March 20, 2009
Book Short: A Marketing-Led Turnaround
Generally, I love books by practitioners even more than those by academics. That’s why Steve McKee’s first (I assume) book, When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What to do About It (book, Kindle edition) appealed to me right out of the gate. The author is CEO of a mid-size agency and a prior Inc. 500 winner who has experienced the problem firsthand – then went out, researched it, and wrote about it. As a two-time Inc. 500 winner ourselves, Return Path has also struggled with keeping the growth flames burning over the years, so I was eager to dig into the research. The title also grabbed my attention, as there are few if any business books really geared at growth stage companies.
I’d say the book was “solid” in the end, not spectacular. Overall, it felt very consistent with a lot of other business books I’ve read over the years, from Trout & Reis to Lencioni to Collins, which is good. The first half of the book, describing the reasons why growth stalls, was quite good and very multi-faceted. His labeling description of “market tectonics” is vivid and well done. He gets into management and leadership failings around both focus and consensus, all true. Perhaps his most poignant cause of stalls in growth is what he calls “loss of nerve,” which is a brilliant way of capturing the tendence of weak leadership when times get tough to play defense instead of offense.
The problem with the book in the end is that the second section, which is the “how to reverse the stall” section, is way too focused on marketing. That can be the problem with a specialty practitioner writing a general business book. What’s in the books makes a lot of sense about going back to ground zero on positioning, market and target customer definition and understanding, and the like. But reversing the stall of company can and usually must involve lots of the other same facets that are documented in the first half of the book — and some other things as well, like aggressive change management and internal communication, systems and process changes, financial work, etc.
At any rate, if you are in a company where growth is stalling, it’s certainly a good read and worth your time, as what’s in it is good (it’s what’s missing that tempers my enthusiasm for it). In this same category, I’d also strongly recommend Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, as well.