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What are the different growth horizons in business strategy, and how should we prioritize them for sustainable development?


This article provides a detailed response to: What are the different growth horizons in business strategy, and how should we prioritize them for sustainable development? For a comprehensive understanding of Growth Strategy, we also include relevant case studies for further reading and links to Growth Strategy best practice resources.

TLDR Prioritize investments across three Growth Horizons—core business, emerging opportunities, and future options—to ensure long-term sustainable development.

Reading time: 4 minutes


When discussing the strategic planning necessary for sustainable development, it's crucial to understand the concept of growth horizons. This framework, popularized by consulting giants like McKinsey & Company, outlines "how many growth horizons are there" and provides a template for organizations to diversify their strategy portfolio effectively. The model typically identifies three horizons of growth, each serving a distinct purpose in the long-term success and sustainability of an organization.

The first horizon focuses on the core businesses that currently generate the bulk of an organization's revenue and profit. It's about defending and expanding existing markets, enhancing operational efficiencies, and driving incremental innovation to stay ahead of competitors. This horizon requires a deep understanding of the organization's existing value proposition and a commitment to continuous improvement. For example, a leading retailer might invest in optimizing its supply chain to reduce costs or in enhancing customer experience to drive loyalty and repeat business.

The second horizon involves emerging opportunities that have the potential to become significant profit centers in the future. These are often adjacent markets or new customer segments that can be reached through the organization's existing capabilities or through moderate innovation. The focus here is on building viable business models that can scale. Strategic investments in this horizon might include developing new product lines or expanding into new geographical markets. For instance, a technology company might leverage its expertise in consumer electronics to enter the home automation market.

The third horizon is about creating future options, involving ventures into untested markets or technologies that hold the promise of substantial future growth. This horizon is the most uncertain but also offers the highest potential reward. It requires a culture of innovation, willingness to take calculated risks, and a strategic approach to portfolio management. Investments in horizon three often focus on disruptive technologies or business models. A classic example is Amazon's early investment in cloud computing through AWS, which was a departure from its core e-commerce business but has since become a major growth engine.

Prioritizing Growth Horizons for Sustainable Development

To ensure sustainable development, organizations must balance their investments and strategic focus across all three horizons. This doesn't mean allocating resources equally but rather in a way that reflects the organization's strategic objectives, market position, and risk tolerance. Horizon one initiatives, being the closest to the current business, typically receive the bulk of investment since they ensure the organization's short-term health and competitiveness. However, overemphasizing this horizon at the expense of the others can lead to stagnation.

Horizon two is critical for medium-term growth and requires a more entrepreneurial approach. Organizations should identify emerging trends and technologies that could impact their industry and begin developing capabilities and offerings to address these. This might involve setting up dedicated teams or divisions focused on innovation, separate from the core business, to explore these opportunities without the constraints of the existing business model.

Horizon three, while the most speculative, is essential for long-term sustainability. It's about making small bets on a variety of potentially disruptive innovations, knowing that while many may fail, a few could define the future of the organization. This requires a strategic approach to risk management, with clear criteria for evaluating and prioritizing projects. It also necessitates a cultural shift towards accepting failure as a part of the innovation process.

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Implementing the Growth Horizon Framework

Implementing this framework effectively requires a structured approach to strategic planning and portfolio management. Organizations must first conduct a thorough analysis of their current portfolio and market dynamics to understand where their investments lie in relation to the three horizons. This involves not just a financial analysis but also a strategic review of market trends, customer needs, and competitive dynamics.

Next, organizations should develop a clear strategic vision that aligns with their long-term objectives and risk appetite. This vision will guide the allocation of resources across the three horizons. It's crucial to maintain flexibility in this process, as market conditions and organizational priorities can change. Regular review sessions can help adjust strategies as needed.

Finally, leadership and culture play critical roles in the successful implementation of the growth horizons framework. Leaders must champion the framework and create an environment that encourages innovation, tolerates failure, and rewards long-term thinking. This includes providing the necessary resources for horizon two and three initiatives and recognizing that these investments are essential for the future health of the organization. In summary, understanding "how many growth horizons are there" and effectively prioritizing investments across these horizons is essential for sustainable development. By balancing the focus on current operations, emerging opportunities, and future innovations, organizations can ensure long-term success in an ever-changing business environment.

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Best Practices in Growth Strategy

Here are best practices relevant to Growth Strategy from the Flevy Marketplace. View all our Growth Strategy materials here.

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Explore all of our best practices in: Growth Strategy

Growth Strategy Case Studies

For a practical understanding of Growth Strategy, take a look at these case studies.

Aerospace Market Entry Strategy for Commercial Satellite Firm

Scenario: The organization is a commercial satellite company in the aerospace industry, facing challenges in expanding its market share.

Read Full Case Study

Strategic Growth Planning for Professional Services Firm in Competitive Market

Scenario: A multinational professional services firm is grappling with market saturation and competitive pressures in the digital age.

Read Full Case Study

Leveraging Growth Strategy to Expand Market for a Multinational Tech Firm

Scenario: The tech firm, a prominent player in the global market, is seeking to further expand its market reach, stepping into new geographies and customer segments.

Read Full Case Study

E-commerce Strategy Overhaul for D2C Health Supplements Brand

Scenario: A rapidly growing direct-to-consumer (D2C) health supplements brand has been struggling to align its corporate strategy with its ambitious growth targets.

Read Full Case Study

Strategic Growth Plan for Aerospace Components Manufacturer in High-Tech Sector

Scenario: The organization is a leading manufacturer of aerospace components in the high-tech sector struggling to align its operations with the rapidly evolving demands of the industry.

Read Full Case Study

Media Platform Diversification for Digital Broadcasting Company

Scenario: The organization is a digital broadcaster specializing in niche content streams with a robust subscriber base in North America.

Read Full Case Study

Explore all Flevy Management Case Studies

Related Questions

Here are our additional questions you may be interested in.

In what ways can businesses leverage data analytics and AI to identify new growth opportunities?
Data analytics and AI enable businesses to identify growth opportunities through Market Trend Analysis, Customer Segmentation, Personalization, Operational Efficiency, and Innovation, driving strategic planning and competitive advantage. [Read full explanation]
How can businesses effectively measure the ROI of their growth strategies in dynamic markets?
Effective ROI measurement in dynamic markets combines traditional financial metrics with agile methodologies, focusing on long-term value creation and leveraging advanced analytics, Balanced Scorecard, OKRs, and Scenario Planning. [Read full explanation]
How can organizations ensure their ESG initiatives genuinely contribute to sustainable growth rather than just serving as PR exercises?
Organizations can ensure ESG initiatives contribute to sustainable growth by integrating ESG principles into their Strategic Planning, setting clear, measurable goals aligned with core business objectives, engaging stakeholders, fostering a Culture of Sustainability, and leveraging Technology and Innovation for genuine change. [Read full explanation]
How can companies ensure their growth strategy remains aligned with changing consumer behaviors and expectations?
Aligning growth strategies with changing consumer behaviors necessitates leveraging Data Analytics, adopting Agile methodologies in Strategic Planning, and embracing Digital Transformation to enhance customer experiences, ensuring competitiveness in a dynamic market. [Read full explanation]
How can companies measure the ROI of digital transformation initiatives within their corporate strategy?
Measuring the ROI of Digital Transformation requires establishing clear metrics and goals, calculating financial impacts, and leveraging real-world examples for benchmarking, ensuring investments in technology and digital capabilities are justified and areas for further improvement are identified. [Read full explanation]
How can companies effectively measure the ROI of Digital Transformation initiatives within their Growth Strategy?
Effective measurement of Digital Transformation ROI within a Growth Strategy involves defining clear objectives, employing quantitative and qualitative metrics, and implementing a structured measurement framework to assess impact and guide future investments. [Read full explanation]

Source: Executive Q&A: Growth Strategy Questions, Flevy Management Insights, 2024


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