Do You Have the Right People to Grow?

By: Andrew Sobel and Guido Quelle | Chief Learning Officer

During the past 18 months, a survivalist mentality has crept into the workplace. Some employees are gripped with a “scarcity mindset,” which is characterized by fear, risk aversion and a feeling that they must grab their share of limited opportunities.

This outlook, however, is antithetical to the most important challenge facing today’s businesses: restarting growth. Companies must refocus on growing existing customer relationships and adding new ones, revitalizing their products and services, and reaching out to new markets. But do they have the right people, with the right attitudes and skills, to support these growth initiatives?

The employees who can help spur companywide growth will have five key qualities that must be developed and supported.

1. An aspirational mindset.
This stands in stark contrast to the scarcity outlook brought on by the economic downturn. It’s a belief in possibilities rather than in limitations, that growth is ideas-constrained, not resource-constrained, and that a rising tide lifts all boats. Apple is a showcase for the aspirational mindset: A scarcity outlook would have driven its engineers to optimize existing cell phone technology to create their entry into the cellular handset market. Instead, they combined a number of seemingly disparate technologies and added proprietary software to create the breakthrough iPhone – 30 million of which have been sold worldwide.

To encourage the aspirational mindset, company leaders must set a compelling and upbeat vision that powerfully engages employees. To encourage long-term, out-of-the-box thinking, they must then reinforce aspirational behavior through the performance management and rewards system.

2. A customer bias.
All companies say they are customer-centric, but most actually are not. A key driver of customer bias is the culture. What is more important: internal meetings or dealing with customers? Do your leadership team members spend large amounts of time out in the market, or is their time spent focusing on internal politics? Also, does everyone in your organization – not just marketing and sales- receive regular and unfiltered feedback on customer satisfaction, retention, and attitudes toward your company?

Without the latter, you risk living in an insulated bubble that fosters an internal orientation. You simply can’t fuel revenue growth without selling more to existing customers and winning new ones.

3. The willingness to take risks.
Andrew Grove, former CEO of Intel, used to have a sign on his desk that read, “If you haven’t made at least one mistake today, you’re not trying hard enough.” His point was that to grow, you had to try new ideas and new approaches – only a few of which would actually pan out. In some organizations, the cultural and economic sanctions for making mistakes create a paralysis that prevents any new or creative thinking from emerging. Leadership must make it acceptable by modeling this behavior – for example, they might promote someone who bet on an initiative that, due to circumstances outside their control, did not work out – and by supporting measured risk taking through the measurement and reward system.

4. A collaborative spirit.
Why don’t employees collaborate well around the things that drive revenue growth, such as key customer relationships and new product initiatives? Research indicates that there are five major barriers to collaboration for growth:

a) A feeling by employees that they will not be recognized and rewarded for their contribution.

b) A lack of familiarity with and trust in the colleagues with whom one is collaborating.

c) Organizational silos – with functions, geographies and business units – that create barriers between employees.

d) A lack of information that would otherwise enable collaboration by creating a common vocabulary and understanding of the challenges being faced.

e) Divergent goals. The finance department, for example, may be incentivized to increase asset utilization, whereas sales may be tasked to grow revenues and gross margins.

5. An intense curiosity.
Albert Einstein once told a friend, “I have no special talents; I am merely very curious.” As adults, we tend to lose our sense of curiosity and wonder, yet this is what drives much innovation. For example, in 1948, Swiss amateur mountaineer George de Mestral was going for a hike in the Alps. After his walk, he noticed his socks – and his dog – were covered in burs. Curious about how they stuck to his clothing, he examined them under a microscope and observed the tiny hooks that allowed the burs to hang onto the fabric. In 1955, he patented Velcro, now a billion-dollar industry.

How do you stimulate curiosity? By eliminating complacency and constantly encouraging – even pushing – your people to do things better and differently.

At this stage of the economic recovery, cost cutting as a route to success has been exhausted. Restarting growth is essential, and it depends on having the right people with the right mindset and attributes in your organization.

About the Authors:

Andrew Sobel is a leading authority on growing client revenue and author of “All for One” and “Clients for Life.”
Guido Quelle is president and managing partner of Mandat Consulting Group, a German consulting firm specializing in helping companies grow profitably.

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