Stall Points


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Most Companies Stop Growing--Yours Doesn't Have To

Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever

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Virtually all corporations stagnate at some point in their lifetime, and only one in ten ever recaptures a sustainably high growth rate. Why?

Very few large companies manage to avoid stalls in revenue growth. These stalls are not attributable to the natural business cycle. Rather, careful analysis reveals that the vast majority of such stalls are the direct result of strategic choices made by corporate leaders. In short, stoppages in growth are almost always avoidable. This extensively researched book analyzes the growth experiences of more than six hundred Fortune 100 companies over the past fifty years to identify why growth stalls and to discover how to rectify a stall in progress or, even better, avoid one.

Board members and executives in companies of all sizes will find this book a practical and essential resource. Matthew S. Olson and Derek van Bever investigate the incidence and consequences of growth stalls in major corporations, then probe the root causes. Examining hundreds of stall points, the authors conclude that the greatest threat to a company’s growth is posed by obsolete strategic assumptions that undermine market position, and by breakdowns in innovation and talent management. The study includes a selection of practices for articulating and monitoring strategic assumptions and concludes with a self-test built around fifty “Red Flag” warning signs of an impending growth stall.

Top Four Reasons a Firm May Stall:

• Premium position captivity

• Innovation management breakdown

• Premature core abandonment

• Talent shortfall

Matthew S. Olson is an executive director and Derek van Bever is the chief research officer of the Corporate Executive Board (NASDAQ:EXBD), the premier advisory and performance improvement network for leaders of the world’s largest public and private organizations.  The authors live in the Washington, DC area.  

Visit the Stall Points Initiative, a comprehensive website devoted to providing detailed information on the book, the authors, media coverage and events. **For a limited time, readers can download the article, "When Growth Stalls" in the March issue of the Harvard Business Review.**

The site also offers additional resources, including executive summary research and cases, expanded excerpts, and the "Red Flag" Diagnostic, a self-test developed by the authors to help executives identify and raise awareness about issues worthy of management examination and discussion.

What are some of your company's Stall Points? Take the "Red Flag" Diagnostic self-test here.

"Stall Points is grounded in competent and compelling research. There is no fluff here. It is a cogent, practical guide to the most pressing problem today’s managers face: How to sustain growth."—Clayton M. Christensen, Professor,

Harvard Business School, and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution

"Every company that sets itself a growth trajectory worries about the very real danger of stalling. What makes this critical is that most companies do not realize it even as they encounter stall points. Stall Points captures this dilemma perfectly.  Based on the experience of several organizations across the world, the authors have produced a compelling piece of research. The key takeaway for me personally is the need to build an organization that will identify stall points either before or as they occur, so that corrective action can be taken to put the company back onto its original growth trajectory."—Mukesh Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director, Reliance Industries

"Stall Points provides a unique combination of fact-based analysis and insight from a broad range of large corporate experience. While no book can hold the answer to growth, this one provides valuable tools to help management take the critical first steps of self-assessment and root cause analysis on the road to driving change in the firm."—Mike Giersch, Vice President, Strategic Planning, IBM Corporation

"This book was a real call to action for us at Caterpillar as we needed to break through the $20 billion stall point in our top line. I recommend this book to every business leader who wants to maintain high growth or recover from a growth stall."—David B. Burritt, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Caterpillar Inc.

"Growth is the oxygen of any corporate enterprise, but it’s very hard work—full of uncertainty, difficult questions and difficult choices. Those on the front lines can read an unlimited number of books and articles on growth, but few are as thoroughly grounded in original research, combine the best insights from both academic and consultant thought leaders, and are as littered with pragmatic examples (good and bad) from world class companies. Stall Points is both depressing and exciting. The authors unearth the root causes of the almost-inevitable growth stalls that companies experience, then show that 87% of them are self-inflicted—either strategy failures or organizational failures. Most importantly, they offer actionable ways to both anticipate and react to those circumstances."—Daniel G. Simpson, Vice President, Office of the Chairman and CEO, The Clorox Company

"The challenge of sustaining growth has bedeviled business leaders forever. In today’s competitive markets, marked by the shrinking half-life of business models, the penalty for not stress-testing the foundations of your strategy continuously is swift and fearsome. Stall Points provides the data and the tools to guide this process. If ever there was a must-read, this is it."—Jim Haymaker, Corporate Vice President, Cargill Incorporated

"Through its extraordinarily rigorous and comprehensive analysis of growth, and what undermines it, Stall Points provides a new set of lenses through which to view this most important of topics. It also offers a brilliant, yet practical, toolset for focusing these lenses on one’s own organization. It should be read and carefully considered by every executive team, board, and investor."—Robert A. Whitman, Chairman and CEO, Franklin Covey Inc.

"Executives, by nature, have trouble seeing bad news coming. Despite endless discussion and development of strategy, too many lessons are learned after the fact. What Stall Points uniquely offers is the ability to see problems before they arrive, in time to do something about them. Strategic insight before the fact is what the business world sorely lacks, and what this book offers."—Daniel O. Leemon, Former Chief Strategy Officer, Charles Schwab Corporation

"The messages in Stall Points are sobering for many of the top executives at firms I am involved with—especially those in

Silicon Valley. That their success could be driven to an abrupt end caused by factors mostly under their control frightens them into renewed determination to create and exploit competitive advantage to avoid such a fate. Stall Points is for every executive who thinks his or her company is on top of the world or has did not deserve to fall from grace."—George Stalk Jr., Senior Vice President, The Boston Consulting Group

"Stall Points calls attention to an overlooked attribute of the most successful companies: they take nothing for granted. This book should be required reading for leadership teams that want to stay relevant to their customers over the long run."—Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook

"Stall Points is well-researched and clear on causes, clues, and management practices that are relevant and critical focus areas for board discussion."—Dina Dublon, Former Chief Financial Officer, JPMorgan Chase

"In Stall Points, [the authors] have studied the growth performance of more than 600 U.S. corporations in the postwar years. Their conclusion? About 87% of businesses will hit what they call a stall point. . . . This book offers a useful checklist in how not to do it, a cost-effective way to learn from other people's mistakes. It is a bit like having access to a wily old non-executive director."—Stefan Stern, Los Angeles Times

"The book is clearly and sparsely written, with enough examples to make the points understandable, but not so many that the reader becomes overwhelmed and misses the essential points. You will learn the dangers of stalls, how they occur, and how to try to prevent them or limit the damage should they strike, something vital for leaders in growth companies."—Harvey Schacter, Toronto Globe and Mail

"Stall Points offers practices for articulating, challenging, and monitoring strategic assumptions that can help position a company against a potential stall. Such practices include: commissioning a core belief identification squad, conducting a pre-mortem strategic analysis, appointing a shadow cabinet and inviting a venture capitalist to a company's strategy review."—Management Magazine

"About 87% of businesses will hit what [the authors] call a stall point. . . . This book offers a useful checklist in how not to do it, a cost-effective way to learn from other people's mistakes."—Stefan Stern, Los Angeles Times

"A timely book for executives, learning professionals, and strategists concerned with their organizations' health in the current economy."—Ann Pace, T+D Training & Development

"This book's message is a timely reminder to all managers of this potential for renewal."—Strategy & Business

"Thoughtful and cogent."—Jeffrey Marshall, Financial Executive

"An outstanding supplemental book for graduate students and faculty, as well as a practical resource for corporate executives. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

Selected as one of the Top 10 Business Books of 2008 by Harvey Schachter of the Toronto Globe & Mail
ISBN: 9780300158519
Publication Date: August 25, 2009
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
51 charts and graphs

Sales Restrictions: World excluding India