Momentum management – Keep raising the bar

It's not unusual to want to keep improving standards, after all, the majority of people want to improve their living standards each year and hopefully, they see a connection between that and what they do at work. However, the school of momentum management takes that a bit further.

Momentum management, my favourite concept, demands that you always exceed what you have just achieved, year after year. It brings with it a rare set of issues and pressures.

It’s not unusual to want to keep improving standards – after all, the majority of people want to improve their living standards each year and hopefully, they see a connection between that and what they do at work. However, the school of momentum management takes that a bit further. It means that what was good enough last year or last month isn’t good enough now. You want better, you want more!

This has a big affect on your staff. Self-improvers take to this environment like ducks to water, because their attitude is all part of growing a business rapidly. Opportunities keep arising for more responsibility and more rewards. Staff love the fast-growing, fast-changing environment.

But many won’t be able to keep up. You can get around this partly by the nature of the people you hire – driven self-achievers – but you need to accept that, as your business grows, many executives won’t grow as quickly as the company.

This often means that the people who were in at the start – or the people who helped you in a key phase – are no longer the right people.

In this situation you have two choices: either you can bring in new people over their heads who possess the right skills, or you can have a grown-up conversation that results in the person leaving, and being paid off generously by you.

What you can’t do is to let your loyal lieutenant flounder out of their depth and hold back the company’s momentum. That way, nobody wins.

I used to find this hugely difficult because these are often people with whom you have been through a lot. But I now liken this whole process to a long journey on a train: some get on at the start of the journey and get off at a station along the way; others join at different times. You stop briefly to let them alight, then you continue hurtling along, with a lot of noise and a lot of steam – and often completely in the dark!

Of course, never being satisfied is not an attractive personality trait. As one of the partners in my strategic consultancy once said, ‘You may be hugely respected, but you know you’re not loved, don’t you?’ Yup, it comes with the ticket, I’m afraid.

Lacklustre suppliers and advisers

Often, it’s also suppliers and advisers who can’t keep up. When I was building CIA, every phase we went through asked new questions of our lawyers and accountants: from start-up; medium-sized, successful; floating the business; going to Europe; going global; to finally selling the business.

In the early stages we went through lawyers and accountants every three years – some upped their game pretty well, but lacked the international perspective. More of a problem with these professional, time-based organisations are those who spend a large amount of time, at your expense, guessing what you might want and learning the business.

This is the worst of all worlds: expensive but second-rate advice. A medieval but entirely current system – what a fantastic business to be in! I just can’t stand paying for it.

How to make it

If you’re setting such a fast, exhausting pace there are a few things you can do to compensate beyond the ‘conventional’ rewards of money and position:

  • Celebrate your successes, spontaneously as well as formally on occasions.
  • Make sure people feel valued and appreciated.

I don’t know if ‘never being satisfied’ is an attribute or a curse, but I have it in the extreme. The problem is, when I should be rewarding or thanking, too often I’m already thinking about the next move. So, someone like me needs a partner or right-hand person to compensate for this ‘emotional gap’.

All of this is not as theoretical as it sounds. Five years after starting CIA, the board went away for two days with a moderator. It may be old hat now, but in 1980 we felt very progressive.

One of our tasks was to complete a questionnaire composed of apparently random questions to arrive at our personality types and a combined personality for the board. With this particular technique they were looking for three key drivers – achievement, influence and affiliation (the need to get on with people and be part of a team).

The result was extraordinary – all the operational directors had massive scores on ‘achievement’, ‘influence’ was only of marginal interest to us and the scores for ‘affiliation’ were almost non-existent. The only exception was the financial director, for whom ‘affiliation’, that is, getting on with people, was the prime driver.

So, I’d surrounded myself entirely with people who needed a diet of raw meat and iron filings every day, who would then go and punch down walls! And it was the finance director who was left to pick up the pieces.

This bizarre casting served us brilliantly well in the early years and we grew at a phenomenal pace. But this exercise highlighted that the team was too one-dimensional to run the more complex organisation that we became in later years.

The Author

Chris Ingram has considerable experience of building and managing rapid-growth com-panies and is widely regarded as the inventor of the modern media agency. He started CIA in 1976 with three people and £10,000. It grew into Tempus Group and was sold to WPP for more than £430 million in 2001. In 2002 he launched Genesis Investments, a private equity business, and in July 2003 The Ingram Partnership, a strategic brand building and communications consultancy.

Chris Ingram

Jackie Kiehn

Chris Ingram is a businessman, entrepreneur and art collector who was judged London Entrepreneur of the Year' in 2000 in the Ernst & Young awards and was founder of the CIA advertising agency.

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