There Can Be No Growth Strategy Without a Culture for Growth

CEOs are under increasing pressure to achieve growth. In fact, there is such a push for organizations to orient themselves towards driving growth that research from KPMG suggests that nearly 9 in 10 companies “expect their CEO to lead the organization on a strategic growth trajectory.” Does this request sound familiar?   If so, we imagine that you have gotten the memo and are already counting on your Marketing organization for help. We’ll let you in on a secret: You’re not alone.

A report coauthored by the CMO Council and Deloitte found that “almost 70% of CEOs now expect CMOs to lead revenue growth.” Naturally, with so much dependence being placed on Marketing, it is paramount that your Marketing organization has a growth strategy.  Although it is not in the jurisdiction of the CEO to develop a Marketing strategy, there is one vital variable that you can influence that will either drive or disrupt your organization’s overall growth. And that is your organization’s culture.

Rob Fields, a cultural curator, believes that “culture is the one thing that enables marketers to create greater engagement, relevance, and grow their business. The failure to acknowledge the importance of culture to brand- and business-building is the same as deciding that you’re okay with being at a competitive disadvantage.” To translate this differently, Fields is underscoring the fact that the culture you have inside your corporation will be outwardly reflected in the interactions that your employees have with customers. This is a critical reminder because your customers’ experience is the ultimate expression of your brand. The interactions between your customers and your company are the moments of truth that that form lasting impressions. Therefore, as one of the primary customer-facing functions of your organization, Marketing will inevitably mirror the internal culture. So no matter how well the Marketing formulates a growth strategy, they will only spur success if they exist within a culture of growth.

How Do You Best Define Culture Within Your Organization?

Before we can discuss how to create a culture for growth, we must first define company culture. The Merriam Webster Dictionary provides a useful definition saying, “The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Unsurprisingly, your company’s goals, structure, and philosophies communicate your culture. A study by Kronos in “Who’s the Boss of Workplace Culture?” found that “human resources (HR) professionals, people managers, and employees have very different opinions about workplace culture, who drives it, what’s important to creating a great one, and what can destroy workplace culture.” Although there seems to be confusion in who sets the mores for workplace culture, traditionally it was tasked to HR. However, many organizations no longer have separate HR or Organizational Development departments. Therefore, your company’s culture may now fall on the shoulders of the CEO.

As the CEO, it is up to you to create and nurture a culture of growth.  To foster such a culture, you must first define your organization’s value and expected behaviors. Ideally, these values will spring from and support your company’s purpose while being applicable to everyone within your organization. Once you’ve derived your purpose from your values (David Friedman describes 30 core values in his book “Fundamentally Different”), you and your leadership must determine and communicate your expectations to your organization.

The Two Keys to Developing a Growth Culture

Make it real. Document your values, the corresponding behaviors, and describe your culture so that every employee understands the associated principles, goals, and values. Each member of your organization needs to know the specific behaviors you expect them to exhibit. To accomplish this efficiently, consider incorporating a cultural statement into your strategic plan, your business reviews, and your employee reviews.  Additionally, you should require your leadership team to embody and propagate the desired workplace culture. Furthermore, explore how to translate your company’s culture statement into content that you are willing to share with customers and have it included in the public domain via your website and social media platforms. For example, if collaboration is a key value, then what that means and how it is manifested needs to permeate across the organization – internally as well as externally.  Internally this might mean employees work in cross-functional teams. Externally this might impact how you work with suppliers.

Protect and nurture your culture. As you grow and add people and suppliers to your team, your culture is at risk.  After all, the more people involved, the greater the opportunity for dilution. To help curb this effect, recruit with your culture in mind and hire people whose values and behaviors match yours. Write down all the qualities that you think prospective employees and suppliers need and the behaviors you consider essential, and then incorporate these qualities and behaviors into your job descriptions and supplier contracts. For example, if responsiveness is an essential behavior to support your culture, be clear what that means behaviorally. For example, the VP of our business unit in a company I previously worked for was adamant that all phone calls were returned by the end of the business day. This requirement was a crystal clear behavioral representation of his desire to cultivate a culture of responsiveness.

Despite businesses jockeying to be ahead on the growth curve, Janet Yung in her book, “Being Happy and Successful–The Entrepreneur in You,” states that most businesses fall short of achieving their growth objectives for revenue and profitability. Her book purports that success rates are as low as 20%. A large part of this shortcoming is due to the lack of growth-oriented organizational cultures. If growth is one of your key imperatives, then you must define and build a culture that will help fuel that growth.

What are some of the characteristics of a culture of growth? Growth cultures tend to be customer-focused and committed to optimizing the customer experience. This means that experimentation with the caveat of “do no harm” is embraced, failure is acceptable, and because the culture fosters learning, it encourages the creation of an adaptive organization. Moreover, while data is highly prized within modern companies, having a growth culture allows you to avoid succumbing to analysis-paralysis by promoting a decisive and execution-oriented approach to numbers.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of attributes associated with growth cultures, but these traits do exist within every growth-oriented culture. When you cultivate this type of culture, Marketing and the rest of your team can then focus on facilitating business growth and creating customer value.  With the right culture in place and a best-in-class Marketing organization to help drive your organization, you have every reason to expect your Marketing leaders to develop and execute a successful strategy for growth.