Success is Not What You Do, But How You Do It

Recently two things in my world collided to provide the insight I would like to share today.

The first experience was speaking to an association of 250 industrial companies about the GrowthDNA approach to improving company performance. Before attending the virtual session, they were asked to take the GrowthDNA Scorecard Assessment so that they could compare their company with the aggregate for the group, and could focus on the DNA strands most important to raising their own performance. The group aggregate wasn’t good. The vast majority received “red” scores (bottom tier) in each of the four GrowthDNA strands—Confidence to make bold decisions, strategic ClarityCommitment to a shared strategy organizational-wide, and a growth-minded Culture. When you consider that 67% of companies are not able to grow sustainably, the scores, while disappointing are not surprising. They weren’t all red. Some received “yellow” (mid-tier) and even “green” (top tier) but those were the exceptions. It made me wonder if this is the norm across most industries. An MIT professor I interviewed, Jonathan Byrnes, had introduced a new way of thinking about customer profitability and while it was very successful for those who deployed it, he mentioned that it was not widely adopted. Why? Because he said the top performers seek to get better and the rest focus on status quo and so the gap just gets larger.

Is your company sustaining high performance? High performance is not a reflection of what you do, but how it is done. Incredibly easy to change and doesn’t require investment of anything but your leadership time. (If you haven’t taken the GrowthDNA Scorecard and would like to, you can do so at . It is a good way to discover what DOES matter and how to get better at it).

The second is a succession planning engagement I am working on. I am in the stage of gathering evidence from those in position to observe what matters most in advancing careers at this particular company. While the usual suspects are part of the list—business acumen, demonstrated leadership, high intelligence and problem solving—what stuck out to me is, the things that seem to separate the list from those who are successful from those who are not, aren’t what they can do (their skill sets), but how they do it. For example, are they excited about coming to work, do they have endless energy to address opportunities and challenges, can they equally embrace the needs of all stakeholders—from employees, to customers, to executives and even to themselves? Can they think strategically and see opportunities where others don’t?

In both of these cases the game changer is not what we do, but how we do it. Skills are table stakes. But high performing companies and high performing people hold themselves to a different standard. They seek out the next idea, a new opportunity, and lead in their energetic application of new ideas. They are the kind of leaders others want to follow, not because they have to, but because they trust them. They have seen the results of their work and know that they care—about the business and the people in it. Are you focused on the day to day of getting things done, to the exclusion of focusing on what really matters and can drive better performance—how you engage others?

The best part of this insight is that none of us are restricted. We can all excel with this criterion. We just need to be willing to embrace the opportunities and make the effort to include others enthusiastically on the journey.

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