How do businesses evaluate and plan for growth? The time-tested KPI (key performance indicator) will always remain relevant. However, budding leaders ought not to become too obsessed with KPIs and miss out on the long game, the big picture of the organisation’s growth trajectory. Effective and sustainable growth comes from a growth mindset that is more than quantitative numbers and hard statistics.
To successfully cultivate a growth mindset, you need a holistic point of view. Holistic in the sense that you can’t just focus on revenue, or on the quantitative aspects of your work. The qualitative, intangible aspects of growth can be more important in the long run, and budding leaders should never ignore those.
Adopting a growth mindset is also synonymous with a zest to continuously improve and do more. In turn, when you do more, it’s not just for yourself; it’s putting in extra effort to help your own team. You can be more than a manager – as a good friend, you can help your team out in all aspects of their professional and personal growth, as one way to practice a growth mindset that is not solely quantitatively driven. This valuable asset should also be reinvested into every aspect of your professional and personal life, and when managing clients and teammates.
Growth mindsets encourage can-do attitudes, where you do a bit more for your people, managers or clients. Where you used to simply say “No”, choice answers now go “Yes, but these are the things I need support in to do my best work.”
Resist the urge of complacency, and constantly ask yourself: How can I do it even better? What do I need to deliver better results?
You can also interpret the growth mindset as taking every situation and looking at ways to optimise it, while asking yourself what more can be done to make it look better. If you have a client-facing role, how do you deliver the best possible results, services or goods to your customers? In a retail set-up, simply being warm to your customers is a great first step. When you show genuine interest in the needs of your clients and customers, rather than view interactions with them as purely transactional, that plants the seeds that will eventually grow into a robust growth mindset.
While many people tend to think of growth mindsets as managing upwards, it’s also about managing sideways and across all dimensions. New and developing leaders should be aware of this and adopt the broad-based perspective that it stands for. While doing more than specified and continuously meeting KPIs are foundational aspects of growth mindsets, the concept in totality also encompasses much more.
Conversely, if you’re overly focused on KPIs, you’ll tend to develop tunnel vision, eventually viewing everything from a transactional perspective. When you only gravitate towards issues that help you reach your KPIs, you’re subconsciously going to deprioritise everything else, including insights that can reap benefits in the long term and further refine growth mindsets.
For example, employees tend to be viewed as the largest costs to running a business. I was once asked to find the best way to optimise costs for a bank, and had to look at where people were being deployed. Instead of zeroing in to the costs represented by employees, I opted to analyse the bank’s largest cost contributor, market data expenses. While this knowledge would be sufficient to begin renegotiations with market data vendors and change traditional mindsets of senior management around costs, one should not instinctively take the most direct approach with these new realisations.
In this instance, the most direct approach to negotiation would be to ask the vendor to reduce their fees. A negotiator leading with a growth mindset would instead highlight the percentage of costs to the business that the vendor contributes to. Vendors will sit up and take note when you tell them that they’re responsible for 20% of your total business costs, because they’ll get the quantitative message that they are a significant partner driving your organisation’s success.
The other half of the equation is in identifying like-minded business counterparts in growth and appealing to shared interests. If you talk to three vendors, two in three will likely be growth-mindset people. When you sift out the vendors that are willing to cooperate from those who are inflexible in their stances, then you can build more long-lasting partnerships with the former group, while they also benefit from your continued patronage.
That’s how growth mindsets on both sides create synergy. Had I solely focused on KPIs, I would not have dug into market data costs or spoken to the bank’s vendors. In turn, I would not have known which of those vendors were aligned towards a growth mindset and open to working with us. In the end, we exceeded the KPI set for cost reduction – in eight months, we saved 7.5% to 8% in costs, when the original target was 1.5% to 2% for the year.
With a growth mindset, you can get 11 when you put one and one together. A KPI mindset is limited to 1+1=2.
In the previous example, making less optimal decisions would have led to value leakage. That’s when you fail to capture the greatest possible value offered in a business opportunity. There’s a lot of value leakage in large organisations, especially by budding new leaders. The issue is structural, since large organisations can be very compartmentalised. If you’re not a leader, it’s reasonably hard to map out your value chain and figure out what is happening, where things happen and who is responsible for doing what.
Some organisations have their product-oriented employees accompany the sales team to liaise with clients and take note of the feedback offered. The product team can also share their input and experience in developing and using product functions, providing a more holistic work relationship for all parties. While directly receiving feedback from end users is helpful, product specialists would need more bandwidth to incorporate this aspect into their overall work. To get this bandwidth, you must have an excellent relationship with your partners and counterparts. You should be able to work out a plan while trusting and empowering your product specialists to execute it.
Trust and empowerment are especially important, since new leaders are vulnerable to micromanaging practices. If you’re a leader in product functions and your job is to manage product specialists and add features, then you have less to do. Correspondingly, when you have less to do, you end up poking your nose into everything under your scope of work. Micromanaging occurs when people don’t have enough to do, and leads to value leakage when you continually obsess over existing efforts instead of growing new possibilities.
When you take a step back and zoom out to the larger picture, you will be able to better understand the context behind the work you’ve been tasked to do. You will also need to identify your stakeholders and their incentives for supporting you. What do they get out of their continued support, and what can you offer? Within a larger organisation, you have to be able to look at the same project from the viewpoints of different stakeholders and ask yourself: besides the direction given by senior management, what else can we offer the stakeholders?
Another example of a growth mindset is that if you can make your stakeholders look good, then you also look good by association. It’s very possible to do things that make stakeholders look better without significant effort or trade-offs involved.
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