Companies cannot be stagnant in today’s world. What constituted success in the past is unlikely to work as well in the future. Competition is improving and wiping out advantage of the top ranked industry players and technology is leveling the player field between smaller and larger firms. Innovation matters –big breakthrough ideas, but also small bite-size improvements. Today’s best leaders must challenge themselves and their organization every day to increase value not just produce work. It seems like a subtle difference but is THE difference between success and status quo.
Your best growth-oriented ideas will come from challenging how you think. It is too easy to fall into the operational tornado that exists in most companies where the day is filled with completing scheduled work and solving the crisis du jour. We spread our best employees too thin because we want their creativity and insights on multiple projects and in the process set them up for failure because they aren’t enabled to do their optimal work that way. Companies that want more success and more engaged employees need to create a growth-minded culture.
A growth-minded culture doesn’t detract from the value system that exists. It is an overlay of how to deploy those values in a way that creates success—for individuals, for teams, for leaders and the company. It is a culture in which people understand how their contributions link up to prioritized outcomes; where they are encouraged to ask “why?” about how things are done and suggest how it could be done better. Companies with growth-minded cultures want employees who go beyond their job descriptions or outlined duties and focus on what outcomes they create for the company or the customer, over how they process the work. To do so, employees must understand four things:
- How the company makes money
- What customers need
- What is going on in the marketplace that has the potential to have a high impact on the business
- How works flows and how each department impacts the others
Without this information, employees can’t make quality contributions or add more value as they don’t have the context to do so. If they do have this information, they can be contributors to solving problems or finding innovative ways of doing the work better.
How do you create a growth-minded culture and stimulate new and better ideas across a wide swath of the company?
- Commit to having a growth-minded culture. Define that with the help of the organization. Engage employees in the discussion of what they need to participate better and add more value through their work.
- Align resources to the priorities. Be clear about what the priorities are and be sure everyone else is clear. People can’t contribute if they don’t understand. Communication is key, as is consistency. Once you decide the course, stay the course.
- Educate your employee base. Most appreciate being in the loop. What is happening in the market is everyone’s business not just the sales team. How can accounting step up to do a more customer-centric invoicing process if they don’t know who the customers are or what they prefer? How can someone in operations propose changes that impact the entire company if they don’t know how that effects others’ roles? One reason I think we play whac-a-mole so much and are fighting internal fires is that the right and left hand don’t work together as effectively as they should.
- Think “outside-in”. Don’t focus on how to solve issues for the company, think about how to create better outcomes for the customer. In doing so, the priorities become clearer, and the organization is focused on things that matter which in turn contributes to better outcomes for both parties.
- Encourage mentoring. Leaders need coaching as much as employees. We all benefit from seeing issues, challenges, and opportunities through a different lens. As a coach and mentor, it is often clear to me what the issues are that my clients face while to them it a jumble of complexity. I recently read an article in the Kansas City Business Journal profiling a company where the CEO admitted that she was the bottleneck. Her involvement in too many facets of the company left her in the day-to-day and not able to embrace a more strategic approach to growth. After hiring a coach, she realized the issue, and corrected it. She hired more leadership, which enabled much loftier growth goals. No matter what level of employee, they benefit from mentoring others, and equally benefit by being mentored. Mentors are rewarded by being able to help others, but they learn much in the process. Mentees gain knowledge which they can in turn pass along to others. It elevates everyone’s game and helps individuals grow, and if enough people participate, improves the company “brain-trust” or the collective knowledge of the company.
- Tie contributions to the performance management system. Set expectations for achieving results over accomplishing activities. Performance management can be a training tool as well as a reward system.
- Adopt an “ask, don’t tell” leadership approach. Deter managers from telling employees how to do something or what decision to make. Encourage them to share their recommendations and coach them when those ideas leave out important factors that should be considered. There is a temptation to tell—it is faster, easier and we know the “right” thing will happen. But just a few months in with the “ask, don’t tell” training method you will begin to see people transform from employees to contributors as they better understand what matters and can be trusted to handle more work independently.
Time is too scarce, resources too limited, and good employees too rare. If your goal is to exceed expectations—smash past previous performance levels, improve work force engagement, create better alignment across the company—establish a growth-minded culture.