I know of few entrepreneurs whose ambition is it to preside over a declining or even stagnant
business. Having conceived an idea and then incubated it into existence, there can be few more
rewarding experiences for a business founder than to observe incremental clients buy into their
product or service offering.
In such a scenario, customers are in effect implicitly giving the green light to an organisation to
pursue their expansion ambitions, given they are the de facto reason for this growth. Attracted by a
new product or sensing the entry of a new service provider, prospects are persuaded to become
customers. In the case of service suppliers to the financial industry, customers in the early stages of
an organisation's growth by and large get to enjoy the ride. They benefit from an organisation that,
at this stage of its development, will be comfortably if not in fact over-resourced in providing its
service. The extremely diligent attention provided by a relationship manager might be evidence of
I recall the occasion when I first encountered a client who asked about my organisations’ growth
plans. I found myself perplexed that such a normal business aspiration should be an obvious cause of
worry for them. I was young and had yet to learn why this might be.
The key to understanding their line of questioning lay in the word “plans”. It was not that the client
was signalling an objection to organisational growth, after all by making the decision to become a
customer they had signalled their expectation that business success would continue. They were
seeking to establish if the organisation had a clear and consistent picture of where it was going. This
would give them comfort that the supplier they had chosen would continue to exhibit the
characteristics and skills that attracted them to it in the first place.
We currently observe an interesting and significant parallel operating in financial markets. Investors,
seeking clarity regarding the timing of the eventual end of super-easy monetary policy, have
pressurised central banks into providing forward guidance in respect of their intentions.
Consequently, central banks have felt it necessary to make their balance sheet growth aspirations
clear to their customers (governments & investors) who are concerned that handled badly, their
plans might not be in the best interests of clients.
This may be an extreme analogy, but that is precisely the point; customers are entitled to expect
that the organisation they enter into a contract with will, to borrow an expression often used by the
medical profession, “first, do no harm”. They expect the organisation to grow and change in a
normal, controlled manner. It’s when they suspect that a stage of organisational development has
been reached which might prompt a decision to be taken that hadn’t previously been in the
corporate plan, that they seek such forward guidance.
It is incumbent on an organisation to turn over every stone where there could lie a potential source
of insight before embarking upon a significant departure from previous business plans. Because
when business growth decisions are based on analysis that is either insufficiently researched, and/or
executed, then hard-won client loyalty can easily be thrown away.