Skip to content

Want to build a growth culture?
Do these 5 things:

Two decades in the start-up world gave me a front-row seat to brilliant and missed growth stories. I’ve witnessed triumphant buy-outs, parasitic mergers, and catastrophic bankruptcies. The recipe for success has an ingredient list custom to each cook and meal, but there is one common denominator across their growth stories: GROWTH CULTURE.

Ambition is embedded in my DNA, so I am drawn to early-stage companies, challenger brands, and fallen heroes on the comeback trail. My experience with each of these filled my need buckets of being jane-of-all-trades, a fixer, and a builder. Working within so many dynamic (and chaotic) environments, revealed five critical steps to building a culture for growth.

SAY IT OUT LOUD

The “It” is your mission/ your goal/ your vision. Where do you want to take the business? Do your people know it? Do they believe it? Do they support it?

Back in the days of magazine subscriptions, I was obsessed with Fast Company. I devoured their content like it was a secret. I clipped articles and quotes. One that I’ve kept reads,

“Rule #40: People enlist on behalf of a cause. They do the impossible for a cause.
For a business, however, they just work. What’s your cause?”

Fast company, circa 2001

This quote was a revelation to me. It named one of the things that made me so valuable as an employee and that I would leverage later as a business leader.

In order to say it, you first must know it. Clarity around your business goals isn’t as easy as it sounds. (Getting buy-in from your employees can be even harder.) Invest the time in knowing what you want your company to be “when it grows up,” accept counsel on whether and when that vision is possible, and then articulate it often.

Let your cause be the touchstone you use to guide you.

DEPUTIZE & RECOGNIZE

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, owner, department head, or executive, you cannot do it all.

That’s so important, I’ll repeat – YOU. CANNOT. DO. IT. ALL.

One of the benefits of getting buy-in on your cause is to effectively hand-off important work to your team. Elevate your people to take ownership of the mission and the message. The saying ‘nothing draws a crowd like a crowd’ applies also to enthusiasm behind your cause. If you’ve hired successfully, their complementary but diverse strengths will amplify your message and translate it so that many more can hear it in the “language” that they understand best. That’s the “deputizing” part.

Growth Mindset Quote: To Succeed at reinvention, say 'YES' to honoring the past, but 'NO' to living in  it.

Next, you have to celebrate growth mindset and activity authentically. If you aren’t in the habit of showing appreciation to people, it’s time you do. Not only does employee recognition always matter, but it can have a make-or-break impact on employees in their 20s and 30s.

STOP CELEBRATING YESTERDAY’S HOMERUNS

For companies trying to make a come-back, the biggest hurdle is letting go of your glory days.

To succeed at reinvention, say yes to honoring the past but no to living in it. There will be lessons you can take from your first climb, from your fall, and from your competitor’s victory. Be humble enough to learn from them all.

To thrive in the future, you must analyze and predict the needs to come. That might include your current products/ services/ expertise, or it might not. Innovation is not a phenomenon cornered by the elites and the well-funded. It happens when you ask the right questions and then act on what you learn.

The best (and least expensive) way of preparing for tomorrow’s game is through customer engagement. Understanding the challenges/needs/wish-lists of your most valuable customers can point you toward product innovation and partnerships that will help you solve for them.

Companies who make it to the top of their industry should never stop competing like a challenger. Disruption, which is just another way of saying ‘we took down the leader,’ comes for every business caught congratulating themselves on being master of their universe.

MAKE HARD CUTS

The task of cuts includes expenses, products, and people.

Expense cuts may not always be obvious, but they are likely easiest. Just as you cannot do everything, you also cannot buy everything. Choices will be made. Some shiny pretty things will have to stay on the shelf. Importantly, the decisions on where and what to cut should be influenced by leaders with diverse perspectives and purviews.

Products can be more painful to prune. But any gardener will tell you that a plant can only sustain so many blooms. You reduce so that the most viable can thrive. Resources are finite. Make certain you are giving enough fuel to what will differentiate you in the marketplace, what will retain your most valuable customers, and what will attract more of them.

People cuts are almost universally difficult. The hard truth of people management is that not everyone who got you to today will get you to tomorrow. Equally true is that retaining people who underperform or actively detract from your growth is culturally toxic.

In transitions of reporting structure and mergers, there is usually a clear understanding of who will stay and who will go. Having been on the receiving end and the delivering end of the termination conversation, I know this – you will never regret treating an employee with dignity, honesty, and fairness.

And the final critical move toward building a growth culture?

COMMUNICATE FFS

If there is a more important action than to communicate well and often as your company grows, I don’t know it. The absence of communication is a breeding ground for suspicion, mistrust, and misunderstanding. Not being a naturally gifted communicator is not an excuse for not communicating. Good people are bad communicators. It is a tragically common skills gap. Don’t be afraid to appear foolish or emotional or nervous. The advantage we retain in communicating human-to-human are the infinite nuances at our disposal – tone, inflection, non-verbal cues, word choice, format, platform, audience size, expressions, formality, responsiveness and on and on.

Don’t forget to be human.

Like any skill, practice and study will improve your ability. The word “Communication” may suffer from semantic satiation, i.e. it no longer carries the import of its meaning, especially for linear thinkers. Rebrand it, but don’t ignore it.

Set the example of open, clear, and frequent communication, and you will see a cultural shift that follows. Identify a reliable editor and sounding board who feels safe to critique and begin. Set reminders if necessary. Challenge yourself to be uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to make time. Challenge yourself to stick to it.

Be brave enough to suck and to learn from mistakes, but don’t not communicate to your people or your customers. If you plan to put the pedal down on growth, your business must overcome communications gaps. Your growth culture depends on it.

Read more Growth Stories here.