#SH302: Three Keys to Organizational Growth

by | Dec 3, 2017 | 1 comment

9 min read

Either you’re growing or decaying; there’s no middle ground. If you’re standing still you’re decaying ~Alan Arkin

Remember to SeRVe when Experiencing Organizational Growth: Service, Risks, Vision

“Growth” is a common word used to reflect a new success or recent achievement. Likewise, it means to develop something or oneself further than previously established. The measures reflecting growth are detailed and nuanced and can range from profit margins to obtaining new clients. Great companies, the ones we either desire to build, lead, or be a part of, not only grow, but they maintain a relationship and sensitivity to the people they employee. We love the mantra, “customers first,” but love Wegman’s philosophy “that if we take care of our people, they’ll take care of our customers.” Wegmans is known for its employee scholarship program and the relationship it develops with its workers. So how do great companies stay driven and focused on achievement while maintaining a human connection with employees even in times of growth? You can easily recall the answer to this by remembering: SRV.

Stay in SERVICE to the people. One way to stay connected with people is to make sure that you’re serving their needs by investing in them. To do so, leaders must know what motivates each individual intrinsically and find ways to develop them as people.

Invest in them with opportunities to serve in new ways. From renown author John Kotter to Bain & Company, one suggested asset of any organization is the discretionary energy put forth by your best employees. This energy bears fruit and makes the company inspirational enough to yield results well above its competitors even when the competitor is drawing from a similar pool of applicants has access to the same resources. One way this is achieved is to truly mold the job to fit the intrinsic motivation of the worker, and not the other way around as it’s typically done. This means that the leader is aware of the natural motivators that each employee has and creates opportunities for each employee based on those interests.

Expert Advice: Author, Eric Garton of Time, Talent, Energy says that “perhaps the most transformational thing a company can do for its workforce is to invest in creating jobs and working environments that unleash intrinsic inspiration. This is the gateway to the discretionary energy that multiplies labor productivity: An inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee.”

Invest in them by developing them as people, not just as workers. We know that it’s common to talk about people as “human capital.” After all, people are an organization’s most important asset. But it’s only fair to talk about people this way if you’re referring to making an investment in your human capital and not as if the people are a simple commodity from which to draw. With that said, great leaders know that they have to develop their people to stay ahead of growth and to ensure that people are prepared for a changing landscape. This also means investing in people to support their personal interests that might be on the periphery or even different from their current role in the organization. Growing people grows the organization, and supporting the development of your people, even if it’s not directly aligned to their role, makes for a stronger, well-rounded, and happier person because they see the leader as someone who cares about them as a person, not just a worker.

Expert Advice: Andy Fleming, author of An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization says that “it turns out that relentless focus on people, on developing everyone in the organization, leads to an organizational culture designed for adaptive change.”

Take RISKS before the stakes are too high.

Great organizations know that even as they grow, it’s critical to stay agile and flexible, acting like a startup even as a large company. One thing that startups do well, by the nature of being a developing company, is they take risks with product and people development. Larger companies can’t afford to do this when they are well into a project, which is why it’s important to take risks early during the initial stages of a project. Another thing that startups do well is they make incremental adjustments so that they don’t have to experience massive change all at once. They constantly tinker with what works so that innovation is a process and not an end result.

Take early risks with product and people development. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook is known for it’s early days of taking risks and making changes that might “break” the system, which Zuckerberg supported. Later, after Facebook grew to a point that it garnered Zuckerberg the title of “Top 10 Business Visionaries,” he still proclaimed the need to “break” the system, but in smaller sample sizes, making changes to user accounts on a small scale to test innovations. The point is that no matter what size the company may grow to be, it’s still important to take risks, only these risks have to be in the early stages of a project or on a smaller scale than when the company was just getting started. This goes for people development too, making sure that people are taking some risk with developing their skills, even if it doesn’t pan out to major gains in productivity, as long as the focus is on learning and moving forward.

Expert Advice: Srini Pillay, author of Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try, posits that “in our rapidly changing world, our traditional way of thinking about risk assessment is inadequate for business strategy and decision-making. More than ever, learning new techniques and tools will help us achieve better outcomes in this era of dramatic and disorienting change.”

Make incremental adjustments. Making incremental adjustments and reviewing the work at every stage prevents organizations from having to take massive action when in the production stages of a project. This means having a review process similar to what Ed Catmull describes in his Creativity Inc. as he unveils the creative process used by companies like Pixar and Disney Animation. The point is that nothing should go into production without a series of review processes that allow for incremental changes to occur during the initial stages of a project, not after the project is underway.

Expert Advice: Ron Ashkenas, author of Simply Effective, says that “if you have specific areas of the business that you want to grow or improve, ask a team to conduct rapid-cycle 100-day experiments to test new ways of working. Most important, make it explicit that failure is acceptable as long as something is learned.”

Keep a steady eye on the VISION.

A common word associated with vision is power — the power of certainty and the power of anticipation. A company’s vision is powerful and is something that is constantly being pursued with a belief that it will be achieved. In order for the leader to serve others and take risks, people within the organization must stay focused on the vision and that starts with the leader. Establishing goals along the way to support and serve as guideposts is vital to staying on track.

Establish clear goals that directly align to the visionThere are reasons that vision statements become lip service or simply ornamental sayings on walls. Too often the vision becomes blurry because the destination is too far away. The leader may have clarity and even may communicate it regularly, but incremental goals are vital for the everyday work. Clear goals establish incremental targets, allow for short term wins, and add “light” along the path.

Expert Advice: Professors and authors, Chip and Dan Heath of Switch tell readers “we’re interested in goals that are closer at hand — the kinds of things that can be tackled by parents or middle managers or social activists. We want a goal that can be tackled in months or years, not decades. We want a destination postcard — a vivid picture from the near-term future that shows what could be possible.”

Make connections between the employees, the goals, and the visionEffective leaders create clear goals that people can actually see and believe. In turn, this can create an environment that recognizes achievement, which forges a relationship and connection between employees, supervisors, and the vision of the company. People desire a connection with what they do, who they work with, and what the company is striving to achieve. A clear vision broken down into smaller goals provides opportunities to recognize various wins and achievements along the way. This relationship creates a positive connection with the person’s work and  can yield tremendous results.

Expert Advice: Author Dr. Edward Hallowell of Shine describes the idea of “‘purposeful engagement’ and how it is synonymous with connection. Connection, both to a person and to an endeavor, is crucial because when a person connects with another person or a task, his mind changes for the better.”

Organizations desire to produce, develop, and grow. The challenge is growing while maintaining alignment with the values and principles of the organization. SRV creates a sensitivity to three key areas that reinforce the human side of the work to ensure that people remain at the forefront of success no matter how large the organization gets and no matter how fast that happens.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple and maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Let us know what you think of this #SH302 post with a like, follow, or comment.

Joe & T.J.


Ashkenas, R. (2011). Taking risks in tough times. Harvard Business Review.

Hallowell, E.M. (2011). Shine: Using brain science to get the best from your people. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2011). Switch: How to change things when change is hard. Waterville, ME: Thorndike Press.

Fleming, A. (2016). The key to adaptable companies is relentlessly developing people. Harvard Business Review.

Garton, E. (2017). The case for investing more in people. Harvard Business Review.

Pillay, S. (2014). A better way to think about risk. Harvard Business Review.

1 Comment

  1. Asia Ali-Hawkins

    Many organizations lose valuable employees because they do not invest in them or do not create opportunities for growth. Those employees choose to look for growth opportunities by going elsewhere. Great message.


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