Congratulations to the companies out there today who have weathered the economic rough waters. Most likely, the companies that have stayed afloat have lived through rounds of cost cutting, restructuring, hiring freezes and similar measures designed to trim expenses, improve efficiency and fundamentally survive in a tough economic period.
What has become clear through research and experience is that the mindsets and leadership required for these types of activities is very different to those required for “Breakthrough Times.” Breakthrough Times are periods of growth where a company aims at achieving results it has not previously reached – in products, services and efficiencies.
Breakthrough Times usually follow periods of economic difficulty and are propelled by a general uplift and optimism in a market. This changing tide means that leaders have to rethink the way they engage and inspire the hearts, minds and talents of everyone in the company to drive growth after a period of battening down the hatches.
SO WHAT DO COMPANIES NEED TO FOCUS ON TODAY TO CATCH THE WAVE OF GROWTH?
Having worked with companies around the world in various stages of economic cycles, and picking up the pieces post the dot.com bubble burst, the three critical components that I have observed in companies that successfully reposition for growth are:
- A Compass with a clear definition of “North”
– A Culture that clearly defines “the way things are done here”
– A Coaching mind-set throughout the company that constantly recalibrates behaviour and performance to align with the culture and direction of the company
A compass is different than a map. A map routes the path, defines the terrain and gives a fair indication of the obstacles on the journey. In today’s fast paced economic and technical environment, a map is too restrictive. Pivots, opportunity identification, creative problem solving can all be stifled if the map is too rigidly laid out.
What is required is a clear indication of direction – an articulation and relevant metrics as to what “North” looks like for a company or team.
Once clearly defined, companies can accelerate the pace of their journey by more readily delegating decision making, idea generation and activity to their team because everyone has a clear picture of where they are going.
“WHAT COMES FIRST, THE COMPASS OR THE CLOCK? BEFORE ONE CAN TRULY MANAGE TIME (THE CLOCK), IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING, WHAT YOUR PRIORITIES AND GOALS ARE, IN WHICH DIRECTION YOU ARE HEADED (THE COMPASS). WHERE YOU ARE HEADED IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HOW FAST YOU ARE GOING. RATHER THAN ALWAYS FOCUSING ON WHAT’S URGENT, LEARN TO FOCUS ON WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT.” –UNKNOWN
Problems arise when the destination is not clearly defined. The companies that really get this right are those that create a visual narrative of what the destination looks like. Their “story of North” will include:
- Who they serve?
- What that group says about the company?
- What problem the company solves for that group?
- What employees say about the company?
- The approach to technology (innovators, early adopters or proven solution buyers)?
- The non-negotiable business aspiration?
- How the company measures itself and their BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)?
– so that when achieved the company will know that it is in the vicinity of its “North.”
Ship captains confirm that to get to a defined destination, a ship seldom sets a straight path. Instead, the ship zigs and zags on its journey taking advantage of the winds and the tides to successfully execute its journey. Flexibility to vary its course provides the ship its opportunity for optimisation. Throughout the journey the destination does not change.
The most simplistic definition of culture is “the way we do things around here.” There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and case studies on what culture is in a company and how it drives behaviour (examples such as Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream fostering positive behaviour and decision-making, on the other side of the coin companies like Enron promoting behaviours that ultimately destroyed the business).
“88% OF EMPLOYEES BELIEVE THAT A DISTINCT WORKPLACE CULTURE IS IMPORTANT TO BUSINESS SUCCESS. “ CORPORATE CULTURE PROS, VISA RESEARCH
Start-ups I have worked with often say that it’s too early to define our culture, “There are only 8 people in the company including 3 founders, so everyone knows how we do things.” Some blue chip clients argue that they have been around for so long that everyone knows how things get done- there is no need to define it any further.
My argument to both is always the same – if the way you do things is not clearly stated, it is open to interpretation and you cannot give effective feedback to employees on “what you think they think is the way the company thinks.” In essence, the company relinquishes its ability to hold the team and individuals accountable for attitude or behaviour, which can seriously impact the course, speed and quality of its growth.
Wiley Cerilli, serial entrepreneur and founder of the fast growing start-up SinglePlatform, has said in numerous interviews that for him “Culture beats strategy every time.” By making sure that people know the ethos, values and style of the company they can make decisions in a way that drive the company forward day to day as well as strategically.
The compass points North, strategy is the map and culture outlines the pace and tone of the journey.
Coaching is an interactive process that helps an individual improve or learn something, or take performance to the next level. It is a dialogue of give and take between a coach and coachee based on a trust that both want the coachee to experience improvement, learning and growth – and that those goals are consistent with the goals of the company.
At first blush, this often sounds woolly to some of my CEO clients, until they experience the nature of the conversation and how forthright the focus on improvement is in driving business results.
In 18 years of experience, I have yet to see an instance where coaching has not been effective in impacting business results and in improving work place satisfaction ratings (an important result in itself when you take into account the cost of replacing employees). A comprehensive study by Bersin by Deloitte found that
“Organizations where senior leaders ‘very frequently’ engaged in coaching had 21% higher business results. Further, organizations with ‘excellent’ cultural support for coaching had 13% stronger business results and 39% stronger employee results.” (High-Impact Performance Management: Maximizing Performance Coaching, 2011, Stacia Garr for Bersin by Deloitte).
The results become even more pronounced when dealing with Millennial/GenY workers who have had access to on-demand feedback from video games and social platforms their entire lives now. For this group, coaching has a significantly higher impact on behaviour change that any other form of training because it is focused specifically on them personally, is faster than normal training and is connects them to bigger things– so coaching delivers a lot more impact for the training spend in this cohort.
I often hear that coaching is complicated and requires a panel of external experts to be brought into a team. In my experience, that myth is usually based on a lack of personal experience of effective coaching. For the C-suite, it is usually helpful to have external coaches who can really push the senior team to stretch in areas where they may have become complacent. Typically, peers or subordinates are not comfortable challenging their CEO in this manner, but an external coach can do that. Once the senior team experiences, and advocates, the values of coaching, then training can be put in place to help managers across the business adopt a coaching approach, skillset and mind-set.
The things that can get in the way of coaching in a company are insincerity in the conversations, an unclear or unaligned understanding of where the company is going and lack of clarity as to how each role is expected to contribute to that journey, and finally, an unspecified – or worse – inconsistent set of values/behaviours modelled and rewarded in the company. If the groundwork of defining “North” and the company culture have been done, then coaching becomes a series of conversations around adherence and continuous improvement.
These three components: Compass, Culture and Coaching are important foundations for companies and teams who want to dramatically drive business results in line with the opportunity that the current economic environment provides. The tide is rising and this momentum provides the perfect conditions for putting these cornerstones in place before the race really heats up.
The leaders that focus on their company’s Compass, Culture and Coaching are embarking on an exciting journey that will yield treasures not only of efficiency, margin and profit but also of engagement, morale and energy. Get these right – and the spoils of the journey are yours.
ADDITIONAL READING AND RESOURCES:
- The Importance of Coaching; Amercian Management Association
- Step 1: A Culture Plan, Frank Addante
- Building a Great Strart-Up Culture, Chris Morris by CNBC.com
- How do you define Culture, Corey McAveeney
- The Fast Path to Corporate Growth, Mark H. Meyer
- The Leadership Pipeline, Ram Charan, Richard Drotter, James Noel
- Milennials Rising- The next Great Generation, Howard and Strauss
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Steve Blank
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith