Many companies believe that performance is the only thing that matters. They put numbers front-and-center in meetings and reports. The metrics become the benchmark of progress.
However, companies that grow fast know that a different kind of culture is more important. It is what I call a growth culture. Having a growth culture means that you value all elements of growth, not just financials. Growing fast means that your team and the systems of your company are aligned with your leadership. But most people focus so much on performance metrics that their team members feel like they are in a win-lose situation -- and that causes the culture to get out of alignment quickly.
I've personally worked with nearly a dozen of these companies and their leadership teams to help them grow fast enough to be recognized on the Inc. 5000 in previous years. The growth culture of these businesses extends far beyond just key performance indicators.
Creating a Growth Culture
Growth cultures let go of old leadership methods like control and predictability. They instead embrace new principles that get people to think like entrepreneurs and thrive in the current pace of change. Out of the 51 companies in last year's study of the Inc 5000 Leadership I conducted, 88 percent said leadership that inspires a feeling of ownership was important or very important to their fast growth.
Even a company the size of The Home Depot with 350,000 associates values entrepreneurial thinking at all levels. "The way I would always interpret entrepreneurial spirit is being willing to take some risks," says Frank Blake, former CEO of The Home Depot. "Things will go wrong. You'll make mistakes. It's OK."
Companies where more people feel like owners outperform their peers based on my more than 100 conversations with Inc. 5000 leaders. Team members who are mentally connected to how their work makes an impact leads to overall growth of the company. They don't work for the paycheck. They work because of the way they feel about the work they are doing.
Here are some of the common behaviors within a growth culture.
1. Put Employees First
Growth cultures focus on the growth of employees rather than metrics like revenue and profit. When you put employees first, they are willing to run through walls for you. The Google study on teams called Project Aristotle showed the importance of people feeling safe has on the performance of the team. Psychological safety was the number one key factor in team success in over 200 interviews analyzing 250 attributes of 180 active Google teams.
2. Be Customer Centric
When organizations value the customer's wants over the company needs, you get remarkable customer service, irresistible marketing, and many other driving factors of growth. Having your team create breakthrough levels of service is one easy way to create brand loyalty.
3. Create Leaders
Managers are a dying breed in our workplaces. Instead, we need more leaders that take chances and are able to create new paths of growth. Leadership must create more leaders that take risks on the journey of breakthrough growth.
4. Empower Innovation
Great ideas can come from anyone. You don't need an Ivy league education or years of experience to contribute a great idea. But you do want an organization that is open to new ideas from others and empowers them to fail to find breakthroughs. When I work with clients and their executive teams, you can easily see the practices of teams when new ideas are discussed that either kill new ideas or allow them to cultivate new growth.
5. Embrace Radical Transparency
Transparency is more than a buzzword. Trust is essential to leadership and those that grow fast embrace radical transparency. Many of the companies share company secrets and even treat all employees as though they are on the executive team by sharing strategies and create open conversations.
6. Grow The People
When leaders have a deep understanding of each team member's desire for new skills and to reach new levels of mastery, they are more likely to channel the new learning into transforming the company with those skills. You have to transform the thinking of the team as a whole -- not just leaders.
7. Make Quick Decisions
When leadership makes quick decisions based on a limited set of data and information, others see the value of the quick decision. This does not mean you are half-cocked and jump into risk. It does mean that you don't drown yourself in hundreds of data points and let uncertainty keep you from making the choice.
Each of these have played a role in the development of my company helping fast-growth companies improve their leadership and cultures. I challenge myself in every interaction with my team to lead by example in these areas. I know it is not easy, but it is worth it.