How to Create Predictable Success

The good news: every organization – be it a business, division, department, project, group, or team – has the ability create predictable success.

The bad news: it requires a lot of work, some early struggle, includes a period of fun, and finally a trip through some white-water to get there.

How do I know?  I read Predictable Success, an exceptional book by Les McKeown – the preeminent leader in the study of predictable success – based on Les’s experience launching and managing more than 40 businesses as well as his study of hundreds of businesses that he helped launch as co-founder of an incubation company.

I’m thrilled to announce that Les will be joining Steve Woodruff and me as our guest-host at Leadership Chat tomorrow night, March 22nd!  We’ll focus on the topic, “Why leaders fail,” and Les will share his insights gained from his vast experience and from the Predictable Success Growth Cycle itself.

What was the most glaring – and most important – take-away in the book for me? The fact that leaders can be brilliant, visionary, values-driven, focused, excellent communicators, loyal to their teams and entirely committed to achieving the goals of the organization and still fail because they don’t recognize or understand where the organization itself lies in its life cycle.

So, what exactly does this Predictable Success Growth Cycle look like?







Important Points to Know About the Growth Cycle

  • Not every organization makes it through all seven stages
  • It’s possible (and according to Les, quite common) to drop back to a previous stage – this was a huge eye-opener for me as I realized this was happening with a few of my clients!
  • Some organizations die at a certain stage
  • It is not possible to skip a stage.  You have to go through the white-water to get to predictable success…
  • But it is possible for organizations to remain in Predictable Success indefinitely! This, I will posit, is the “Holy Grail” for organizations…

A Look at the Predictable Success Growth Cycle:

  • In Early Struggle the two main challenges are (1) Making sure there is enough cash to keep going and (2) clearly establishing that there is a market for your product or service
  • More than two-thirds of all organizations don’t make it out of Early Struggle.
  • When you’ve broken through Early Struggle you get to Fun! Your key focus now moves from cash to sales and the business builds exponentially in a time of rapid, first-stage growth.
  • Here was another eye-opener for me: It’s in Fun that the organization’s myths and legends are built and the “Big Dogs” emerge.
  • Just as you were really starting to enjoy all that Fun, you hit Whitewater. The organization becomes complex and the emphasis shifts from sales to profitability.
  • To achieve sustained, profitable growth you’re now required in Whitewater to put in place consistent processes, policies and systems which is often harder than thought, and implementing decisions and making them stick becomes incredibly difficult.
  • Whitewater is where organizations and leaders often have an identity crisis and suffer a lack of confidence.
  • Those who successfully navigate Whitewater make it to Predictable Success – the prime stage in your organization’s growth where you set and consistently achieve your goals and objectives with a predictable and consistent degree of success.
  • When organizations shift too far toward depending on process and policies and there is a decline in creativity, risk taking and initiative then they’ve moved out of Predictable Success into the Treadmill where a lot of energy is being expended and there is no forward movement.  This is probably very familiar to many of you!
  • It’s in the Treadmill that there is an emphasis on data over action and when good people start to leave – sometimes even the founder.
  • Without any effort to get out of the Treadmill, organizations will fall into The Big Rut where process and administration are more important than action and results, and where the organization loses its ability to be self-aware.
  • And then there is the Death Rattle – a final chance at life through bankruptcy or acquisition – before the organization dies in its present form.

So what are the keys to getting to, and staying in, Predictable Success?  What steps should a leader take when they are not in Predictable Success but are committed to getting there?

Join us for Leadership Chat tomorrow night on Twitter at 8:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time to find out!

Les, Steve and I will be there along with the Leadership Chat Community – and you are all invited!  Simply use the #LeadershipChat hash tag to follow along and to join the conversation.  We look forward to seeing you there!

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You can find me on Twitter at @LisaPetrilli and on LinkedIn at I look forward to seeing you there!

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Photo is Buds of Almond by halfrain.


  1. Thanks Lisa 4 The Post – Lookin 4ward to Tuesday night with Les and The LeadershipChat Community.

    The topic is right on for me – Why Do Leaders Fail? I can only speak 4 myself when I say – yes, I believe I am a strong leader, and have worked with strong leaders yet, have experienced failure, and will continue to fail. (Maybe I am not that strong a leader afterall!) I realize that you can learn from failure, and grow from there.

    As you noted, and what rang out to me, was The Treadmill stage. The name of this stage is right on and when you are on it, it can be the most frustrating. (Especially after you have achieved success in some form) I find it funny that sometimes as leaders we lose sight of what got us to the success level, and we fall back on policies and procedures.

    One question I have is what can Middle Management do to recognize the various stages and alert those above that we are “Treading On Thin Ice”, and then, as Middle Managers make the necessary steps to stay away from the pitfalls that can occur? What can they do to find and hold onto The Holy Grail?

    Thanks Lisa for the post and your thoughts

    See you at The Leadership Chat on Tues.


    • Steve,

      So glad to know you’ll be joining us tomorrow night – Les’s experiences and insights are truly invaluable and given you own experiences I think you’d get a lot of value from the book.

      What’s fascinating about Treadmill is not so much that it’s a “falling back on” policies and procedures, but a new dependence on them that shor circuits the creativity and innovation and forward movement.

      And the book gives excellent advice on exactly what to do to position the company for Predictable Success. :)

      See you tomorrow and be sure to follow Les – think you’ll really enjoy getting to know him.

  2. Thank you for this excellent summary of the Predictable Success Growth Cycle. Hoping to make the leadership chat this week!

    I think that as leaders we tend to have a sense of where we want to go, and if successful we work well with our teams to get there. We spend a lot of time creating structures to help us achieve maximal results, when we find something that works well, we stick to it.

    This Cyclic look at the stages of the business is really interesting because I think that at first glace, you can think you are somewhere, but if you really look at the detail, you get a sense of “wow” while looking at the definitions of stages. A great opportunity to reflect on where you have been and where you think you are at.

    My note to self as I read was “hold here” (next to the Predictable Success stage). Naturally, I read on to see where I was heading if I don’t “hold here”… My favorite part is in the description of “The Big Rut”: ” …where processes and administration are more important than action and results”. This is powerful.

    Too many organizations seem to create situations where the end all to everything is the process. Once a process is put into play, it is easy to forget all the details, and blindly follow along.

    In reality, the true questions asked should always be results oriented: Is this working? Is this still relevant? How is this really impacting our results? Do we need to review and update?

    If one is constantly referencing “process and procedure” at some point you have to ask yourself, why am I focusing on this, is something else going on? Has something changed?

    A leader always needs to understand their goals, and how all the things they have put into place serve these goals. If we do not as leaders work adaptability and open-mindedness into our mix, then “The Big Rut” may be the nightmare we walk ourselves into.

    We are living in a world that changes fast, our values may (and should) hold steady, but we need to remember throughout to keep flowing with the world and with our teams. Never using a process or procedure as a crutch, but as a tool to always stay current. I feel this keeps us on the road to success and in the Predictable Success Stage. No one wants to be in a place that has so much (senseless) red tape that they can’t move. The world is in motion. We need to be too.
    Mila´s last blog post ..Commentary – Do you do favors for strangers Lets look at some advice

    • Mila,

      You’ve nailed it here – you absolutely get the value of these concepts. The reality is that I, too, had powerful “a-ha” moments when reading the book – it all seems so obvious, but only after Les lays it out beautifully for us and explains WHY the company got to this point. If the bullet points here really struck you then I honestly think you’d get a tremendous amount of value from the book. Les’s experiences with so many companies enable him to really get down into the details of what to do and not do to when going from stage to stage. Hope to see you tomorrow night!

  3. Lisa,
    Success never becomes predictable. Even when we achieve success (whatever that actually means), it is still fleeting and requires careful reexamination and new strategic thinking if we are to maintain it. Even failure AFTER success can lead to even greater future success.

    Now, success does leave clues (thank you, Tony Robbins) but in ever-changing times and technologies, predictability is only one’s best guess. The chart above is pretty accurate but also rather obvious. Staying on top is never guaranteed nor can it be predicted. Not buying this one, sorry Mr. McKeown…
    Dan Perez´s last blog post ..Miami Children’s Hospital- Battling Dravet Syndrome

    • Dan,

      I think it’s important to understand that Les is not talking about “guaranteed” success or even “being on top.” The book is all about getting to the stage where goals and objectives are set – and met – with a consistent and predictable degree of success. This is all about organizations – not necessarily “success” as we may define it as individudals.

      As someone who has been in and worked with very large and complex organizations this book was invaluable for understanding the steps that leaders need to take to address the challenges that will naturally come up at each stage. And you’re right – in our ever-changing times there will absolutely be market changes and innovations and competitors that pop-up out of no where – but if the organization is properly prepared and aligned, these outside forces can still be leveraged for success.

      I hope you’ll join us and really listen to Les’s insights – and I highly recommend the book. (I found it will provide a lot of insights that I can share with my clients to help them understand where and why they are failing).

      All the best!

  4. I will admit- looking at the chart before reading your blog; I was skeptical of this concept. Especially your posit that a company cannot skip a step..

    After reading just your thoughts; and not yet Les’ book – it resounds well with me. Most of my experience has been with major (huge) corporations or small agencies or on my own. In one dynamic company; I came onboard just as they were exiting “early struggles” and was def. in the fun stage. a lot of fun. We were making things happen.. we were kicking the ball a mile and racing after it …to kick it again… then the white water came. In fact, one of my biggest roles (I almost hate to admit) was to help come up with Acct Exec and client mgmt processes.

    Honestly, and some disagree if they were there – I think the company never made it cleanly out of the rapids.. and was merged..then sold off. I miss that great dynamic fun stage!

    Looking forward to tonight’s discussion.
    stephen harris´s last blog post ..Project Failure- The Project Managers Responsibility

    • Stephen,

      I can absolutely relate to your experiences. And it was encouraging to hear from Les tonight that smaller companies can and do commit to staying in the Fun stage. It’s just when you scale that you have to go through the whitewater – and it makes complete sense as to why when you read the book. I think you’d enjoy it. I’m actually planning to share copies with my clients… Thanks so much for joining us tonight – it means a lot to me and your insights are so valuable!


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