Beyond the Hockey Stick - McKinsey & Co

McKinsey and Co teaches UK business owners how to avoid a hairy back.

Beyond the Hockey Stick

Let Crawford be your guide to the practical lessons for UK business owners in this insightful book.

Archi Stewart helps business owners both manager today and shape tomorrow through a potent mix of strategic advice, practical consultancy and challenging non executive advice. Click here for free strategy resources and tools.

Beyond the Hockey Stick, written by three partners at the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, is a fascinating and insightful exploration of the challenges that business owners face when trying to achieve and sustain growth. While the book targets large corporations, it contains valuable lessons for UK small-to-medium enterprise (SME) business owners seeking to understand the forces that drive growth and how to overcome obstacles to achieving it.

The central theme of the book revolves around the ‘hockey stick’ growth pattern, a common phenomenon where companies project aggressive growth in the future, yet often fail to achieve these optimistic projections. The authors argue that the hockey stick illusion is a symptom of various cognitive and social biases that prevent companies from making the tough decisions necessary for growth. By examining these biases and offering practical strategies to overcome them, Beyond the Hockey Stick becomes a valuable resource for UK SME business owners looking to unlock growth.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its research-backed approach, drawing on McKinsey’s extensive database of corporate performance data. This enables the authors to distill the key factors that contribute to sustained growth and create a practical framework for businesses of all sizes. Their ‘Eight Shifts’ framework, comprising eight major strategic moves, can be effectively applied by SMEs to assess their current business strategy and make necessary adjustments.

In addition to the Eight Shifts framework, the book is packed with real-life examples and case studies, making it highly relatable and engaging. The authors also share their experience working with companies to help them break through plateaus and achieve hockey stick growth, offering valuable insights for UK SME owners.

The eight shifts framework categorises and ranks the type of strategic move open to business owners. A great tool to both create new ideas through and to review existing strategy against.

Beyond the Hockey Stick also introduces the concept of the “Big Hairy Back,” a metaphor the authors use to describe the cumulative effect of social dynamics and cognitive biases within a company. The Big Hairy Back represents the invisible barrier that hinders organizations from making bold moves and overcoming the inertia that prevents growth. By acknowledging and addressing the Big Hairy Back, business owners are better equipped to confront the social and psychological factors that contribute to the hockey stick illusion. This theory is highly relevant to UK SME business owners, as it highlights the importance of fostering an organizational culture that encourages open communication, innovation, and risk-taking. By tackling the Big Hairy Back, SMEs can break through the constraints that limit their growth potential and create an environment where success is more attainable.

The ‘hairy back’ is what several consecutive years of unrealised strategy can look like on a simple line chart.

However, some readers may find that the book’s focus on large corporations makes it less directly applicable to SMEs. The examples and case studies may not always reflect the unique challenges and opportunities faced by smaller businesses. Nonetheless, the core principles and strategies presented in Beyond the Hockey Stick can still be adapted and applied to the context of SMEs, with some creative thinking and determination.

In conclusion, Beyond the Hockey Stick is an essential read for UK SME business owners seeking to unlock growth and avoid the pitfalls of unrealistic expectations. The authors provide a research-backed framework and actionable strategies that can be adapted to suit the unique needs and constraints of smaller businesses. By shedding light on the cognitive and social biases that limit growth, this book empowers business owners to make the tough decisions necessary to achieve their goals and create lasting success.

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