As a human capital strategist who has worked with entrepreneurs from all industries and company sizes, I’ve pinpointed shared attributes that separate growing companies from stagnant ones. Helping organizations identify and develop impact performers has given me a unique insight into the minds of various entrepreneurs, specifically how they approach their business holistically. While each entrepreneur has a product or service they’re passionate about, how he or she approaches plans for growth is always very different. I watched many owners continue behaviors that worked in the infancy stages of their business but hasn’t been successful long-term.
1. Adopt a growth-oriented mindset.
There’s an open-mindedness to the modern-day innovator that’s based more on facts than on emotions. They embrace the power of scientific data to make well-rounded decisions and are always consulting experts. Those that don’t tend to view any belief system outside their comfort zone, even if it’s backed by empirical data, as new-age hooey. Billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, exercises a management style that doesn’t go by the book. He focuses on the value his employees bring to the table rather than criticizing their faults.
2. Be a ferocious learner.
Not only do successful entrepreneurs read everything they can get their hands on that relates to emerging trends in their industry, but they also encourage a company culture of curiosity, which leads to workers who are more productive, innovative, and engaged in their roles. Those that don’t, however, are often stuck in the past, and their lack of awareness on changing market needs often moves their business backwards. Bill Gates, co-founder and CEO of Microsoft, for example, places a major emphasis on enriching lives through learning. Because he believes in a holistic learning process to expand the mind beyond one’s specialty, he recommends books ranging from nonfiction to information technology.
3. Approach everything from a “we” lens rather than an “I” lens.
They treat the business as a living entity that must be protected and cared for at all costs. They often eliminate themselves from the equation during staff meetings to focus on team members and maintain an open-door policy. Those that don’t see the world only in relation to how it affects them and considers new or opposing ideas as a direct attack on their egos. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is concerned with delivering an unmatched customer experience through an engaged and positive company culture. He’s so committed to the cause that he compensates employees who decide they aren’t satisfied in their roles.
4. Hire the right person, not the best person.
I’m not talking about the obvious pick here. I’m referring to the candidate who best aligns with the company’s strategic growth plan and demonstrates the soft skills required to fit into their unique company culture versus the “friends and family plan.” They’re also not afraid to develop creative new job titles that reflect organizational needs rather than traditional titles that no longer represent the direction the company is moving in. Although they may not be the most qualified, they coach them to do a great job and make a personal commitment to their success. Kevin Ryan, an internet entrepreneur who founded several New York-based businesses, including Gilt Groupe, Business Insider, and MongoDB, gave up all other duties as CEO in favor of identifying impact performers who fit his company culture. Why? Because he believes that recruiting is the most important responsibility a leader has.
5. Change is a process, not an event.
They set up small milestones that naturally fit into the big-picture company plan, monitor progress on growth, implement next-phase steps appropriately, and demonstrate flexibility. Those that don’t usually have a massive 3-ring binder strategy plan that sits on the top shelf of a filing cabinet collecting dust. Marissa Meyer accepted the role as President and CEO of Yahoo! with high hopes that she’d turn things around. However, she recognized that several steps needed to be taken in order to see serious results. Since then, she led Yahoo! to acquire Tumblr in a $1.1 billion acquisition, rose profits from the previous year (2013), and implemented positive human capital changes, such as extending maternity leave and employing performance reviews.
6. Create shared vision and mission statements.
The company vision and mission statements are repeated often and are written in a language that everyone in the organization can understand. They remind their staff to be living representations of the vision and mission every day. Those that don’t usually refer to a half-complete oral statement that reinforces the disjointed approach the company takes when it comes to their internal customers (staff members) and external customers (clients). Burt and John Jacobs, co-founders of Life is good, Inc., successfully built their vision and mission into each and every t-shirt they sell. So much so that their customers have embraced their simple message of optimism, leading to about 4,500 retail stores in the U.S.
7. Develop company-wide behaviors and job-specific behaviors.
These successful entrepreneurs create behaviors for the company to prescribe to as a whole in order to reinforce an empowered, positive, and innovative work culture. But they also recognize that each role requires it’s own set of behaviors in order to produce high-functioning top performers. Those that don’t write down behaviors for the company and for each role leave the guesswork to their staff members, often leading to high turnover rates, poor results, and lower levels of engagement. After Danny Wegman became CEO, the modest upstate New York grocery chain, Wegmans, which now has 85 stores in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, has ranked among the top 10 on Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” for eight consecutive years and was recognized with its reward for Best Grocery Store by the Food Network. Danny didn’t leave anything to chance, ensuring that he instills the company-wide behaviors that employees of all levels prescribe to, resulting in a superior customer experience we’re fondly reminded of when we hear, “Did you find everything you’re looking for?”
8. Build a culture of accountability.
They also understand that the happiest employees are the ones who know their place within the workforce and how their work contributes to the company’s overall mission. Expectations are clearly written in their job description and reinforced in meetings with superiors. When employees understand exactly where they stand and what needs to get done, not only do they feel more fulfilled at work, but they’re also more successful at their jobs. Because they’ve built an infrastructure that supports growth and innovation, everyday isn’t a cluster@#$% where fires need to constantly be put out. Business owners that don’t hold their employees accountable simply don’t move forward. Tory Burch, Chairman, CEO, and Designer of Tory Burch LLC, has created a multi-billion dollar fashion conglomerate. Her secret is that she encourages her employees to work smarter, not longer. She argues that it’s not about the quantity of work; it’s about the quality. By focusing on the results that matter rather than time put in, she has created a successful and supportive work culture.
9. They provide employee development at all levels.
They commit to a hybrid-training approach from entry-level to upper management because they recognize that everyone doesn’t have the same strengths and others need customized training programs to grow and succeed long-term. Those that don’t usually must find talent elsewhere to fill higher-level jobs rather than promote from within. More importantly, the new hire is usually a mirror image of their own personality rather than one that compliments the business. Jim Collins, American business consultant, author, and lecturer on the subject of company sustainability and growth, made it his business to educate growth-oriented companies on the vital importance of employee development.
10. They never give up, even on their darkest days.
Tenacity is the number one trait successful entrepreneurs have in common. Being negative or blaming others for failures is the worst approach for getting to the root of any issue. James Dyson, founder of the Dyson company, was fiercely committed to inventing the best vacuum cleaner on the market. Dyson never settled for mediocrity. He became frustrated with his Hoover Junior’s diminishing performance so he created 5,127 models before he reached perfection, truly emulating a “no quitter” mentality.
It’s no coincidence that these entrepreneurs are consistently more profitable and accomplish the strategic goals they set out for their companies.