By Jane Bromley, senior consultant, Strategy Consulting Ltd

With a new year just around the corner and the economy finally showing growth, many business leaders will be considering how they can make 2014 their year of opportunity and success.

This success is certain to remain a mere daydream if businesses continue to make simple, but crucial strategic mistakes. These mistakes are not only growth limiting but, if made repeatedly, will ensure that businesses flounder and maybe even fail.

Looking like everyone else
If you consider the major high street banks, internet providers or mobile networks alongside each other, they look pretty identical. Strip away the branding and marketing around them and their products and services are barely discernable from each other, and customers need to wade through all the jargon and puff to work out which will meet their simple needs. In effect, they are lost in a fog of messaging, just wanting to understand who can help them get from A to B easily and in the way they want.

A common mistake too many businesses make is failing to make the customer or client centre of everything they do. They will say they are customer-focussed, but in reality they are following market trends and competitor analysis far more closely than they are studying their customers’ needs, wants, behaviours and perspectives.

Great brands that do this well shine like beacons through the fog as being excellent at what they do (think Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Bybox, the list is long and varied), because they make life easier for their customers and have a true understanding of what they want and make interaction enjoyable for the customer. It doesn’t take enormous amounts of money for market research and promotion to become this good either, just a true focus on how customers’ minds work, what wakes them in a cold sweat at night, and how the business can most simply meet their needs.

If the customer or client is at the centre of everything a business does, it can’t go far wrong.

Lack of vision
Yes it’s a cliché, but a lack of a truly shared vision which encourages all staff members to pull in same direction – is the downfall of so many businesses.

Rarely can you walk into a company and ask any member of staff, - from receptionists and shop floor staff through to board members - what that company’s vision is, and get corresponding answers, or even anything resembling an inspiring statement. As you know, often company visions are little more than jargon-filled tick box exercises which lack any energy or passion and simply sit on a wall somewhere gathering dust.

A business can only achieve real growth and success if it has a vision - inspired by motivating and all-encompassing dreams - which is truly ‘lived and breathed’ by its team.

Companies will only achieve buy-in of their vision if it is seen to energise and inspire the management team to the point where they all pull together as one and their actions demonstrate their own powerful commitment. Examples from some of the world’s finest brands include;

Apple’s vision; “to make a dent in the universe”

And Amazon’s vision: “to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

A great vision will ensure the entire organisation pulls together in commitment to achieving that vision whatever it takes.

Fail to plan, plan to fail
Too many organisations plough blindly forward focussed on their growth and entry to new markets without truly exploring the potential pitfalls of their manoeuvres. They know where they want to be but fail to adequately consider what could go wrong along the way. Failing to plan effectively means that when businesses encounter tricky scenarios they have never had to deal with before they make mistakes - expanding into an overseas market without thoroughly researching it for example - and these mistakes are their downfall.

The desire for fast growth is excellent, but lack of a strategy to accompany that desire and ensure the business is on track with that strategy, and that each and every staff member is playing their allocated role, spells failure in the long run. Commercial success is a journey, with many challenges along the way, and if a business can rehearse for these challenges and implement action plans and strategies in which all staff have a role to play they will stay on track. Also crucial are regular milestones or checkpoints to assess whether the business is staying on course with its strategy, allowing time for reassessment and regrouping if changes are required.

To achieve real measured, sustainable success a business must have a compelling vision of where it is going so vivid that it inspires the whole team. This vision should be implemented through three or four overarching strategies that are so well thought out they give everyone a deep-seated confidence that they are the right things to focus on.

The human side
The best strategy in the world won’t save a company if it doesn’t have the right people to deliver it. Too many businesses have lofty ambitions but their team simply isn’t strong enough to make these a reality. Rushing recruitment or keeping people in roles where they do not fit is a huge mistake. Ill qualified or inexperienced staff can make business limiting decisions. The right people make take some time to find, but they will be worth the wait.

And the ‘right people’ doesn’t simply mean those with the right skills and experience. Attitudes, personality and engagement are crucial. The best CVs in the world mean nothing if the team isn’t fully on board and truly believes the business can excel through their involvement. Along with passion and engagement comes trust – both between team members and from management - and these qualities are derived from the right vision and strategy as above.

“If you want something done well, do it yourself” is an oft-repeated adage from business leaders frustrated with their team’s abilities, but the right approach – avoiding the crucial growth limiting mistakes outlined above, will ensure that delegation of key business tasks to confident, competent and passionate teams. These teams in turn will provide the catalyst any organisation requires to thrive and leave the competition in the shadows as they go from strength to strength.

About the author
Senior consultant at www.strategyconsultinglimited.co.uk Jane Bromley has been a company director and Managing Director for over 12 years. Jane’s forte is in guiding CEOs, Boards and senior leaders to develop strategy that multiplies growth and profitability year after year. Trained by the leading UK strategy schools, Ashridge and Cranfield, and in marketing by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, she learnt how to deliver outstanding results in Hewlett Packard. Jane does not just create rigorous, well-designed strategy. She uses the process of creating it to create such high levels of engagement and team alignment that effective implementation is assured. By so doing, the team learns the skills of strategy so they can successfully respond to market changes as they occur. Jane has undertaken research into the firms that are growing at 15% or more, year after year. These impressive organisations have uncovered growth strategies that, while rare, power them forward even while their competitors flounder and die. As a result her evaluations understand exactly what is working well and where gaps exist. Jane lectures on this research across the UK.