Growth, Innovation and High Performance. Part: 5

Executive leadership

What does the Assessment Tell us? Are Leaders Ready for Growth?

We are encouraged by the increasing trend in energy. However, we say that with caution because although leaders’ energy levels are trending up, their scores are still hovering at levels away from their ideal energy levels. The data tells us there is high potential for growth; however, without management of energy, growth may be sporadic.

Our goal is to teach leaders not only how to manage their own energy levels but also how to direct the energy of employees to meet high performance goals. Directing energy is a new skill, and we are discovering pockets of excellence in the firms that are intentionally managing energy and growth.

Growth is a multi-faceted goal. Growing people and talent is a key path to growth in sales and profitability. One question we are often asked is how to hire people who can support growth. There is a “feeling” out there that certain people are better working in high-growth, high-change environments. But who are these people, and how do you find them? These individuals are not necessary entrepreneurs; they want to leave the established firms and start their own businesses. Yes, they will grow a firm, but they may not be the people to help an established firm with a high-growth trajectory. To answer this question, we have been studying what we call “start-up people” – these are individuals who are equipped to handle the uncertainty and stress that comes with start ups, but they can help any organization grow.

Start-Up People

In this Leadership Pulse, we asked about start-up people. In an effort to build a competency model for these individuals, we began the conversation with the leadership pulse respondents.

We asked for 5 adjectives to describe a start-up person, as well as 5 adjectives to describe a non-start up person. Table 3, below, lists the most common responses for describing a start-up person. Creativity (31% of responses) and intelligence (22% of responses) are key traits in a start-up person’s mental makeup. But having a high level of energy (24% of responses) is also very important. Optimism (18% of responses) is also an attribute that characterizes a start-up person.

Table 4 lists the most common responses for chat characterizes a non-start-up person. Reliability is listed as the most common response (18% of responses) that describes a non-start-up person. It is important to note that while this does not mean that start-up people are unreliable, it certainly seems that it is not the most important requirement in someone who can be successful in a start-up environment. In fact, risk averse is the only characteristic of a non-start-up person that is in opposition to any of the common characteristics of a start-up person, in this case, risk-taker.

Table 3: Start-Up Person Comment Breakdown

Table 4: Non-start-Up Person comment breakdown

Table 4: Non-start-Up Person comment breakdown

Furthermore, start-up people were described by respondents as:

“comfortable with ambiguity”
“ability to think holistically”
“able to communicate goals and explain courses of action to others”
“willing to speak up if they are at odds with decisions”
“fail brilliantly so that learning can occur”
“a quick learner and an even better teacher”
“able to rally others and inspire followership in a new space that is not well understood by others”
“flexible, adaptable, versatile”

Energy Thread

It’s interesting to note that energy is the second most frequently used term for start-up people. This doesn’t surprise us as we see energy as a key predictor of sustained growth. The challenge for organizations that want to grow is building high energy levels, high sense of urgency cultures, but doing so in a way that does not burn out employees. Balancing energy, helping managers learn to be energy directors and understanding how to optimize not maximize energy are all keys to sustainable growth.

Many firms have made it to where they are on today on the backs of leaders who are energized and who are trying to stay energized. However, the challenge for 2014 will be whether the high caliber employees who brought organizations through the recession and to where they are today are energized enough to stick it out. After reviewing the data and reading the comments from participants, we can report that this will be a challenge for most firms going forward. Below are a few sample quotes from a group of leaders in high performing firms. They are responding to a question that asked them to explain their energy levels at work.

Sample comments from managers in high performing firms:

“total overload, uneven work balance, ungrateful clients, long hours – no break in sight.”

“We have different levels of negative individuals who are difficult to work with – we have several people who focus on the negative”

“I’m getting older and thinking about retirement. Our organization has reorganized several times and is now doing it again. The lack of stability is exhausting.”

“New boss – don’t trust this person”

“I don’t see nor am I interested in the sacrifices expected within the corporate environment”

“Current environment at work is that there is so much pressure to just get tasks done that it is not inspirational — there is not a feeling of real contribution”

“More work than time available”

“Not fully utilized”

“Dealing with bureaucracy and people that are energy drainers is hurting me”

“Losing my job”

“Need a sense of purpose”

“Uncertainty in market conditions”

There were some positive comments; however, about 70% are more in line with the comments noted above. What this tells us is that leaders / managers may be nearing a breaking point. Without a strong core, and part of it is the leadership and management team, organizations will not be able to sustain growth.

In 2014 – we suggest that organizations looking to grow spend time to understand their own environment for growth. Is your firm ready to continue putting the pressure on employees that has been there the past few years? Go into 2014 with knowledge, and that information will provide a competitive advantage.


Data Driven Leadership Learning!

Appendix: Sample Demographics

Company demographics are self-reported by the respondents and include company size, industry, total revenue, financial performance, and rate of change. Although self reported, we periodically collected data from public firms to verify the self report data, and we find the information collected is accurate and reliable. Also collected from respondents are personal demographics for Job Level and Functional Area. As an example, Tables 5 through 7, below, show the demographic breakdown for respondents based on Industry, Company Size, and Total Revenue respectively.

For more information:

Author: Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne

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