Companies that err on the side of caution, especially during turbulent times, may survive to see another day but often fail to achieve their full growth potential. Given the historic disruptions of the past five years, it’s little wonder that fewer than one in four companies we analyzed outpaced their industry peers on revenue and profit growth. What sets these continuous growth outperformers apart?
In a word, courage.
Recent years have certainly tested the mettle of CEOs, as the world moved from a business environment of low inflation and relative calm to one roiled by the COVID-19 pandemic, generationally high inflation, deepening geopolitical tensions, accelerating climate events, and the rise of generative AI. Our new research reveals that corporate chiefs who courageously pursued and stuck with through-cycle growth strategies during these wrenching shifts led their organizations to growth outperformance.
This latest installment in our landmark research series for CEOs who explicitly choose growth by setting an aspirational mindset and culture, activating pathways with the ten rules of growth, and executing with excellence offers six key strategies for leaders who aspire to reach the growth pinnacle of their industries and stay there.
Six strategies for growth outperformance
Multiple pathways powered by bold investments lead to growth outperformance.
Choose a strategy to learn more.
Companies that courageously leaned into these strategies dominated the growth charts in recent years, proving that C-suite leaders can indeed unlock significant, value-creating, and even industry-redefining growth opportunities no matter what the global business landscape throws at them.
While growth priorities will differ from one company to another, these insights are a clarion call to leaders. Read on for a deeper dive into our latest research, including profiles of companies we’ve identified as “courageous growers.”
1. Build an innovation culture and mindset
Innovation excellence enables companies to excel beyond even other outperformers.
To cultivate new sources of growth, and excel beyond other outperformers, companies build an innovation mindset and culture powered by investments in R&D, digital capabilities, analytics, and AI.
Innovative outperformers are fully committed to innovation and mastering its eight essentials. They talk about innovation on earnings calls at twice the rate of their peers, convey achievable aspirations to employees, set clear targets, and foster a culture that is not afraid to take risks.
2. Commit to sustainable, inclusive growth
“Triple outperformers” drive the strongest growth.
Pursuing ESG goals may not feel like a priority when budgets are tight, and our research shows that strong ESG scores won’t compensate for weak fundamentals. However, “triple outperformers” that grow revenues and profits while improving sustainability and ESG scores are better positioned than other outperformers to reach peak growth performance.
Between 2017 and 2021—a period when fewer than one in four companies topped 10 percent annual revenue growth—half of “triple outperformers” reached or exceeded that benchmark, proving not only that companies can do well by doing good, they can do better than their peers.
3. Grow your core with data, analytics, and AI
Companies that continuously grow their core win.
Growth begins with the core. Growth outperformers accelerate core growth through a robust capability-building program that energizes people and fundamentally changes how work gets done.
These companies devote more resources than their peers to boosting sales and marketing productivity through digital-led transformations, analytics, and AI that have clear customer use cases and robust business cases. They courageously invest in people, processes, and innovative technologies to create what we call an “institutional superpower”—functional capabilities that enable a company to gain and maintain an edge over competitors.
4. Expand into right-to-win businesses
Successful adjacency and breakout business moves create multiple value streams.
Complacency is the enemy of growth. That is why companies pursue adjacent and breakout business opportunities. What sets outperformers apart is that they do it discerningly.
C-suite leaders who pursue adjacent businesses where they have a “right-to-win” by leveraging unique capabilities and customer or value chain connections position their companies to generate the strongest shareholder returns.
Following these rationales can create value in multiple ways. Our research examining 274 industrial, technology, and communications companies finds that recent growth outperformers who successfully utilized two or more right-to-win rationales delivered 12 percentage points higher excess TSR growth versus their peers.
5. Shrink to grow when necessary
Net divestitures can drive future outperformance.
For some companies, the journey to growth outperformance starts with getting smaller. Companies may choose to spin off a business because its fundamentals do not complement the core business or the trajectory of market dynamics suggests divesting.
No matter the underlying rationale, the strategy of shrinking to grow requires a disciplined approach to how resources—both dollars and people—are allocated and a supporting operating model that enables a successful transition from spin-off to a higher growth future. Our research shows that companies that engage in dynamic portfolio management to regularly assess whether they are the best owners of a business have a better growth track record than those that make an acquisition to leap into a high-growth segment where they lack a competitive advantage.
6. Mobilize people to capture value quickly
Employee ownership of growth initiatives boosts outperformance.
Outperforming CEOs not only envision ambitious growth transformations, but they also mobilize employees from the C-suite to the front lines, building skills and capabilities to realize value quickly.
These companies foster bold mindsets and create appropriate strategies to determine at the outset which growth pathways have the greatest value-creating potential. They mobilize employees and instill ownership by investing in building their skills and deepening their functional expertise with a focus on customers and the external ecosystem. When capabilities cannot be grown internally, they build a talent win room to fill those gaps.
They also create rigorous performance management for both agile and traditional initiatives, establishing a baseline and KPIs tied to performance goals.
When transformations are successful, they can build enterprise-wide resilience to ensure continuous growth outperformance. This is why even when funding is scarce, and the economic outlook is uncertain, C-suite leaders who steward their companies to the pinnacle of growth performance and keep them there maintain a through-cycle mindset. Because continuous growth outperformance doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because C-suite leaders have the courage to make it happen.