What does growth look like in the new normal? Our Senior Consultant Mhairi, in the Interim Solutions practice, recently interviewed Wolfe W. Diener, a highly experienced independent consultant with more than 20 years’ experience with a focus on technology and services. Wolfe has guided his client base through growth and change over the years and offers actionable insights on growth.
You have extensive experience guiding businesses through change, it would be great if you could share a bit about your background and experience?
Over the last 25 years, I had various totally different business situations where I personally had to adapt and enjoyed adapting. I started my career as a consultant at McKinsey. Consulting per se you see various companies and industry and in most cases, the need for change led to a project with us. I started my own company, software for the purchasing and sourcing function for corporates, at that time a pretty new thing for the purchasing function of companies and again we needed to trigger change within the buying teams. I led a CRM implementation company which was a turnaround case of a people business. In my last role, we grew the design and engineering company Intive from 400 people when I joined 2015 to more than 1.500 people globally by end of 2020 through four acquisitions and significant organic growth. You only can achieve this by constantly changing as a paradigm to be agile, flexible and adapt to new circumstances and the moving environment.
It’s been a tumultuous year, how do you find your clients and networks attitude to growth? Has that changed since the beginnings of restrictions being relaxed?
After some months of unclarity and austerity last year, mainly in Q2 and Q3 2020, everybody seems to have adapted to the new environment. So, in design and engineering and in general in the tech sector, the situation is very dynamic and up for growth. I would not say that the restrictions triggered this but certainly, everybody is more and more relaxed with the improving (personal) situation.
What are the primary functions to be targeted to achieve short and medium-term growth?
It has been and will always be that you need convincing products and services with outstanding quality (Product and Innovation). This only can be achieved by having a motivated, experienced, and talented team on all levels (Human Capital). And your interaction with your new customers and current customers decides on whether you understand your customers and their needs (Sales and Account Management). These functions have a reciprocal time of effect, the fastest effect is Account Management, then sales, then Human Capital and the result later will be excellent and innovative products and services.
What aspects of growth are your clients most interested in at the moment, for example, are you seeing more appetite for expansion into new markets, launching new products, or others?
I actually observe all directions of expansion. The pandemic situation certainly triggered a lot of innovations or at least accelerated them as companies needed to find new ways to approach or interact with their customers, for example, the innovations in parcel delivery, all the new ways of ordering food, the extension of payment methods etc. So, companies are building on their competencies and use them for innovations to grow. Expansion into new regional (international) markets and new business areas are in many cases approached through acquisitions. So, M&A is the top priority for my clients and where I support in all phases from target identification to due diligence to integration.
What main challenges do your clients currently face that are currently affecting results?
Shortage of (good) people so hiring is a challenge, especially in the service business, and in many production businesses shortage of supply is impacting results.
Is there any actionable advice you would have to clients to prime their business for growth?
Be clear, be systematic, be consequent, be agile. Clarity is important to get the team aboard so everybody knows where to go. Systematically implement your plan with diligence and patience on all levels. Stay consequent but not stubborn and follow up the plan. Apply agile rules and approaches when clarity on unknown surfaces and keep decisions in the teams what to do next.
You have worked extensively with technology-driven businesses, how do you find their approach differs from other industries and what insights can be taken from how they operate?
All businesses and industries are more or less technology-driven. So, is there really a difference? There are companies that are more successful than others in all industries. And there is no one right answer on how to become successful with success factors actually also change over time. If there is one commonality of successful companies, I would say it is the quality and fit of people, teams and management framed with company culture, spirit, mission, vision. Maybe companies of the technology sector are usually younger companies and do not have the heritage of the hierarchical past. However, Microsoft and Apple were founded in the mid-70s, two generations ago. Amazon was founded in 1994 and Google in 1998, about one generation ago. So, it cannot be only the “difficult heritage” of established companies to become successful. It is the systematic and consequent willingness to change.
What pitfalls do you find your clients have when it comes to approaching growth initiatives? What steps can companies take to prevent similar pitfalls?
Not clear enough, not systematic enough, not consequent enough. Companies often want to achieve the big blast in one giant step which takes so long to execute that the environment has usually changed. Small steps forward are good as well. Ah, and one additional pitfall I have observed in some companies: Missing willingness or ambition to grow. Some managers or team members actually did not see the need or necessity for growth, asking: Why growing? Fair comment and needs to be addressed properly (see “Be Clear”).
Any last comments or tips to add?
Growth (of numbers and size) actually should not be a goal but a result. Of course, it is an inspiration to formulate clear numbers. However, most important is constantly improving your services and products, your people and teams, and your customer relations and interactions- These are factors leading to growth never the other way round. Read more insights on our website and listen to the Venari Podcast on Apple Podcast and Spotify!