Company leaders want results: more profit, market share and shareholder value. When you lead a company in search of performance, concrete metrics define your growth and success and resulting in a high-performance culture.

However, a focus on metrics with this much intensity, makes employees feel like cogs in a machine. Employees worry about performance, particularly if they view their role as more than a job. Soon employees begin to live in fear.

A performance culture creates a sense of competition that's supposed to fuel growth. However, the negative effects of this can decrease employee effectiveness and retention. After researching the 2018 Inc. 5000, it became apparent that the fastest-growing privately held companies focus their cultures on "employees first" rather than metrics which accounts for their "growth cultures."

A culture with a sharp focus on the employee experience doesn't set its sights on common metrics like revenue, appointments set and calls made. As counterintuitive as it sounds, putting employees first is more likely to create better performance and increase employee retention.

A recent study by FTSE Russell discovered companies that received "FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For" recognition have one thing in common: employee experience is a priority. These best places to work, analyzed from 1998 to 2015, have stock market returns two to three times higher than the market average. Catherine Yoshimoto at FTSE Russell shared that employee turnover rates at the "best places to work" are 50 percent lower than their competitors'.

Over the past ten days, I spoke to several Inc. leaders and each expressed some version of "employees come first."

When I discovered the power of a growth culture, I encouraged my team to discovers skills they wanted to develop. My team responded with a higher level of production and more ownership of their work. For example, one focused on producing videos that required her to evaluate and learn to use new tools.

Here are the four parts to creating a growth culture:

1. Select your champion.

When I work with a company that wants to make this shift, I help leaders see the vision so clearly that it pulls them into the project. Any new initiative of this magnitude requires a champion. If you want to shift the culture, the champion must understand the deeper purpose of the project. The more grounded they are in the value to the organization and the value to the players on the team -- the more likely a new culture will emerge.

2. Define the gaps.

Clarifying the current reality and the future by defining where you stand in each area: mission, psychological safety, empowerment, transparency, trust, communication, values and transformation. Be radically honest during this process even if it is difficult.

When I help leaders do this, we define where they are now and where they want to be in the areas that are important to them. I take on the role of facilitator in a workshop approach to help teams through the various elements because most are emotionally attached to the way it has always been done in their culture. As a facilitator, I challenge the old thinking and behaviors.

3. Enroll the team.

After years of experience with Inc. 5000 companies, I know you must involve your people to make lasting change. It is not enough for them to make the shift from a place of responsibility. You want each person to take ownership of their role in the transformation to a growth culture. The best way to ensure ownership is to get your team to help you define the process.

This means your team members are helping create the new culture they want it. An essential element is documenting the behaviors that align with the changes you are making. If you skip this step, your team can talk about the culture they want, but they will not be aligned with the behaviors that shape it.

4. Establish rituals.

To reinforce the new culture, you need to create rituals that allow everyone to participate in the change. Your rituals ensure you don't stagnate and revert back to old patterns. A simple way to do this is to define the rituals to that you want to keep doing, start doing and stop doing. Reward everything that aligns the team to the new culture.

To lead a culture shift, you must commit to the effort it takes to break from normal patterns. A shift in mindset and strategies is not merely making more calls per day to increase sales. A shift in culture is hard work, but it's worth it.

Published on: Oct 2, 2018