Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

October 11, 2020

The 4 Factors of Growthiness* 

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

A hunk of years ago I discovered that a couple of decades helping senior executives grow their organizations had developed in me an innate ability to assess any organization’s predisposition to growth – and given the right people to meet with, in the right context, I can usually do it 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 organization at this particular time is predisposed toward growth, or not.
My insta-take on growthiness isn’t a short cut to anything much. But in my work with senior executives it greatly 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, of course, my initial conclusions have been off the mark, 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 the most compelling 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 instantly gives me a good read on this.

3. Individuals with informed horizons

All senior executives work to what I think of as 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.
Such teams tend to have a low growthiness index, because instead of making progress on their growth journey, they're instead spending most of their time filling in potholes of their own making.
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 discussing recent past performance, current results and future strategic plans will usually bring this out.

4. Team cohesion

The final – and vital – indicator of growthiness is what I call 'the Dollar-Bill Rule":
What's the degree of light that can be shone between members of the executive team?
The answer? There shouldn't be any. Once your senior team has made a decision, no-one should be able to slide a dollar bill between any of you in your joint and individual commitment to its execution and success.
If when I work with leadership teams it becomes clear in a series of one-on-ones that there are substantial personal or professional differences between the senior team members, then all of the previous three indicators are for naught. If, on the other hand, there is obvious, authentic unity between the team members, then they'll likely have a high growthiness index.
Note that in this context ‘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.
So, how is  your organization doing with the four factors of growthiness? On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank your team on each? 
Let me know in the comments below
*With apologies to Stephen Colbert

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