How to Inspire Growth Obsession in Your Staff

Ram Charan

Hi Ram,

I have been reading your articles regularly on Yahoo! Finance. I have been impressed with your wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and guidance.
You have frequently said that it's possible for leaders to go through growth exercises with their direct reports during staff meetings [see "A Simple Tool for Sparking Growth"]. Could you give me an example of how?



Staff meetings -- as anyone who has ever sat through a boring one knows -- can be a big waste of time if nothing gets done.

One way to make sure the time is well used is to search for new growth opportunities at every meeting. Just like professional athletes, you want to practice important skills -- in this case, looking for growth -- that you want to become part of your DNA.

The leaders who are obsessed with profitable growth can orient their direct reports to think the same way. Here's one way to do it: Before your next staff meeting, assign one of your direct reports the task of coming up with one example of how other companies have grown organically -- that is, have increased revenues profitably by coming up with new ideas and not through acquisitions (see "Put Aside Your Excuses and Grow" ).

The example doesn't have to be from your industry. In fact, examples should be drawn from a variety of industries and involve both domestic and international companies. While you can find examples everywhere: BusinessWeek, The Financial Times, Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and Yahoo! Finance invariably have at least one article a week that would be relevant.

Practice Detecting Opportunities

Having assigned someone to present, then:

1. In the first 5 to 10 minutes of the staff meeting, the person who did the research should report on what she found.
2. When she's done, go around the room and have each of your direct reports explain what they learned from the growth concept just presented. Specifically, ask them to discuss the following:
* What tools did the company use to implement growth?
* Did the company take advantage of an existing capability, or did it learn new skills?
* What did the business understand about the consumer that allowed the growth project to succeed?
* What's the company's competitive advantage in this particular situation?
* How was the growth initiative implemented?
* What might the company have done differently, given the situation?
3. Once everyone has had their turn, discuss the best ideas that surfaced. Can your staff think of other examples where these ideas worked and where they didn't?
4. Only then do you move on to the rest of the meeting's agenda.

At the next meeting, have another of your direct reports be responsible for coming up with an additional growth idea that has worked elsewhere. Repeat the process as part of every meeting.

Over time, as a result of this exercise, your team members will naturally spot growth opportunities in every conversation they have with their peers and customers. And they'll learn to identify promising ideas in almost everything they read. Their brain will automatically learn to connect the dots.

Don't Rush to Implement

As you go through this exercise, resist the temptation to rush out to implement immediately what you've learned. (We'll talk about when you implement these changes in a minute.) You don't want to simply copy what some other business has done to grow. Your company's situation isn't going to be identical to theirs, and so the results won't necessarily be the same.

However, you do want to understand completely the tools other businesses used to grow. While their strategy might not be particularly helpful, given the differences between these companies and yours, the tools could be.

The purpose of this exercise is to promote learning in a safe environment, one where your team members can exchange ideas, gain knowledge, and learn growth tools. The dialogue during meetings will create an openness that will foster creativity. It'll allow your staff to look differently at ways to help the company grow, especially as they learn about other industries.

When you're looking for ways to profitably increase revenues, being armed with both a different perspective and a fully stocked growth tool kit can make all the difference between merely keeping up with the competition and zooming right past them.

Turning Ideas into Reality

So when do you implement these ideas? You have three options, all of which have the same starting point.

Periodically -- say once a month -- take all the ideas that have surfaced at previous meetings, refine them, and then rank them. Which is the best idea? Which looks to be the second most promising, and so on. Do this every month.

Then, when your company goes through its strategic planning session, pull out your list to see which one(s) should be implemented. That's Option #1.

Option 2: Instead of waiting for the strategic planning meeting, keep prioritizing the ideas each month, and when it comes time to do the budgeting for the upcoming year -- an exercise that usually happens in the fall -- look at the top of your list, and see which deserves funding.

Option 3 is when the idea is so superb that you need to implement it immediately, all my warnings to the contrary. If the idea is truly that good, figure out a way to get it going. Staff meetings can either be depressing or energizing. It's up to the leader to determine which.

Lead Your Team to Growth

Many people think organic growth is impossible. But as companies such as Apple Computer, P&G, Colgate, and Miller Brewing show, they're wrong. It's more than possible to profitably increase a company's revenues by growing organically.

But it takes everyone in the organization -- not just the leaders -- using their imagination and connecting their synapses to detect opportunities and spot things that have never been seen before.

Remember, there are no mature industries, just people who either don't want to, or don't know how to help their organizations grow. As a leader, you need to create a psychology within your team that says not only is growth possible, but that everyone needs to make it happen.

Use the many man-hours a year devoted to staff meetings productively. Inspire your direct reports to find growth opportunities. Be a leader.

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