Furlani. Lucio has 30 years of experience as an executive for large, multinational high-tech companies and he is the founder and CEO of Crescendo, a boutique consulting firm on business growth, digital and go-to-market optimization.

In this interview, I have asked Lucio to provide his perspective about growth strategy, the main challenges for leaders and some advices to share to make sure strategy works.

Based on your past experience as Senior Leader in large corporations and your current work at Crescendo, what do you think are the main challenges that leaders are facing to grow their business?

I think that first of all it is a mind-set challenge. Most of the companies I work for, also at the most senior level, tend to focus more on fixing existing issues and filling gaps, rather than targeting growth initiatives. Fixing issues is important, don’t take me wrong, but this will at best enable growth, not make growth happen.

A growth mindset is well balanced between new growth and fixing issues. Hence, a good plan to me is a balanced set of initiatives targeting growth and fixing existing issues. Some with shorter term and some with medium term results.

Another challenge that I see very often is that companies are rarely enough outside-in oriented. It may sound obvious to say, but growth is outside the company; nevertheless, when I work with leadership teams on a growth plan, they all tend to be very inside-out and self-referential.

As a third challenge, I would say the challenge for the business to shift investments from the larger, more legacy business units (the cash cows) to new areas. In theory, this is not a difficult exercise.

But in reality, is never that clear, the power tends to be with the legacy, large and profitable businesses and they may lack the understanding of the new market trends. Or, simply, they are afraid to give up their margins to support another business area outside their control.

Given what you just mentioned and what you do at Crescendo, what advices do you normally give to your CEO clients to solve these issues?

At Crescendo, I use a very simple methodology (that I frankly copied from Peter Drucker). Its first 3 steps are:

  • What’s our business?
  • Who is our customer?
  • What represents value to the customer?

This helps me a lot in taking a disciplined approach and to be reasonably outside-in.

“Who is our customer” means that we need to be precise on our target segments, the key persona and their challenges. This step is the foundation of everything and often it changes the company’s narrative, externally and internally.

In addition, I normally make few planning principles very clear:

  • Be fact-based, use a lot of analysis (the market, the competitors, the key trends, etc.). This is not to say that gut feeling is not important, it definitely is, but gut feeling with data is way better and more reliable. Less emotional.
  • Outside-in perspective. I already said this, but it is really important for me
  • Establish a tight collaboration between the central team and the field. The best plans are not top-down or bottom-up, but they are the results of a couple of iterations back and forth between the corporate (typically with a more strategic perspective) and the field (who tend to drive to more practical execution and measurable outcomes). This normally allows you to create a better plan, and it will also ease execution, because the field has been part of it and their main concerns have been addressed.

If we want to summarise the three main things that can make a difference in a growth strategy success for an organisation, what would they be?

First, I would say to set an ambitious goal, and one that can be communicated easily and that everyone can remember. Years ago, I was responsible for the EMEA Growth Plan of my company, my boss at the time set the goal of becoming “a $20B company in 3 years”. This was about 2x the size of the business. Many people thought it was absurd, a too high bar, but everybody knew exactly where the bar was (by the way, we made it! Also, thanks for some acquisitions of course). Knowing the target is the first step to make it happen.

Second, I would say to think long term, have a visionary strategy, and plan small steps. The plan needs to inspire the organization and it should guide every day’s actions and decision. Quick wins are important, so keeping a balance between vision and execution is key.

Last, I would say the internal communication. As you know, “any plan is only as good as its execution” and if you are in the leadership team, you might have developed the best plan ever, but you will rely on the entire organization to execute it. So make sure that they are aware of it. Again, it sounds obvious, but I have seen many plans that never left the boardroom, and then people are surprised that they were not executed.

Internal communication should be an integral part of the growth plan. One of the most important parts. Normally, people like executing on a clear direction, especially if the plan has been explained to them.

All good points Lucio. My experience with strategy plans is very similar. Lots of time and money spent to come up with awesome plans, very seldom implemented. The last question is about leadership. Where do you think the senior executives should focus their attention to become better leaders and lead their organizations to a long-term growth and success?

I would like to mention a famous quote from General Eisenhower: “plan is nothing, planning is everything”. Planning in fact implies a lot of analysis and a lot of questioning across the leadership team, and asking questions is the best way to learn and find new ways to grow the business.

What’s important here is that you remain open that you may not know all the answers, even if you are the CEO and this is your business. The strongest leaders are self-confident enough to be open to be proved wrong, they listen to the customers and to the people in their organisations who are closer to the customers.

Thank you so much Lucio. This was very insightful.

Andrea Petrone

Strategic and Leadership Advisor, Executive Coach

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