Create a Growth Culture, Not a Performance-Obsessed One
Today’s business environment is high complex, hypercompetitive, and volatile, and for companies to survive and thrive in such an environment, they need more from their employees than ever before.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a lot of C-suite executives today are focused on building high performance cultures within their organizations.
The irony, however, is that focusing on building a high performance culture could be overwhelming your employees, impacting their capacity, and driving up their fear, leading to decreased performance in the long run.
Building a high performance culture is not the best or the healthiest way of driving results.
If you want to drive sustainable performance, you should instead focus on building a culture of growth.
WHAT IS A CULTURE OF GROWTH AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM A PERFORMANCE-OBSESSED CULTURE?
Before embarking on a journey to create a culture of growth in your organization, it is important to understand what exactly the term means, and what it looks like in practice.
A culture can be defined as a mindset and a collection of beliefs on which a group of people base their behavior.
Within an organization, the company culture refers to a shared set of beliefs that are enforced by the company’s leaders and that guide the behavior of the company’s employees as they carry out their day to day activities at work.
A growth culture, therefore, is a set of beliefs and organizational mindset that is focused on helping employees develop their limitless potential.
Companies with the growth mindset believe that skills and abilities can always be improved, and that the greatest purpose of the work employees do is to develop their skills and abilities.
Companies with a growth mindset are not afraid of challenges and setbacks.
They understand that these are necessary for learning and growth, and therefore encourage experimentation and discovery and allow employees to stretch themselves in order to grow.
Companies with growth cultures don’t just focus on things like expertise and knowledge. They also focus on deeper issues such as how their employees feel, and how this affects their behavior.
However, this is not to say that a growth culture does not care about performance. The difference between a performance culture and a growth culture lies in the approach used to achieve this performance.
In performance obsessed cultures, the most important thing is financial results.
These cultures do not pay a lot of focus on individual growth provided financial results are being achieved.
The leaders in such organizations are usually more autocratic than pragmatic, and the most important values in such organizations are intellect, expertise, knowledge, and being driven.
There is a lot of focus on identifying winners and losers, with the winners getting more focus and attention, while the losers are left to fall by the wayside and are eventually weeded out.
Since the aim of the performance driven culture is to increase revenue as quickly as possible with minimum investment, performance driven cultures usually focus on things like minimizing resource and personnel costs, maximizing working hours, and doing away with anything that does not contribute directly to actual production.
A growth-oriented culture, on the other hand, cares about more than financial results.
It also focuses on the safety of its employees, continuous learning and development, giving feedback to ensure growth, and taking care of how people feel.
Remember, how your employees feel has a great impact on how motivated and engaged they are at work.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ORGANIZATIONS WITH GROWTH CULTURES
Organizations that have been able to create a growth culture have a number of common characteristics. These include:
A Safe Environment
Organizations with a culture of growth have created an environment that feels safe for their employees.
When I talk about safety, I’m not talking about physical safety within the office space. Instead, I am talking about psychological safety where employees feel comfortable about being themselves, expressing their opinions, and trying to achieve their potential.
In a safe environment, the culture allows people to take risks, and employees are not afraid that they will have consequences to face for every little mistake.
This allows them to stretch themselves and get out of their comfort zones without fear, which is a necessary ingredient for growth.
Of course, this does not mean that growth cultures do not hold people to account for their actions and decisions. Instead, it means that they are more understanding of mistakes, which are inevitable when people are growing.
Safe environments also mean that leaders are not afraid of showing their vulnerability or taking personal responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings. Leaders in such environments are open and transparent and act as role models for their staff.
A Focus on Continuous Learning
Organizations with a growth mindset are focused on continuous learning and development by encouraging values like curiosity, critical thinking, inquiry, creativity, and transparency instead of self-protection, certainty and judgment.
This creates the ideal breeding ground for creativity and innovation, which often leads to improved performance.
Space for Experimentation
Growth-oriented companies do not hold onto age-old beliefs and outdated ways of doing things. They understand that holding onto the status quo is dangerous and can lead to negative consequences for the organization.
They are therefore constantly testing assumptions and trying to find new ways of doing things.
This is done by providing time and space to conduct experiments to test different approaches, theories, and operations.
This space for experimentation leads to a greater willingness to think differently and less attachment to the status quo.
A Focus on Continuous Feedback
Organizations with a growth mindset understand that it is impossible to learn and grow without feedback.
Therefore, these companies make a commitment to continuously share feedback to help each other grow.
This feedback is given is a hierarchy-free manner – up, down, and across the organization.
In addition, people in such companies do not see feedback as criticism. Instead, they see it as an opportunity to learn and get better.
HOW TO CREATE A CULTURE OF GROWTH
Having understood what a culture of growth looks like, let us now take a look at how you can create a growth culture within your organization.
Focus on People and the Development of Their Skills
When talking about employee growth and development, a lot of C-level executives assume that the only kind of growth that matters to employees is earning more.
However, there is more to growth than income.
Creating a culture of growth requires that you focus on each employee’s individual performance and working priorities.
It requires that you make it possible for the employee to unlock their full potential by providing them with opportunities for learning, collaboration, and gaining working experiences within the organization.
To make this growth personal, you should talk individually to your employees and understand not only their professional goals, but also their personal goals.
With modern learning technologies, you can then use these goals to create unique and customized learning experiences for each of your employees.
By doing this, your employees will appreciate the opportunity to learn, improve and grow, rather than just the opportunity to earn more.
Prioritize Learning Over Talent
Finding employees with the right skills, experience and expertise is very critical to the success of your company. It makes it possible for you to provide the best possible products and services to your customers.
However, most business leaders fail because they stop at that. After hiring great talent, they stop pushing them to improve, and therefore, these employees become too comfortable and get complacent.
As a result, they miss opportunities to grow themselves as well as the company.
To avoid this, you should prioritize learning over talent.
Even when you hire great talent, build a culture of learning and constantly push them to learn and improve themselves. This will quickly instill a growth culture within the organization.
Continuous Improvement is Only Possible with the Right Approach to Learning and Development
The only way to achieve continuous improvement is to drive it from the bottom of the business.
In other words, continuous improvement is only possible if adopted by every worker.
In this case, continuous improvement refers to a never ending process of acquiring new knowledge, transforming this knowledge into skills, and then disseminating it across the organization and using it to drive growth for the organization.
This ensures that growth – both personal and within the organization – never stops and is actually driven by the employees.
To achieve such a process of growth, companies need the right approach to learning and development.
Each piece of knowledge gained by employees should be closely linked to their performance. In addition, business leaders should ensure that there is no lag between learning and doing. Learning should be integrated into the employee’s workflow.
There should be a way to implement what they have learnt into their day to day work activities.
Instilling a growth culture will become an uphill task if there is no way to link what is being learned to their workflow, or if your employees are too busy with their work activities to implement what they are learning.
Create a Culture of Challenging Assumptions
One of the greatest killers of growth in companies is the saying, “We have always done things this way.” This statement keeps organizations using outdated practices and approaches because they once worked, without considering whether these practices are suited for the current circumstances.
To illustrate the absurdity of this statement, I’ll use the story of a young girl who was helping her mother make dinner. The girl noticed something curious.
Her mother started by cutting off both ends of the ham before placing it in the oven. Surprised by this, she asked her mother why she did it, and she answered with
“That’s how my mother used to do it.”
Not satisfied, the daughter picked up the phone and called her grandmother to find out if this was true. Sure enough, that’s how her grandmother did it.
She asked why her grandmother always cut the ends off the ham, and she replied with,
“That’s how my mother used to do it.”
Even more curious now, she waited for a visit from her great grandmother and asked if she also always cut the ends off the ham.
She agreed that, indeed, she always did that too. When the little girl asked why she did it, her great grandmother explained that she cut off the ends because she had a small pan that couldn’t accommodate the whole ham.
A long time ago, great grandmother faced a challenge, and she therefore came up with a procedure to help her deal with this challenge using what she had.
Decades later, her granddaughter had better tools and therefore didn’t even face the challenges her grandmother faced, yet she continued using procedures that her grandmother came up with just because it has always been done that way.
By sticking to how things have always been done, you could also be solving problems using outdated methods when you have better methods at your disposal.
Just like the little girl’s mother, you might even find yourself solving problems that you no longer have.
To avoid this, you should create a culture of challenging assumptions.
For every process that you feel doesn’t make sense enough or is not effective or efficient enough, encourage your employees to ask themselves what problem this process solves, and if this is the best way of solving this problem.
Once you instill this culture in your employees, your organization will keep growing (and performing better), because you will be constantly coming up with better ways of doing things as you gain access to better equipment, better technology, new knowledge, and so on.
For growth to happen, your employees need to stretch themselves and step out of their comforts zones by making decisions they have never made before, taking up on new responsibilities they have never handled before, and so on.
In such circumstances, it is inevitable that mistakes will happen, because people are dealing with new things they have no prior experience with. How you react to these mistakes has a huge influence on whether the growth culture will take root in your organization.
If your default reaction is to blame your employees for making mistakes, you will be removing any incentive for your employees to try and resolve any issues that could be causing your business to lose customers. Instead, your employees will choose to play it safe and stick to tried and tested ways of doing things.
This will prevent them from growing, which will in turn prevent them contributing to your company’s growth. Remember, it is impossible for a business to grow if its employees are not growing.
Of course, this is not to say that you should give your employees a free role and not hold them accountable when they screw up.
However, you should be a bit understanding of mistakes and create an environment where they see mistakes as an opportunity for learning.
Allow Space for Experimentation
This is closely related to the previous point. If you want your organization to adopt the growth mentality, you need to provide your employees with the time and space to experiment.
This is what helped some startups to achieve “unicorn” status in a matter of a few years.
Perhaps the company that is known for its experimentation is Google. Up until 2011, Google had a policy known as 20% time, which allowed employees to spend 20% of their time (one day per week) working on their own side projects.
This experimental nature paid off, with many of Google’s popular projects, such as AdSense, Gmail, Google News, Google Talk, and so on being born as employee’s side projects.
Google is not the only company that has benefited from giving its employees time and space to experiment. Twitter, one of the world’s most popular social media platforms today, started as a side project of podcasting platform Odeo.
The project was first introduced during a company hackathon at Odeo, and fortunately, the CEO of Odeo Ev Williams allowed the employees to continue work on it on the side. Funny enough, Twitter went on to become bigger than Odeo would have ever hoped to be.
Just like these companies, giving your employees space to experiment not only leads to personal growth, but also the growth of the organization as well.
However, it is impossible for employees to experiment when they are constantly overwhelmed by work and feeling burned out. You need to give them some time and incentive to come up with ideas that could end up being the key to your company’s growth.
Of course, you don’t need to adopt something as drastic as Google’s 20% time policy. All you need to do is to make sure that employees have some space for experimentation.
This can be achieved even using simple approaches such as organizing hackathons every once in a while.
Create a Talent Mobility Program
One of the best methods of cultivating a culture of growth and getting your employees excited about their future with your organization is to create a talent mobility program.
With a talent mobility program, employees know exactly what they are working towards and what it will take them to get there, which acts as a great incentive for them to keep learning and developing their skills and abilities.
Despite the effectiveness of talent mobility programs in instilling a culture of growth, a talent mobility research conducted by Cornerstone in 2015 found that for almost a quarter of the organizations polled (24%), the greatest problem is that organizations don’t have an understanding of talent mobility or how they can leverage it.
The first step to having an effective talent mobility program is to get your employees acquainted with the idea of the program.
Hold meetings to explain the talent mobility to your employees and explain how it applies to their individual situations. You should also encourage employees to have career management discussions to define how they want to advance within the organization.
During these discussions, help the employee identify their personal goals, and then work with them to come up with a plan on how they can achieve these goals.
Once they embark on the plan, give them continuous feedback to ensure that they are on the right track.
To make the process easier, break down their overall goals into smaller time based goals that are easier to achieve.
You should also review the plan periodically to help them see how much progress they have made and to determine the next steps they need to take.
With such an approach, it is a lot easier to center your company culture on employee growth.
When your employees know that they have opportunities to advance within the company and a plan on how to do it, they are also going to be more invested in learning and development.
This will play a huge role in ensuring that the growth culture catches on within the organization.
Engage Every Internal Resource
When trying to create a growth culture, most organizations leave this task to executives and HR reps. However, as Ian Altman argues in this article on Forbes, the key to building a growth culture is to embrace the contribution of all your employees at every level.
While executives and HR reps may be responsible for spearheading specific growth programs, you should engage all workers in every department and encourage them to give their suggestions and feedback.
For instance, since your customer service reps and sales reps are in direct contact with your customers, they probably have insights and recommendations that may help the organization satisfy its customers better.
Not only is engaging your employees at all levels good for the organization’s future growth, it also increases employee satisfaction.
When your employees know that their contributions are valued, this makes them feel worthwhile, increases their morale, and reduces turnover.
Today’s complex, volatile and hypercompetitive business environment means that business leaders are hard pressed to get the most out of their employees, and as a result, most of them focus on creating performance-obsessed cultures.
However, this could be detrimental to your company in the long run.
The key to driving sustainable performance is to focus on building a growth oriented culture, where you worry not only about results, but also about helping your employees improve their skills and abilities and develop their limitless potential.
Creating a growth oriented culture is all about achieving a delicate balance between challenging and nurturing your employees. If you push them too hard, they will get burned out.
On the other hand, if you don’t challenge them, they will get complacent and miss opportunities to add value to the organization. It is all about rewarding success, while at the same time treating challenges, shortcomings and failure as opportunities for learning and growth.
Finally, it is good to note that transforming from a performance-obsessed to a growth-oriented organization takes time.
Therefore, this should be a long-term goal. It might not be easy, but eventually, the results will be worth it.
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