Creating the right culture is essential for lasting business growth. But what are the winning ingredients to creating and leading a growth culture? I spoke to Stanimira Koleva, Group Vice President, Sales and Services, Asia Pacific and Japan for Citrix about what she has learnt shaping and leading growth cultures.
1. As a leader, what has been the greatest challenge that you faced in shaping a growth culture?
I have found that the single biggest barrier to growth is mind-set. When a business is not growing, people find ways to get comfy. They come up with lots of explanations as to why the growth is slow, like irrelevant products or market behaviour. People make certain assumptions; they expect less, then accept less than is possible, and this becomes the prevalent culture.
I’ve seen this happen at all levels of organisations but especially at the management level. It is often linked with long tenure of managers who have been through a period of rapid growth and then the growth hit a plateau or start declining. They then start to think that it is normal that growth is over. They stop flexing their growth muscles or trying to look for growth.
2. What are the ways that leaders can turn around a prevalent culture and shape a growth culture?
First you have to ask people directly: Do you plan to decline or target growth?
And then you have to make people believe. Once you have figured out how you are going to grow at the strategic level, then you need to communicate. It has to be crystal clear that inertia is not the new norm. You need to keep communicating across the board; whether it’s one-to-ones or larger groups using stories and examples that make your message tangible for people.
It’s important to identify derailers early on, so you can tackle attitudes head on. Even more important is identifying change agents; these are the leaders who can carry the new growth attitude. They will help you make it real and find examples of success that are meaningful for teams and employees.
Having the right team in place is essential if you want to shape a growth culture. If the organisation doesn’t have the right people organically, then that can mean bringing in new people who can bring in and lead growth when the opportunity arises. I have found it effective to bring in leaders who have been exposed to more of a strategic way of uncovering growth from organisations where there has been a consistent continuous growth record and, therefore, mind-set.
If you want to build a true growth culture you need to look at your entire business ecosystem. In Citrix, we had a number of partners where we represented 80–90% of their business and who had a deep expertise in our products. But, since they were small, an increase in our growth could easily max them out. To support our growth we realised we needed to also have partners with broader capabilities who could scale and with whom we could grow together. That way we could take them into different environments and also leverage their client networks so that we could get on their clients’ radar and become top of mind.
3. What have you found to be the biggest obstacle to shaping a growth culture?
Mind-set is the starting point; you must WANT to look for growth opportunities. But at the same time—do you have the capabilities for growth? How fit you are and how able you are to execute will determine your success. We used the Pacing For Growth Organisation Diagnostic to assess how ready we were in terms of the key growth capabilities we needed—the results helped us to focus on how to grow.
For instance, when we wanted to engage with customers, we knew we needed to pitch higher up in our customer organisations. To do that, we needed access to the right people—that doesn’t happen overnight; it requires the right network and connections. A salesperson has to consistently work hard to maintain such a network; flexing and training their growth muscles to maintain the capability. In our case, it made sense for us to hire those people in so that we could quickly develop that growth capability.
As leaders we need to ask ourselves and our organisations: How do we keep ourselves as fit and as skilled as possible in exercising growth strategies? As the markets, competitors, and customers change, I ask myself, “How can I stay relevant today and in the future for my customers?” I ask my partners, “How do we foster a healthy and diversified ecosystem so we can continue to address customer and market changes going forward?”
4. What is the one lesson you have learnt the hard way?
There have been times where I have been led to believe that people could deliver, where they have said that they understood about high performance and growth, but then nothing happened.
What I learnt is that when you are dealing with a legacy mind-set and skills, people may say they will do things differently, but they may not actually be able to. They may not have the right capabilities, and they may not ask for help. The right capabilities take time to develop; people need to create a muscle memory, so they can operationalise their skills.
I have learnt that I need to make sure that people can demonstrate to me that they can truly deliver. Bridging the gap between message and reality often just costs a couple of extra management cycles—double-checking information and dropping down a level of detail in certain areas to verify details.
5. How do you balance driving today’s execution with transforming your business for tomorrow’s growth?
As well as executing today’s business, leaders need to be scoping new horizons, developing the capabilities they will need to be successful in the new framework. In my current business, we had to break free from just planning for a handful of scenarios in which people could use our technology to opening our minds and really looking at ways a wider set of people could use our technology.
We now look at the future in a much more multi-dimensional way; taking into account use cases, penetration, possibility for mass adoption, and the role of our ecosystem partner as well as changing customer needs and competitor and market changes. For instance, I ask questions like, “What use cases could enable this technology to penetrate a much bigger percentage of a certain population?” It’s about thinking beyond legacy use cases to truly try to envision the future. It’s only then that we can start to ask ourselves what capabilities we will need to be growing in that future.
6. What’s your biggest take away
Quarterly or annual results are an essential measure of growth. But by only looking quarter to quarter, leaders risk seeing growth as a figure. Growth is multi-faced; you need growth awareness at every level of your organisation. To do this, you need adopt an outside-in view—benchmarking against what your competitors are doing, what your customers are saying they need, how satisfied they are, and how your partners view you.
Constant benchmarking keeps you honest and keeps you trying; cultivating that capability to sustain performance, setting stretch targets, and continuously improving. If you want to grow a business long term, then you need to keep the boat moving. Staying on the flat is not enough, you need to not be afraid to rock the boat again and again.