Inward and Outward

Business owners constantly look for ways to accelerate business growth. It is in their DNA. It consumes them, if not hourly, at least daily.

The search for growth, for improvement in performance, is directed inward, to what he or she needs to do differently. And, it is directed outward, to the management team and other employees. Even in times of outstanding levels of financial achievement, an owner’s targeted performance horizon is never quite accomplished. It must be a DNA thing.

Let’s look at how to accelerate business growth in more detail and focus on the employee. That employee might have an executive title or have responsibilities elsewhere in the business. They might be a seasoned veteran in the business and industry, or they might be a new employee with limited experience.

All possess certain qualities and competencies. However, if business goals and objectives are not being met, how can individual performance levels throughout the company be improved?

What are the competencies that drive performance? Let’s consider a new hire scenario.

Human Resources and hiring managers look at a resume for insights when hiring a new employee. They look for prior work experience, educational qualifications, relevant testimonials, and other clues. Sometimes it is clear that someone is qualified … or not. Eventually, decisions are made to hire. You have a new employee.

In most instances, there is some form of onboarding or active training of the new employee. They take on their new responsibilities and begin to contribute to the mission of the company. It might be in management, sales, marketing, on the factory floor, in administration … in a wide variety of roles.

Months or even years go by and you have a star employee … or maybe recognize that someone is falling short of desired performance standards. You ask why. Here is a possible way to frame what to do next.

Oftentimes, it is about restarting communication in a firm but evidence-based discussion of past successes and shortcomings. The dialogue, to be successful, needs to be two-way, with guardrails on how both parties must engage in the review process. There must be a resetting of expectations, with timelines and incremental goals that must be adhered to.

Although GAPWORX has a concept called the Sales Equation (see image below), it is also applicable in situations like a performance review, regardless of the role and responsibilities of that individual. The Sales Equation (substitute other functional descriptions, such as customer service), in its simplest form, breaks out 4 pillars of competencies to reset where there are strengths and where there are weaknesses. The four basic competencies are:

  1. SALES PERSONA (personality, style, behaviors, ambition, etc.)
  2. SALES (or insert other) CAPABILITIES

Whether it is a self-assessment of one’s own competencies, or a supervisor framing a performance review of a direct report, this “equation” can help structure that assessment. We can help.

Sum of Employee Behavior = Corporate Performance

Organizational analysis looks at businesses as whole entities—possibly shortchanging a closer look at the parts. Broad strokes of corporate mission, value statements, and strategic planning outline how the organization should conduct itself. It may be time to add a more granular level of scrutiny … looking at how individual employee behavior affects a business.

We live in a time of instant information—a form of global feedback. Just in the last few months we have seen literally hundreds of business leaders, political leaders, sports people, media artists—whose harmful personal conduct toward others was exposed. The public reaction was overwhelming, powerful, and negative—in that reputations were ruined, and careers were ended.

Some of the unintended consequences of technology innovation and social media, are seen in the alterations of human interaction, such as increased confrontation, and a decline of interpersonal courtesy. These are the new realities that affect the cultures of small and large businesses.

In a small business, any individual employee action has a greater magnitude of potential impact compared to a larger business. In a group of 10, one person stands out more than in a group of 200. The actions of each employee affect the health and growth of the business.

With increasing social challenges, there are also opportunities. A business can differentiate itself by transforming potential negatives of human behavior—into systems of positive change.

A business may need to offer additional training and development time. That may include information and facilitation about ethics and moral actions. It may be programs to build skills in the “soft” areas of communication, interpersonal dynamics, and problem solving.

Adding human performance coaching as an employee benefit, could increase individual awareness. Coaching can build individual strengths, increase emotional, social, and conversational intelligence. All of these can dramatically improve organizational well-being.

If this appears to the reader as overly moralizing or overstepping the bounds of management—there is a larger cultural sea change occurring. Awareness has been raised about how human beings should act toward each other. Business cultures that violate these evolving expectations could realize negative financial consequences.

It is not a “high bar” for a business to take a stand against harassment or bullying. Policies should outline how employees should treat each other—and particularly how to interact with customers.

The correlation between strong business cultures, and positive business performance is known and statistically proven. Leaders, managers, supervisors, and employees who conduct themselves from principles and character will serve a business well. Over the long run, investing in human assets will have a positive financial payoff.

A Workforce Multiplier

Business owners and other members of a company’s executive leadership team historically focus their attention and resources on improving financial performance … tangible “Hard-Side” results. There is an almost endless list of quantifiable measures captured on various spreadsheets, tracking both individual and team performance. Here are some.

Revenue Profit Margins Client Growth
Market Share Units Sold Cost of Marketing
Cost of Sales Production Costs … and many more


“Soft-Side” components are mostly cultural intangibles, which are harder to quantify. Here are just a few.

Leadership Committed to Innovation and Excellence

Employee Buy-in to Company Vision and Mission

Engaged Employees (Empowered to Adapt)

Organizational Transparency and Accountability

… there are many more

While a company’s culture is sometimes seen as a low priority—as far less than a pressing requirement—it really isn’t. A positive company culture—fully supported by the entire leadership team—can be a powerful force inside a company, empowering its employees to accomplish so much more.

Think of a positive company culture as a workforce multiplier.

There is empirical evidence to support that statement. Harvard Business School a few years ago, in a 11-year study of a variety of businesses with either positive or negative cultural attributes, concluded that:

Positive business cultures averaged 682% growth.

Negative business cultures averaged 166% growth.

The difference is striking. Investing in and supporting the development of a positive company culture … literally drives more growth.

Even if organizational performance measures are consistently meeting established business goals and objectives, strengthening company culture can dramatically improve those measures even more. Big change doesn’t happen overnight, but small changes can quickly establish new directions.

What cultural changes are most needed in your business?

Corporate Growth

Prioritize Understanding and Awareness … Rather than Winging it

While Organic and Merger/Acquisition are two common growth strategies, there are others. However, optimizing growth is usually not about the selection of one strategy. Every company makes strategic choices based upon their goals and objectives, their resources and capabilities, and there are always ever-changing market conditions to add more complexity. Selecting the right growth strategy or strategies can be challenging.

Start with finding answers to 5 questions:

  1. Where do growth opportunities exist,
  2. What challenges or gaps must be overcome,
  3. What are the priorities and timing to be implemented,
  4. What are the available internal resources and capabilities, and
  5. What external resources and capabilities are potentially needed?

Smaller companies tend to focus on organic growth strategies, and by improving capabilities with existing employees and hiring talent to expand the pool of prospects and clients. Larger organizations have more options, and more resources to execute multiple strategic initiatives effectively.

The common denominators of successful strategic initiatives – for smaller AND larger companies – require that you first find answers to the five questions above.

At GAPWORX, we believe that Awareness (understanding your Present State) is required to make sound strategic choices, which leads to an Actionable Roadmap and eventually to successful tactical initiatives and Achievement (in your Future State).

As external resources, we refuse to quickly guess or rashly diagnose problems or the possible solutions to them … without facts and without a collaborative discovery process. While we have developed proven methods and processes to help clients solve specific problems, successful projects require a solid foundation achieved through collaboration with each client.

There is a very old saying about making assumptions … we subscribe to it.

Sometimes, what appears to be a huge project, really isn’t. The scope and scale of a project can be deceiving at first. Our commitment is to always define the scope of the project carefully … instead of rushing off to solve it without understanding.

While there are times for “winging it,” we don’t think that is appropriate when we are working for a client.

SPECIAL NOTE: The above comments should not be misconstrued to negate the value of innovation and creativity. Both are extremely important, especially given today’s marketplace and the tsunami of technological innovations that impact every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

Embrace suggestions and ideas from every quarter, from employees and from your customers and vendors. Small changes in process, practices, and products – carefully assessed and implemented – can reap great rewards.

The “Blank Slate” of Change

Many of us attempt to write the script for new beginnings on our personal New Year’s “blank slate.” Because of socially shared beliefs in free will, positive thinking, and individual effort—we believe we can change whatever we choose.

Markets and businesses continually change. Metrics can motivate a business to act on its goals—such as sales, revenue, and overall growth objectives. Strategic planning focuses on the what, but may not adequately address how to make it happen.

Technically, once we have lived a few years we are not really blank slates, because we accumulate knowledge, capabilities, and experience. We also have a lot of baggage—dysfunctional behaviors, bad habits, biases, and an assortment of self-deceptions. Humans are complex beings, not robots. We have big brains that process a wide range of emotions, experiences, and desires. These factors make self-change, and organizational change complicated and difficult.

Reinforcers … the events that follow an action—control human behavior. Reinforcers that are positive will make a behavior stronger, but a punisher may eliminate it. Habits are strengthened and maintained by personal payoffs—and therefore are difficult to change. To maintain a new habit, you must have an alternative—and stronger payoff.

Business leaders and managers can use rigorous metric analysis to get information. Statistical processes examine every step and event, to see where the problems occur. Too often we try to change human behavior by sheer force of will—”let’s just do better.” But if we do not have honest and open communication to perform “root cause” analyses,” how will we isolate what to change? You cannot change what you do not know.

Leaders will fail to improve workforce activities if they demand different results—without understanding the complexities of cause and effect. Knowing which actions are correlated to which results, will support a change initiative.  Additionally, positive changes can be maintained with meaningful reward and recognition.

Prudent business managers construct positive organizational cultures. They understand what motivates an employee to do well on the job. They peel back the layers to get at “why does this problem happen, and what can we change—to get the results we want?”

Organizational change is not easy, but if you learn the right things about your business—positive change is possible.