Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published November 18, 2010


A hunk of years ago I discovered that a couple of decades helping senior executives grow their businesses had developed in me an innate ability to assess any organization’s predisposition to growth – usually in around 90-180 minutes or so.Over time, all my wandering in and out of hundreds upon hundreds of offices, boardrooms, cubicles, factory plants, paint shops, warehouses and supervisor’s huts asking some version of the same questions over and over and over again have coalesced into a series of intuitive pattern recognitions which, taken together, provide me a primitive ‘growthiness index’, if you will: a rough stab at whether or not this particular business at this particular time is predisposed toward growth, or not.

My insta-take on growthiness isn’t a short cut to anything much. In my work with senior executives it simplifies the number of variables we have to think about, helps me direct my bunch of questions accordingly, gives us a backdrop against which to work, and helps avoid going down unprofitable lines of enquiry. Occasionally my conclusions have been wrong of course, but they’ve been right more often than not, and often enough for me to trust the process.

Here are the four main indicators that for me provide evidence of growthiness. In the space of a blog post, I can only give a taste of what I’m looking for in each, but you’ll get the gist:

1. A pervasive positive outlook
Organizations inclined toward growth display a positive outlook in every area of their operations – not just in the C-suite or the sales team or at the receptionist’s desk, but also in the mail room, the janitor’s office, the IT department – everywhere. And by ‘positive’, I don’t mean jaunty or willfully ignorant people, or just wishful thinking – I’m talking about knowledgeably informed people who have an openness and a tendency to focus on success and opportunity more than on failure.

I can usually gauge this by simply wandering around and talking to people without any fanfare.

2. An adult relationship to data
Organizations that are predisposed to grow have a mature attitude to information: it’s just data, to be seen in it’s undisguised truth and acted upon accordingly. There’s neither a “I don’t want to know the facts – I might have cancer” nor a “You better have hit your numbers – don’t bring me bad news” approach. The numbers are what they are, and we better deal with them.

Twenty minutes discussing recent results or future projections with the senior team will give a good read on this.

3. Individuals with informed horizons
All senior executives work to a ‘horizon window’ – the farthest point they’re looking at when making strategic decisions. An executive team with an insular horizon window – one which is relentlessly focussed solely on the closed world of the organization itself – tends to get mired in tactical firefighting and constant maintenance / improvement / remedying of internal operations. They have a low growthiness index.

Conversely, an executive team with too far a horizon window (all stategic vision, all the time) is one which gets caught up in building castles in the sky and has difficulty implementing in the real world. They too have a low growthiness index.

The ideal is to find an executive team comprised of individuals with appropriately informed horizons – individuals able to switch as needed between the internal (organizational) horizon, their industry as a whole and the key strategic imperatives within it, and the overall economic / macro situation within which their organization and the industry as a whole is operating.

A 45-90 minute session with the executive team will usually bring this out.

4. Team cohesion
The final – and vital – indicator of growthiness is the degree of light that can be shone between key members of the executive team. If in a series of one-on-ones it becomes clear that there are substantial personal or professional differences between the senior team members, then all of the previous three indicators are of naught. If on the other hand there is obvious, authentic unity between the team members, then we’ve got a high growthiness reading.

Here, ‘unity’ doesn’t mean false parroting of inauthentic expressions of agreement. Nor does it assume that everyone is in love with everyone else. It simply means that there is real, genuine, deep debate within the executive team when they are together, and an equally real, genuine acceptance of cabinet responsibility for the final decision when it is made – no cop-outs, no eye-rolling, no undermining other team members.

How’s your business doing with the four factors of growthiness?

*With apologies to Stephen Colbert


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