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When organizations are growing, there’s a level of energy, and they are thriving, and you can feel it.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink, and with me is my good friend and great co-host, Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is breaking through the ceiling of growth. Why is it important for an organization to grow? Well, it’s crucial to the long-term survival of a business. It helps us to acquire assets, attract new talent, and fund investments. It also drives business performance and profit. There are five stages of organizational growth. You may know many, if not all, of these are the birth of the company itself or the startup, the growth stage, maturity stage, a decline stage, and a revival stage. Now, that’s not to say that every company goes through all those five, but they could be in one of those stages at any point in time. I think the terms are… are pretty self-explanatory, yet the cause of them can be very different. It could be markets, it could be inflation, it could be pricing, it could be bad business decisions or bad hires, or losing top talents. But when we think about the history of an organization, it has been said that the behavior of individuals is determined primarily by past events and experiences, rather than by what lies ahead. So the problem when these companies are rooted in the history or in past decisions versus the present events or market dynamics. Yet management in its haste to grow often overlooks such critical developmental questions such as, Where has our organization been? Where is it now? and What does the answers to these questions mean for where is it going? Instead, management fixes its gaze outward on the environment and toward the future as if more precise market projections will provide the organization with a new identity. To help us understand organizational growth even more, we have invited our friend and guest, Diane Brown. Diane is skilled at building high-performance teams and leaders. Drawing from decades of consulting, coaching, change management, and organizational development experience, she’s able to accurately name the behaviors and mentalities obstructing growth. Diane and I worked together for many years early in our careers.
Diane, welcome back. We are so glad to have you back on The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast.
I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks so much for having me.
So Diane, can you help our listeners understand, when you talk about organizational growth, how do you define it, or how should we be thinking about it?
Well, there are several ways to think about it, and for us, we often think about it from the standpoint of consistent revenue growth, profitability growth, and that often means that there’s a growth in the number of people in the organization. So we do think about it from a traditional standpoint, but we also know that there is an intangible factor when organizations are growing. There’s a level of energy, and they are thriving, and you can feel it. And so what we do in our work is regardless of how it’s calibrated, regardless of what growth means to that organization, we know that healthy organizations grow, and so part of what we strive to do is really help promote that growth process and support it in the best way that we can for the organization and for the people.
Nice, I like it. And so let’s go with the other part of our title today. When you talk about hitting a ceiling as an organization, what do you mean by that?
If you look at the research, it shows that all organizations, even teams and individuals, go through stages of growth. And it’s just natural that in that growth process, they’re going to hit some sort of ceiling. If we kind of pull it apart, if you think about how growth happens, in the early parts of growth, it’s more entrepreneurial, there’s a lot of creativity, there’s a lot of excitement, and then as things mature and you really get in a groove, you’ll have a steady incline in that growth over time. But with maturity, it’s kind of natural that maybe you start to get more people who are competitors in your space, or maybe your product may be mature or your service matures. We all get to a point where it just starts to plateau, and that’s that ceiling that we’re talking about. And again, it can happen at the individual, the organization, the team level. But the key… one of the keys to growth is really thinking about, How do we break through that and jumpstart our next growth curve or our next element of growth so that, again, we get back to that thriving, that energy that we all need to have?
Makes sense. So Diane, what are some strategies that leaders can use to break through that ceiling?
Well, when we talk about the strategies to break through the ceiling for growth, there are really five of them. The first one is really all about vision, being very clear on the organizational vision and what you’re trying to achieve. And I think this is one where a lot of people can make assumptions, that people don’t know what you’re trying to achieve. And it’s interesting, just in a meeting that we were in with a group of managers this last week, and we were talking through strategic planning, one of the the interesting priorities that surfaced from that group was what is the purpose of our company and organization, like, we really want some more clarity around that. And so with growth, if you imagine that we’re moving along and then suddenly there’s more people, there’s more activity happening, sometimes that vision can get blurred. So it’s really important that as leaders, we’re very clear in articulating the vision and as people leaders, we’re helping them know how they fit within the vision. So vision is first. Second is really strategic leadership. And so again, this is one that you just assume that as leaders, you’re going to be strategic. But oftentimes, what we find is that growth can be capped in an organization because our leaders are more mired down in… actively in the business versus working on the business. And so just helping leaders elevate in the way that they think, helping them really push forth that strategic leadership, helping them really think about, first, who can do this in the organization, who can lead this, not how can I do it. So strategic leadership is… is another key to growth. And then I’ll offer a third one, and then… then stop for a minute, because the first three are really related. So you’ve got vision, you’ve got strategic leadership in terms of the actions and the behaviors of the leaders. But the third piece is really as an organization, having a discipline around strategic planning. Now, for some people, they’ll say that that is kind of… you know, it’s not something that they’re super thrilled about, because they always think about strategic planning as being, oh, we gotta create a big book, or we’ve got to create a tome, or we’ve got to create a bunch of plans that are rigid and they don’t have the ability to pivot. And that’s not what we’re talking about. If you want to break through the ceiling of growth, it’s really having a discipline around executing a strategic planning process with your leadership team, with your key future leaders in the organization. And that simply means if we have that vision of where we want to go, let’s all step up and back and away from the business, what we’re doing day-to-day, to look at that vision and say, okay, based on that, What’s most important in this next year? What are our priorities? and How do we rally all of our time, energy, and resources around those steps that are going to get us closer to that vision? It doesn’t mean it’s going to take us all the way and it doesn’t mean we’re locked in on this path, but just for this short time period, what is most important for us, and really identify those priorities. So those are the first three and they’re definitely related. But it’s super important, if you think about that growth curve, all three of those can really spur on your next level of growth and help you break through a ceiling.
Yeah, even when I look back at the history of my own firm Purple Ink, I can think about years… Of course, we, you know, fell apart in 2020 with COVID, but otherwise we have grown every single year for the last 13 years. I’ll tell you, early on, I – which maybe was one of the most important times – I didn’t really have a strong vision, so I definitely didn’t have strategic leadership, and Lord knows I don’t have discipline. But I think I… we just kind of grew in spite of myself, really. But then the years where we had really extra strong growth, those were the years when I did look back and say, you know, What’s our purpose, and how can we strategically get there? and that really made a big difference in those years.
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, again, I think a lot of people just underestimate that power of vision. And I know that, you know, from personal experience, I was in a firm for 13 years that one of their first initial growth spurts started when the partners of that organization got together and said, you know what, we don’t really want to be a country club anymore. We really want to run this like a business, you know, and so what’s that look like? So that was the first vision. And then the second vision was, okay, now that we’ve accomplished that, you know, for this next period of growth, how are we going to be leaders in all of our industries that we’re dedicated to, and that was really the vision. And you can see how something like that really captivates all of the employees in the organization to really pull in the direction that you want to go and so it’s critically important. And then backing that up with strategic leadership that aligns with it and planning process that supports it every year, even if it’s not, you know, a huge… like I said, it’s not a tome or it’s not, like, a big group of plans, but something that you can use to lean into to say, okay, for this year, these are our priorities, this is where we’re going to dedicate time, energy, and resources, can be really, really important to getting there.
What do you think the place is for the Chief People Officer? How do they fit in to these first three steps?
Yeah, I think that’s a great question, because in terms of HR, this is absolutely where they can have a seat at the table. First, in that vision, being part of helping create the vision and providing insights from, you know, what the people experience is like as a part of that vision. But then once the vision has clarified, really helping articulate it and communicate it and make sure that the employees know how they fit. In terms of strategic leadership, I think it’s important that the people officer, if they notice that there are leaders in the organization that aren’t really working on the business, but more working in the business, and they’re not tapping people in terms of really delegating responsibilities and… and accountabilities down or cascading those, I think really coaching those leaders to be stronger and leaning into strategic leadership versus more task-oriented leadership. And then in that last piece, absolutely, again, I would say the Chief People Officer needs to be a part of the strategic planning conversations to really make sure that… that voice of the organization is represented at the table. And it’s critically important that that view is provided. And I think the Chief People Officer is the right voice for that.
Gosh, that makes sense. So what are the other two?
Yeah, interestingly enough, so the next… after that big strategic element, the absolute next part is looking at people and structure. And so it’s interesting… as a strategic leader, you want to say first who, not how – so who do I want to do this? Who can I give this to? Not… not how can I do it? When it comes to the people piece, really strategically stepping back and saying, based on where we are in our organizational journey, do our roles and functions make sense? And in that situation, what comes first are the roles and the functions, then the people. And I’ll tell you why. And that is because as we grow, our organization requires different things to be supported from a business perspective. So it’s really important to identify those critical roles that are needed and how they support the business function. And what can often happen – and I had a client talk to me about this just a couple months ago, he said, you know, as we’ve grown and as people have evolved into different roles, they’ve sort of carried all of their old tasks with them. And what’s that… What that has resulted in is a lot of new people in the organization who would say I need to go here for this, actually realize they’re going to this person instead of where this function lies. And again, the waters can get muddied as we grow because we leave tasks or responsibilities with people who’ve just done them very well. And that’s not terrible, but what happens over time is it leads to just a lot of confusion and sometimes more complexity than is needed. So we really encourage people in organizations, when they get to a level where they feel like, you know what, we need to take a fresh look, because we’ve kind of outgrown how we’ve done things in the past, it’s really important to start with saying, What does our structure need to be to support not only where our business is now, but where we’re headed? It’s really important. So strategy number four is really stepping back and looking at, What are the people and structure that we need to support the organizational growth? And then the last piece of that is, how do we look at all of our processes and really simplify and systematize the processes, because with growth, you know, what worked for us as a small organization, as an example, what worked for 10 or 20 people, by the time you get 35 people may not work, or 50 people, it just may not work. So really having a discipline of continually looking at your processes, to say first of all, are they repeatable and scalable? And are they simple enough that people can understand them and we’re executing them consistently and getting the results we need on a regular basis? So that’s the last piece, simplify and systematize.
Yes, I love it. That is excellent. And, Diane, you mentioned earlier that this can also apply not just to the overall organization, but that we can also apply these to individuals or teams. Can you tell us more about that?
Yeah. So it’s… it’s really interesting, if you step back and you think about the concept of growth, you know, Coach Lou Holtz has this quote that is one of my favorites, “You’re either growing or you’re dying,” right? And that’s true for organizations, it’s true for individuals, and it’s true for teams. And so each one of us is on our own growth path. Each team is on its growth path. And so again, if you think about those stages, we all go through stages of evolution where we’re just growing and everything’s great. But then we can get to a point where things start to plateau and we don’t have that same energy, we don’t feel that same thriving. And so that’s a signal or a sign that, gosh, we may need to think about, how are we feeling about growth and development? So when it comes to teams, if you’re a team leader, you should really think about, have I cast a vision for the team? Am I leading this team strategically? You know, what is our plan for how we fit in the overall organization? What structure do we need? What are our processes? And then even as an individual – and I know that you have a lot of folks in the audience that are solopreneurs – the exact same thing applies. I’ll give you a perfect example from my own growth path. You know, when we started out our consulting practice, there were just two of us, and intentionally, from a vision perspective, we said, you know, we’re going to have a lifestyle practice. Well, then all those other strategies sort of lined up with having a lifestyle practice. About five years ago, we shifted that and said, you know what, we’re kind of through that period where we need it, that lifestyle practice, we’re going to shift to growth. Well, that shifts the vision, it shifts everything else about it. And so even as a business owner, you can think about it, if you’re a solopreneur, or even as an individual contributor, you can think about where am I on my growth path, in terms of my skills or my knowledge or what’s really fueling my energy right now as a professional. So there are a lot of ways to think about it. And these concepts apply equally in those settings.
Yes. And if you’re an HR professional listening today, and you recognize that the organization, you know, really is kind of stymied, they’re not… they’re not experienced the kind of growth that they’re hoping for, where should they start? What would be your advice to them?
The best place to start is really just to try to engage in conversation around an assessment of where you are, you know, so if you’re that HR professional and you see some of these signs, get with some of the leaders and just facilitate a conversation around growth and ask them to reflect on where they are. And the interesting thing an HR professional could do as well is to talk to the employees, maybe some of the… the key exemplars or the… the emerging leaders in the organization and get their sense of it. Because what’s interesting about the research that’s been done on organizational growth is that oftentimes, the leaders will feel like they are in one spot on that growth curve, and employees will actually say, you know what, I feel like we’re a little bit further, and so employees can often have a greater sense of urgency. So I think as an HR professional, it’s really important to just elevate the conversations and really start with an assessment of where we are. And then you can lean into these five strategies and almost use them as an audit, per se, you know, and think about, okay, with vision, you know, how clear is our vision? And do our employees really understand and know our vision? Do they understand how they fit in that vision? So that you can put in place maybe some resources or… or strategies to amplify that in some way. When you think about strategic leadership, again, it’s challenging yourself as an HR professional to say, Am I leading as a strategic leader? But if I see pockets of others that aren’t, how can I help coach them? From a strategic planning standpoint, maybe starting in your own area and saying, okay, how strategically are we leading? But again, influencing leaders in the organization to really adopt a discipline and a rigor around that. And then in the other two areas, I mean, absolutely, the people officers should be leading the conversation of, do we have the right people in the right roles at the right time to fuel our business strategy? And so that one almost goes without… without saying. And then systematizing and simplifying the processes, I think they can definitely be an influencer there, too.
And, Diane, how can our listeners reach out to you if they want help in this process?
They can contact me at my email Diane at archosadvisors.com, or they could just go to our website, we do have a blog and we have some recent articles related to growth on this. But there’s also a contact page there and there’s a way to sign up for our newsletter. And so on a regular basis, we put out information on not only organizational growth, but change, coaching, and… and various HR topics as well.
And your website is A-R-C-H-O-S advisors dot com.
That is correct. Yes.
So Diane, what was your last JoyPowered® moment at work?
I think this is a great question. And if you’d asked me last week, I would have a different question, but right now I am working – or a different answer. I have been working on a major certification in change for the last 18 months, and so I have my capstone presentation coming up. So as an individual professional, I will tell you, my last JoyPowered® moment was getting that presentation pulled together and seeing that 18 months of work come together in a way that it’s kind of a personal win, right? We kind of as individuals, we have to set ourselves up for wins, small wins. And for me, that was… that was a win. Not completely done yet, but it’s a win. And so for me, that was very JoyPowered®, I have to say.
No, that’s great. And good luck to you. I hope very much that you get it.
Yes. One more week and we’ll be done. So.
Great. Well, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. It’s just… it’s a privilege. Always fun to talk to both of you.
JoDee, we have a listener question today. The question is, “What are some tips to help coworkers who may not be as extroverted to be more open to collaboration?”
Well, I want to start with the fact – and maybe you’ve already thought about this in your particular situation. But for other people who might be thinking this, I think we don’t… we shouldn’t assume that introverts don’t want to collaborate, right? Introverts can be, you know, attend parties and do networking, they just typically get tired easier, or they need some alone time afterwards. So I think the same can be true for collaboration. It’s not that they don’t want to collaborate, but they might not want to collaborate all day long. I would treat them as I would any other person, regardless of whether they were introvert or extrovert, except for reminding yourself that, you know, it might be a little bit more intimate to do it. They might also be better at collaborating or feel more comfortable if they’re collaborating one-on-one or maybe in smaller teams as opposed to throwing them, you know, onto a team of 25 people where that might overwhelm them a bit, too. So first, just be sure that that is the reason. Maybe they’re not good collaborators, but that does not have to connect to being an introvert.
Gosh, I think that’s really good advice. And I know I’ve probably plugged this book before, but Susan Cain’s – C-A-I-N – book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking,” it’s a must read if you have an introvert in your… on your team. If you’re an introvert, if you care about an introvert, I think that book really helps you think through, how do I bring out the best? How do I provide that safety in that space so the introvert can show their brilliance? And maybe that’s coming out at things a little differently, and however you’re asking people to collaborate, maybe thinking about it from their perspective.
Right. That is one of my all time favorite books. And I heard Susan Cain speaks many years ago, too, and she was one of my favorite speakers ever, too.
In our in the news section today, you know, Susan, we have all heard a lot in the past two months about mental health, and we certainly have shared a lot about it on this podcast, but new research and studies seem to still be popping up all over the place and we as leaders and HR professionals have more tools and knowledge than ever before. We know that employee wellbeing plays a crucial role in achieving many important business outcomes, but to succeed with employee wellbeing you first need to understand it, for starters, and a great reminder for all of us, I think, is to think of employee wellbeing in five separate elements that we might have an effect on in the workplace. The first is career and really thinking about you, for yourself or for… for others to ask the question, Do you like what you do every day? From a social perspective, do you have meaningful friendships in your life? We can’t always control that in the workspace, but we do know that people are more likely to stay at a an organization if they do have strong friendships at work. Financial is the third element, and just thinking about whether you manage your money well, because if not, that can create a lot of stress on people. And physical wellbeing. Do you have energy to get things done? And then community is number five. Do you like where you live? Do you like, you know, whether it be your neighbors or your church or people you are surrounded by on a regular basis? But in a recent Gallup survey, they found that 40% of US workers report that their job has had a negative impact on their mental health in the past six months, and that could be in any of these five elements. Gallup’s article about the survey also suggests some questions that we ask other members of our team.
First one is, What makes you feel like a valued member of this team? Second one, What do you look forward to doing at work every day? Number three, What resources do you use that are essential to your success? And finally, are there specific resources missing that are creating stress? Of course, if you’re going to be asking these questions, you’ve got to be prepared to do something about them. Talk them through, let people know, here’s what we can change, here’s we can’t change, or else the person, you know, is going to feel like, I’ve told my boss and yet nothing changed. So you need to have an honest dialogue afterwards.
Right. Well, thanks for listening today and make it a JoyPowered® day.
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