How business owners and leaders can begin to build a culture for growth

Bernadette Chua, Founder and Principal Consultant for Dream Catalyst Pte Ltd, and SkillsFuture Fellowship award winner

“It has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” – Leonardo da Vinci

As Architects for Business Culture, we engage with business owners, the leaders and their respective teams to further strengthen their existing business culture so that all involved in the organisation become ambassadors of their companies, to share their vision and value create for their organisations.

A commonly raised concern is that of introducing change or overcoming resistance to change. Some of the challenges faced are:

  • Perceiving change as the enemy instead of welcoming it as an ally.

  • Being tied up in day to day operations or a fire-fighting mode, and limiting the bandwidth to anticipate change.

  • Micromanagement by business owners and leaders which stifles enthusiasm and innovation.

  • There is differing viewpoints between business founders and second generation of leaders on way forward.

  • Businesses lack the practical knowledge, skills, expertise or resources to implement effective strategies.

  • Resistance by employees to think and do things differently.

  • The focus on disparate and instant fixes without clear consolidated efforts across the organisation.

What is encouraging - we are increasingly meeting more business leaders who are willing to invest and have the vision to take a long-term view of improved change and outcome for all.

The reality is that the desired organisational change does not just happen with an email directive, poster campaigns, presentations or following a trendy fad.

To measurably grow leadership, we apply Dr Marshall Goldsmith’s approach to executive development and coaching which includes a strong emphasis on the involvement of stakeholders, implementation of change and follow-through to measure growth in leadership effectiveness.

Businesses need to stay abreast of market changes, and set in place business plans, processes and procedures to support the change in order to achieve long term benefits for their organisation.

Three steps that business owners and leaders can take to nurture a culture for growth:

1. Action on Awareness

As leaders set and drive the direction, taking action is critical for the business. When leaders exclude feedback from their teams or fail to take action on recommendations for improvement, this often leads to serious implications. And over time, it also affects team morale and performance which ultimately impacts customer satisfaction and repeated business.

A client’s employee once remarked to my strategy consultant who was on a site visit, “I have repeatedly told the management that they need to sort out these problems and issues. I have explained to them how to achieve this. But they don’t want to listen. They don’t take any action. So I do as I’m told, come to work on time, take my lunch and my breaks and go home on time.”

Having the ability and courage to listen to your teams provides you with the much-needed data to make critical decisions.

For example, Xpressflower.com, a leading florist chain in Singapore, has been in the business for over 20 years. The Managing Director (MD) and team have recognised the need to embark on new initiatives to stay competitive and make progressive changes for the future. Some of the initiatives implemented include refinement of processes and procedures, and enhancements of structured in-house learning and development programmes, as well as the designing of a service culture blueprint, setting clearly defined outcomes and implementing a system for monitoring improvements.

Joseph Soh, the MD of Xpressflower.com commented “I shared candidly with my team that we have to move the business forward and changes are required. I hope they will all continue to support the organisation and be part of our new future.”

2. Building Growth Minded Teams and Workplace Environments

For change to be implemented effectively, a shift of mindset is often required. Since coming across the work of world-renowned Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck, I have journeyed with business leaders to build growth minded teams and create a workplace environment where employees will value create. In her decades of research on achievement and success, Carol discovered that it is not just our abilities and talents that bring us success but whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset.

This has implications on how leaders, managers and employees think and behave at the workplace too. Creating a growth mindset environment in which people thrive involves:

  • Presenting skills as learnable

  • Conveying that the organisation values learning and perseverance, not just ready-made genius or talent

  • Giving feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success

Over at PRecious Communications, an award-winning Public Relations Agency, the founder has infused and enthused his team to embrace the growth mindset. All employees go through learning and development sessions on understanding the growth mindset and fun-storm its applications for work. Team meetings are structured where success is celebrated and setbacks turned into learning opportunities for growth. Mentors spent time coaching their mentees to succeed in what they do. Colleagues collaborate with each other across functions.

Lars Voedisch, their founder and MD, shares that "PRecious Communications is experiencing exponential growth and to sustain this, we understand that a growth mindset cannot be forced, but should be developed and encouraged over time.”

3. Co-Create a Blueprint for Change

“Strategic planning should be more about collective wisdom building than top-down or bottom-up planning.” - W. Chan Kim, Blue Ocean Strategy

The Managing Director of an asset-owned company shared how having a blueprint for change was an absolute necessity for growing his company. The entire team created a management system containing processes, procedures and standards for all staff in the organisations. This led to benefits such as time and equipment savings estimated between 10 -15% annually and the ability to geographically expand into world-wide operations.

The desired changes did not happen just by chance. It was carefully thought out and followed through.

When designing a blueprint for change we need to:

  • Establish a plan in which employees can make definitive contribution.

  • Ensure there is alignment of strategies and initiatives across functions. For example, if you are looking to build a collaborative culture, your HR processes must support that.

  • Get your teams involved in the decision-making process, let them own it, share the vision and become part of the end goal.

  • Share information with your teams in stages to obtain their buy-in and also for them to surface any potential roadblocks to successful implementation.

  • Avoid strategising in secrecy with a grand announcement at the end. This creates immediate resistance. People generally do not react well to sudden changes which they have not been a part of or feel imposed to change behaviours.

People are the core of successful businesses. We are human beings not human doings. Inject elements of fun and joy into the change management process involving all. As Ellen DeGeneres aptly puts it, “We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter.”

When your teams feel that they are valued and are engaged, they become your company’s enthusiastic brand ambassadors. That’s a powerful change that all businesses can strive towards.