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97 Reasons Why Business Growth Stalls

January 6, 2023

Free Graph and Line Chart Printed Paper Stock Photo

Growth is hard work.  For the past 27 years, I’ve worked as an executive coach, Vistage Chair, trainer or management consultant with hundreds of organizations. They have varied in size from just under $1M to well over $1B. Some have grown aggressively while some have grown more methodically, and others have struggled to grow at all. I find that every organization, at various points in its life cycle, hit ceilings where they get stuck and struggle getting to the next level. And, the higher the expectations, the harder it gets.

It often takes leadership self-reflection, a major change in focus, a significant upgrade in a functional area, or some radical action to breakthrough a ceiling.  When you are a smaller business,  it could be just one major thing.  As your grow, it usually is  combination of interrelated issues.  I’ve compiled the following list of reasons why companies end up hitting a growth ceiling or slowing down their growth trajectory.


Leadership Reasons

  1. no real leader passion for growth; unwillingness to walk the talk
  2. scattered or inconsistent leadership focus
  3. insular leadership teams; circle is too small
  4. too much hierarchy
  5. risk aversion
  6. poor coordination and collaboration amongst leadership team
  7. leadership meetings that are more about reporting than problem solving or opportunity identification
  8. not enough constructive conflict around important decisions
  9. leaders not fully understanding what drives value in the business
  10. one way leadership communication
  11. Incurious or minimally informed key leadership personnel
  12. leader and/or manager disinterest in upward feedback
  13. not seeing the organizational chart as a living document
  14. lack of clarity on what success means that both the macro and micro level
  15. leaders acting like managers rather than leaders
  16. organizational culture is an afterthought
  17. comfort becomes the enemy of progress
  18. an unwillingness to confront harsh business realities; too much happy talk and then unwillingness to communicate bad news
  19. a leader that doesn’t personally invest in his/her own professional development and that of his/her key leadership staff.


Strategic Reasons

  1. forgetting the Basics: Vision, Mission, Values
  2. strategic planning seen as an event rather than management tool
  3. not being in touch with external market realities, e.g., industry and market trends
  4. no strategic decision-making filters
  5. limited or no focus on competitor intelligence
  6. lack of client and/or product diversification
  7. too slow to adjust or pivot based on external market realities
  8. riding industry coattails rather than creating true competitive advantage
  9. minimal or no investment in R&D and innovation
  10. treating assumptions as facts
  11. limited or no data analytics
  12. thinking that what got you here will get you where you’re going


Business Development/Sales Reasons

  1. not fully understanding or leveraging your client value proposition
  2. underinvestment in business development
  3. reactive versus proactive business development (inbound vs. outbound)
  4. limited or ineffective sales management efforts
  5. hiring salespeople on the cheap; underpaying for sales talent
  6. not understanding the ROI of marketing initiatives; trusting rather than validating the advice of outside experts
  7. insufficient attention to upselling efforts
  8. being too optimistic about sales pipeline close rates
  9. poorly functioning or unused CRM system
  10. sticking with clients out of loyalty rather than business benefit
  11. not enough two-way communication with clients regarding service needs and product/service innovations


Operations Reasons

  1. lack of a coherent and consistent management philosophy
  2. minimal or no management reporting systems in place to ensure accountability
  3. too much reliance on too few people
  4. management span of control issues
  5. Focusing on the wrong Key Performance Indicator’s (KPIs) or having none at all
  6. sporadic and inconsistent manager performance
  7. a mindset of micromanagement versus empowerment
  8. getting too process happy; thwarting individual initiative
  9. poor quality control
  10. not pushing back on client scope creep
  11. throwing bodies at problems versus thinking through solutions carefully
  12. lack of innovation to spur productivity
  13. lack of debriefing success and/or failure
  14. organization stops being easy to do business with internally and externally
  15. lack of operational redundancy; single point of failure issues
  16. minimal or no emphasis on succession planning
  17. minimal or no focus on knowledge management; lack of a learning management system
  18. Resisting digital transformation


Financial Management Reasons

  1. stressing the organization from the “inside out” rather than “outside in”; too much overhead and not enough sales; costs driving sales needs versus sales needs driving costs
  2. not having a plan in place for different financial scenarios an using specific budgetary triggers that drive action.
  3. use of static versus flex budgeting or no budget at all
  4. poor cash flow management
  5. not enough working capital
  6. poor backlog/WIP management
  7. too much or the wrong type of debt
  8. too small of a Line of Credit (LOC) based on the size of the business
  9. poor communication with bank when there are financial problems
  10. lack of financial sophistication: Internally or externally
  11. not using forecasting tools
  12. poor estimating and/or pricing
  13. too slow to react to significant A/R issues; letting the amount owed get too big.
  14. minimal or no financial controls
  15. not enough attention placed on risk management; lacking the right business protection
  16. lack of financial literacy at all levels of the organization
  17. self-created tax problems
  18. prioritizing owner lifestyle needs over business investment needs; owner treating business like personal ATM


HR Reasons

  1. not properly leveraging or investing in the HR function
  2. overreliance on hybrid positions rather than committing to specialization
  3. underperforming recruiting function; it takes too long to fill vacant positions
  4. hiring fast and firing slow
  5. wrong people wrong seats, right people wrong seats, right seats wrong people
  6. not paying enough for talent
  7. minimal or no incentive compensation below leadership level
  8. insufficient or no professional development for supervisors and managers
  9. flawed performance management process
  10. insufficient attention to employee morale
  11. high employee turnover
  12. poor employee onboarding process
  13. letting labor attorneys run your business rather than actively dealing with performance issues



  1. different rules for family members and friends
  2. penalizing mistakes rather than learning from them
  3. win-lose versus win-win stakeholder relationships
  4. No mechanisms in place to ensure that truth speaks to power
  5. valuing tenure over competence
  6. Growth needs of the organization excess the growth capabilities of existing staff