Leading your organisation for growth is an exciting time, but leaders and entrepreneurs too often forget to reinforce the foundation before reaching for the stars.
Organisations choose to grow for various reasons such as the expansion of products and services, increased footprint, acquisition or amalgamation or adapting to keep up with industry competitors. However, no matter the reason, a strong purposeful culture and sound leadership capability is critical for the long-term success of the brand.
In most smaller businesses the organisational brand is closely related to, and very dependent on, the leader and/or founder’s personal brand. Thus, to maintain the integrity of the organisation’s brand, it is vital to put measures in place to ensure consistency and accountability when you can no longer manage all aspects on your own. True leaders inspire leadership in others and this is what will sustain the organisation as it grows.
Starbucks is a well-known example of a successful expansion. Founder, Howard Schultz, believed that a powerful, aligned culture was the key to its success. Therefore, he invested heavily in: appointing and empowering regional management that he could hold accountable, inspiring loyalty to the brand on all levels of the organisation and training staff to deliver the quality and service that Starbucks promises its customers.
I would like to share a few practical habits that you can put in place to build leadership capability and ensure your organisation remains both authentic and flexible:
Ensure that everyone stays connected to the organisational culture.
It is relatively easy to sustain the culture of a small business where all team members work closely together, and perhaps more importantly, close to the leader. This becomes challenging when the organisation expands, especially when expanding geographically. Culture is the glue that keeps the team together and teamwork (functional and cross-functional) is what ultimately drives quality performance. For a consistent culture the values, purpose and promise must be more than just communicated, it must be role-modelled by leadership and championed by every employee.
► Get into the habit of practically displaying your organisation’s values, both in your behaviour and your communication, and hold all leaders accountable for doing the same.
Hold leaders accountable and empower them to hold those in their charge to account.
We are all dependent on one another to build the culture and achieve the organisation’s objectives. Since culture and achievement are symbiotic, leaders must actively focus on both these aspects. Accountability ultimately boosts employee morale and fosters an environment where employees can trust each other to honour their commitments.
► Get into the habit of encouraging robust conversations where leaders and employees feel safe enough to challenge ideas/decisions before they commit and hold each other accountable when they make the commitment.
Maintain a healthy balance of autonomy and consistency.
An environment marked by consistency lays the foundation for accountability to flourish. It enhances productivity as well as a sense of security and belonging. Consistency also builds trust with clients and customers. However, remember to leave room for employees to play to their strengths and bring their ideas to the table. When everyone is clear about the purpose of the organisation and connected to the culture, it is much easier to foster autonomy and ownership without compromising your brand.
► Get into the habit of collaborating with your leaders so that they contribute to the growth process and then be diligent about enforcing the guidelines you agreed upon.
Never take your eye off the results.
Although you must make room for new leaders, this does not mean that you should become a passive leader yourself. The skill lies in keeping your finger on the pulse so that you know when it’s necessary to make adjustments, provide support or hold your leaders accountable for achieving results. We might not ultimately be in business to make money, but no business can survive without it.
► Get into the habit of using the financial results of the business as a mirror of what might need work – or praise – and act on it with speed, consistency and discipline.
Keep learning and mentoring.
When growing your business, it is vital to free up your time and your mind for thinking strategically. When you effectively apply the above four principles, you can safely step out of managing the detail and step into a mentoring role. Crucial to this is to keep learning yourself and to adopt a coaching and/or mentoring leadership style that gives others the opportunity to grow. If you want your business to be sustainable beyond your tenor, you must be intentional about transferring your skills and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders with your vision. Ultimately, you should become replaceable.
► Here it is so important to get into the habit of listening (and reading) more than you speak and rather letting your actions do the talking.
So, why does culture and leadership development deserve your focused effort? Simply put, it is the foundation that will help you realise your dreams together while keeping you grounded and connected at the same time.
Brian Eagar is a founder and the CEO of TowerStone Leadership Centre, whose vision focuses on empowering leaders to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success.