What does a growth culture look like within an organisation? After studying and working with organisations in different continents, I have made some observations on the attributes of a growth culture. The first attribute is team focus. In a true team, it is impossible for one part to fail and the other to succeed. As such, each team member is dedicated to ensuring the other team members succeed. There must be a shift from "I" to "We".
Secondly, great companies that have a growth culture excel in managing their mistakes. It is said that a staff member at a certain multinational tech company cost the company $10 million. He was so upset by this failure that he opted to resign because he was convinced that he would be fired. He was shocked when he was told by his boss that they could not let him go because the company had just invested $10 million in his education. He later brought in $400 million into the company.
When Jack Welch was a young engineer at General Electric, he caused a chemical explosion that blew off the roof of the building. When he appeared before his boss, he got the shock of his life. “If we are managing good people who are clearly eating themselves up over an error, our job is to help them through it,” his boss told him.
Welch later became the CEO in 1980 when the company was valued at $14 billion. Twenty years later under his leadership, the company was valued at $490 billion. Fortune magazine called him the most widely admired, studied and imitated CEO of his time.
Another attribute of companies with a growth culture is that they have a strong mentoring and coaching programme. This is possible only when you have attained a level of security and confidence as a leader. It is when as a leader you have a very firm grip on the big picture so you are not clinging on to small pictures. This is important because to be a great mentor it you are in effect grooming your successors. Tim Cook was mentored by Steve Jobs. Satya Narayana Nadella was mentored by both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
Growth culture organisations have leaders who are deliberate in their push for differences in ideas. In an environment where 100 per cent of the time people are 100 per cent in agreement, someone is not telling the truth. This is common where you have leadership by intimidation where different views are seen as rebellion. It is said that Winston Churchill set up a special department to give him the worst news so he could always have the right picture.
David Packard the co-founder of Hewlett Packard once gave an award for defying him. A young engineer was told not to develop a certain product, but he believed in it so much he took leave, developed it and presented it to customers. The product made $17 million. He was awarded, “For extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.”
A growth culture is not optional for any organisation that wants to ascend to the top of its industry. Only with such a culture will you have the required level of motivation, innovation and energy to keep the organisation on the cutting edge.
Wale Akinyemi is the convenor of the Street University (www.thestreetuniversity.com) and chief transformation officer of PowerTalks. [email protected]