Growth Junkies More Important than Growth Markets?

by Peter Thies

Ask anyone to describe the current post-recession economy and they’ll give a terribly unexciting answer: “sideways”, “sluggish” and “creeping upward”.   Ho-hum…

According to the Conference Board’s Global Economic Outlook 2012, annual growth rates in emerging/developing economies from 2019-2025 is predicted to hover just above 3%.  Another unexciting scenario.Targeting and retaining high potentials

So, where will we find economic opportunity? More than ever new growth will need to come from inside existing markets.  Innovation, customer intimacy and more creative ways of deploying capital are becoming more important strategic priorities.

And what drives these priorities?  Growth-oriented leaders who stimulate innovation, understand customers and somehow find a way to get things done. You recognize these people when you see them. They’re “Growth Junkies,” who relentlessly pursue the new and different but are grounded in business sense.  They constantly try new ideas, find different competitive waters to swim in, create high return for minimal resource investment and get people energized around innovation.  They break new ground without breaking too many eggs in the process.

In a sense, these growth junkies might be viewed as the new high potentials in this sideways economy.  Perhaps Apple’s Craig Federighi, the SVP of Software Engineering who is little known but impressed so many at Apple’s developer’s conference, is a prototypical growth junkie.  We’re sure that Mark Zuckerberg, who took a pounding from investors about their languishing stock at Facebook’s last Board meeting, would feel better if he had more growth junkies by his side.  Perhaps this sluggish economy will confirm what many of us in the organization development space have thought for years – that finding and keeping growth leaders is as critical to a company’s growth strategy than any capital plan, M&A transaction or other “strategic initiative”.

So how can companies large and small, from Apple and Facebook to high-tech start-ups, better identify and develop their growth junkies?  Here are some starter ideas:

1)       Redefine your beliefs about what “high potential” means. Think of high potentials as those who are truly capable of driving business growth, not those who exhibit generic “personal growth” potential.  Consider how adept they can become at innovating, finding new sources of growth, leveraging the organization and engaging people in the new and different.  These are the skills of high potentials in a sluggish economy.  Owens Corning CEO Mike Thaman prefers to call it “rate of growth”, not potential.   He’s on to something there…

2)       Fine tune your approach to identifying “Growth Junkies”.  By definition, assessing talent potential is less about one’s prior accomplishments, and more about the ability to apply past experience to a new, growth challenged economic environment. Companies like Korn/Ferry have assessments that measure a person’s “learning agility”.  These are good tools to help identify your growth leaders – especially those people who might be “under the radar”.

3)       Deploy growth junkies differently than “high performers”.  Your growth junkies are restless.  The Corporate Executive Board found that “Development by Manager” is the #1 factor in employee satisfaction for individual career advancement. Put your growth junkies into new and challenging assignments and give them room to run.  If you don’t utilize them, someone else will.

A sluggish economy calls for more exciting ways of finding growth.  Companies can leverage the assets already available to them by nurturing their ‘growth junkies”.   The key is to find out who they are – and keep them.

PeterThiesPeter Thies, Ph.D. is President of the River Group, LLC a management consulting firm that offers advice and solutions to executives leading transformational change.

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