Using Growth Triage to Help Navigate Through a Crisis in Four Simple Steps

This blog is a follow-up to my blog from March 27, 2020 "The 5-step process for evolving your Growth Strategy in a crisis."

All of the conversations I am having tell me that most companies are still in the first step – Stabilization. From trying to figure out cash and lines of credit to being consumed with supporting client needs, to trying to figure out what will happen to sales in the next few weeks, the volatility is real and ongoing.

Hopefully, the volatility of the past two weeks and the access to programs like the Payroll Protection Plan will help companies start to stabilize.

When you start to stabilize, I wanted to make sure I provided some more detail on the importance and value of the Growth Triage step, as well as some insight on how to do it. You can see many examples of Growth Triage starting to emerge in the market. 

Manufactures, designers, apparel companies, and more adjusting to produce PPE, masks, ventilators, and more is a near-term growth strategy that also is helping deal with the crisis.

I see other types of near-term growth strategies emerging all over. FarmArt, a local produce supplier to restaurants in the Philadelphia area, has launched home delivery of produce. Nearly every local farm store near me has launched an online order and contactless pick-up option. Will these convenience offerings remain after the crisis? Perhaps, if the demand is still there, or maybe they go back to their original business model. Either way, these businesses are looking at the crisis and creating a near-term growth strategy to help them make it through until things start normalizing (or new normalizing as the case may be).

So how do you do a Growth Triage for your company in this crisis?

While I usually suggest starting with "Defining Your Core" and "Knowing Your Playing Fields" as foundations for a Growth Strategy, during a crisis so much is uncertain that the focus after stabilization is to optimize your near-term. For Growth Triage, you need to focus on "Identifying, Defining, and Scoring Growth Opportunities" and "Focusing Your Strategy."

Identify Growth Opportunities

The more growth ideas you consider, the better chance you have of choosing the ideas that will succeed. Especially in a crisis as we are dealing with little knowledge about the market and what is going on.

I would open the brainstorming up to everyone in the company. Invite creativity. Invite them to feel some ownership in helping navigate the near-term. They are likely nervous about how the crisis could impact them, and likely have creative ideas as they know your customers and what you could do.

Schedule an online meeting on whatever platform your company uses. In advance let them know that this call is to brainstorm as many ideas for what the company can do in the near-term to help with the crisis, provide value to customers or the community, or leverage your capabilities, equipment, distribution to enable growth in the near-term.

Send out an e-mail soliciting ideas by e-mail, in a survey, or on your intranet or collaborative solution. Or solicit the ideas some other way. Anything to get as many people sharing as many ideas as possible.

Once you have the ideas, document the idea and who had the idea so we can move to the Define phase. I would suggest using a spreadsheet for this and have included a link to a template you can use at the bottom of this.

Define the Growth Opportunities

When doing a brainstorming session to start, I prefer to get all of the ideas down first and then go back and put a high-level of definition around each. This approach allows you to focus on generating as many ideas as possible without interrupting the creativity to document each opportunity at a high level. So, after you identify as many opportunities as possible, you need to define each at a high level.

In the Growth Opportunity Canvas, I look for four key areas of definition they are:

Business Opportunity: What is the need in the market? What is the opportunity for us to improve our success rate? What can we make better?

Target Market: Who has this need? Who needs something to get better?

Opportunity Differentiation: Why us? Why are we people to address this need or solve this problem?

Alignment with Goals: How does this fit with our company's goals?

With this information, we have a good high-level understanding of the opportunity.

As we are dealing with near-term opportunities in a crisis, there may be some near-term opportunities that we could address that do not align with our goals or address a different market. By defining each and scoring them (next), we can at least see how things sort out.

In addition to these four areas of definition, the Growth Strategy Canvas also includes sections for Key Assumptions and Next Steps, which can help take an idea to an Action Plan.

Like with the template for documenting the Growth Opportunities you brainstorm, I will include a link to the Growth Strategy Canvas at the bottom of this article.

Score the Growth Opportunities

Now that you have identified a (hopefully) long list of growth opportunities for the near-term, we want to have an objective way to evaluate them. To do this, we need a way to score each opportunity to help us prioritize and determine where to focus.

In my original article, I mentioned the frequently used voting with dots process and a Reddit-style vote up or down approach, either is better than nothing. My preference though, is for a more objective approach to scoring.

In non-crisis times, I like to have companies score each growth opportunity on its alignment with the aspects of their Core Strategy. How does the Business Opportunity align with the Core Business, the Target Market with the Core Market, Opportunity Differentiation with the Core Differentiation, and overall how it aligns with the Core Goals. For some companies, this may still work, but the more disruption the market is seeing in the crisis, the harder this might be.

In the original article, I suggested scoring each on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the worst, 5 being the best) in three areas: Revenue/Profit Impact, Time to Impact, and Ability to Execute.

Looking at the many examples of companies doing this right now, I have decided to suggest two more areas. 

The first is on the Impact on Helping in the crisis. This area could be a real motivator and rallying point for the organization, knowing they are doing something to help. The second is on its overall alignment with your business. Perhaps this could be alignment with Core Goals or Core Business. Alternatively, this could be alignment with your entire Core Strategy.  

Again, both of these on a 1 to 5 scale.

To do the scoring I suggest doing it in two phases. The first phase is to get a group of people to review each Growth Opportunity Canvas is score each on each attribute. I could see value in having everyone who participated in the brainstorming score each opportunity, but at a minimum, I would want your extended leadership team to do the scoring.

Depending on the number of ideas, you may want to use a survey or form tool like Google Forms or even just creating a template in a spreadsheet that each person can complete, and you can aggregate.

With the scores in hand, phase two is where your leadership team reviews each opportunity and the aggregate scores and determine how you are going to apply the scores.

Going back to statistics in college, I would recommend using the Median (score in the middle) or Mode (score with the most). Be willing to have intelligent conversations where there are significant differences to think through each thoroughly.

With that complete, you now have each opportunity identified, defined, and scored. The template I have shared at the bottom will have a column for the Growth Opportunity and columns to score across the five attributes covered here. Enter the score you decided to use for each, the overall score will calculate in the Total Score column, and now you can sort them to see the prioritization.

Focus Your Strategy

Now that you have your scored list of growth opportunities, it is time to focus. Specifically, focus your strategy and your energy on the two or three opportunities with the best chance for success in the near-term.

Strategy is about making choices and focusing, especially in a crisis. Review your ranked list of growth opportunities. Think about additional factors that can help you determine where to invest your focus in the near-term.

If you have clear reasons to include a lower-ranked opportunity like a critical customer, ability to execute, market timing, impact on the community in the crisis, etc., include it with that rationale.

Focusing on only two or three things can be hard. Realize that with limited resources in a crisis, this focus is critical to have any chance of success.

With your two or three chosen, create an action plan, start executing, learn, and adjust. Due to the unpredictability in a crisis, I suggest making your action plans no longer than 30-days, but even be willing to make them 15-days to make sure you can learn and adjust as the environment changes. To support this, it is also critical to put in place standard reporting and communication channels, so the learnings that are happening during execution are getting back to decision-makers.

As you start to execute, encourage your organization to keep coming with new growth opportunities. The Growth Opportunity Canvas can be an excellent tool to start adding them incrementally. Be agile and be willing to fail fast or double down where you see success.

Once you have this agile near-term growth triage and strategy process down and working, it is time to start Step 5 from my original article, shifting to a long-term focus with a Growth Strategy Reset. Good news is once you have learned the process for Growth Triage, the approach for the Growth Strategy Reset is very similar, just with a different lens.

You Can Do It

These are just some examples of places to start for ideas. In my experience, you and your organization know your business, customers, and community better than anyone. 80% of what you need for a successful growth strategy, be it near-term or long-term, is already in your business. You just need to know how to access it and apply it. That is what I am hoping to do with this article and templates.

Take that first step, if you haven't already and stabilize your business. Once you have done that, start your Growth Triage. Identify as many near-term growth opportunities as possible, define them at a high-level, score them objectively, and then focus on the two or three you think have the best ideas for success.

We Can Help

Growth strategy is equal parts, an approach to decision making, an iterative process, and a focused plan. You are experts on your business; we are experts on growth strategy. We would love to be of value to you and your organization in this crisis.

Here is a link to where you can download the spreadsheet template for Growth Opportunities and the Growth Opportunity Canvas that I mentioned.

I have scheduled two webinars where we will get deeper into how to apply these concepts to your business.

The first is on Thursday, April 30, 2020, at 2:00 pm EDT and is titled "Growth Triage: Navigating Your Near-Term Growth Strategy Through the Crisis." Register for that event here.

The second in on Thursday, May 14, 2020, at 2:00 pm EDT and is titled "Growth Strategy Reset: Re-building Your Long-Term Growth Strategy." Register for that event here.

If you can't make the webinars, want to get started sooner, or want a more in-depth conversation on how you can leverage these concepts, feel free to schedule a call with me at

The uncertainty of the near-term and long term is real, but you can be proactive. Have your organization do a Growth Triage to identify and focus on the near-term growth opportunities with the best chance of success.

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