My book talks about Growth Stalls. Whenever a company sees two consecutive quarters of flat or declining sales or profits, or 2 consecutive quarters where year over year sales or profits were flat or declining, it is in a growth stall. Unfortunately, only 7% of companies that hit a growth stall will ever again consistently grow at a mere 2%. Yes, that's damning and almost unbelievable. And very worrisome given how many companies are now entering growth stalls.
Take a look at Motorola. They stumbled badly in mobile phones because they didn't keep pushing out new products into the market. They tried to Defend & Extend their popular Razr product, and eventually profits disappeared as they cut price. Then sales fell off a cliff as people shifted to newer products. The stall was created by the company insufficiently pushing innovation into the market, and the market shifted to new solutions.
Now "Motorola to cut more jobs as non-cell business weakens" according to ChicagoBusiness.com by Crain's. When the mobile business weakened, management took action to "shore up" the business. It went hunting for a buyer (none found), and it started cutting resources. Including monster layoffs. But it still had to keep investing or the business would collapse entirely. This had a cascading, spiraling negative effect on the rest of Motorola. With resources pushed into the failing cell phone business, there was less management attention and money spent on other businesses. Those also stopped pushing new innovations to the market. Now sales of network gear, set-top boxes, and 2-way radios are all down double digits.
So Motorola plans to cut another 7,500 jobs. More resource cuts, which will cause more cuts in innovation, fewer new products, less White Space. The process of Defending & Extending the past becomes more entrenched, because there are fewer resources around. What gets cut most is anything new. The stuff that could generate growth. Cuts lead to people hoping for an economic recovery that will somehow improve their competitive position. But it won't.
Motorola is now pinning its future on successful smart phone sales. But reality is that every quarter Motorola becomes a far more distant provider in mobile phones. While the best performer had flat volume last quarter, Motorola saw unit sales drop 46%. Motorola moves farther from the market, and into role of niche player. And even though cell phones is supposed to be for sale as a business, as we can see the company is diverting resources from the best part of Motorola (non-cell phones) to mobile handsets because they won't quit trying to Defend & Extend that business.
It's now clear that Motorola is in a vicious circle of cutting resources, losing sales, losing market share, discontinuing innovation, delaying new products, cutting more resources, losing more sales, losing more profits, doing even less innovation, offering up even fewer new products, …… Almost no one ever recovers from this spiral. By trying to Defend & Extend the old business, the actions – including layoffs – significantly harm the business. With less and less innovation, and fewer resources, the company slips into decline and failure.
And that's why growth stalls are deadly. They exacerbate Defend & Extend's weakness as a management approach. The lack of innovation, remaining Locked-in, was what caused the stall. Blaming a recession is just looking for a bogeyman so the business doesn't have to take responsibility for its own mistake. But after a couple of quarters of bad performance, the next wave of actions – the "best practices" to "shore up a problem company" – kill it. The layoffs and resource cuts – especially the delaying or killing of White Space projects and new products – cause customers to accelerate their move to competitors. And the company simply fails.
Today employees in those companies in growth stalls have a lot to worry about – as do their investors. If you hear leadership talking about job cuts and other D&E actions – while deflecting blame elsewhere besides the lack of meeting new market needs – then you're best off to find a new job and sell the stock. These companies will only continue to get weaker, and competitors will displace them as market leaders. An improving economy will be created by their growing competitors, not them, and their boat will not rise with the tide.
The solution is obviously not to practice D&E management. When you identify a growth stall is when all attention needs to be focused on rolling out new solutions to return to growth. Instead of cutting costs while trying to save the past, the business needs to move as rapidly as possible to the solutions needed in the future. Old businesses that caused the stall need to see dramatic resource constraints, while the new opportunities take front and center attention.
It wasn't "the economy" that got Motorola into desperate straits. It was Apple's iPhone and Nokia's relentless new product introductions. Without commensurate innovation, Motorola will never return to its former leadership position. And without resources, that cannot happen.
By the way, thanks Carl Icahn. You were the first to really push Motorola down this track of resource cutting. You're efforts to push Motorola this direction worked, even if you didn't get to lead the cuts. But the results are the same. And if Motorola isn't careful, the whole company may disappear as both halves of what now remain continue declining.