Create a Growth Culture, Not a Performance-Obsessed One

 

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tony Schwartz for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please here.

Illustration Credit: Getty Images

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Here’s the dilemma: In a competitive, complex, and volatile business environment, companies need more from their employees than ever. But the same forces rocking businesses are also overwhelming employees, driving up their fear, and compromising their capacity.

It’s no wonder that so many C-Suite leaders are focused on how to build higher performance cultures. The irony, we’ve found, is that building a culture focused on performance may not be the best, healthiest, or most sustainable way to fuel results. Instead, it may be more effective to focus on creating a culture of growth.

A culture is simply the collection of beliefs on which people build their behavior. Learning organizations – Peter Senge’s term — classically focus on intellectually oriented issues such as knowledge and expertise. That’s plainly critical, but a true growth culture also focuses on deeper issues connected to how people feel, and how they behave as a result. In a growth culture, people build their capacity to see through blind spots; acknowledge insecurities and shortcomings rather than unconsciously acting them out; and spend less energy defending their personal value so they have more energy available to create external value. How people feel — and make other people feel — becomes as important as how much they know.

Building a growth culture, we’ve found, requires a blend of individual and organizational components:

o An environment that feels safe, fueled first by top by leaders willing to role model vulnerability and take personal responsibility for their shortcomings and missteps.

o A focus on continuous learning through inquiry, curiosity and transparency, in place of judgment, certainty and self-protection.

o Time-limited, manageable experiments with new behaviors in order to test our unconscious assumption that changing the status quo is dangerous and likely to have negative consequences.

o Continuous feedback – up, down and across the organization – grounded in a shared commitment to helping each other grow and get better.

By contrast, a performance-driven culture often exacerbates people’s fears by creating up a zero-sum game in which people are either succeeding or failing and “winners” quickly get weeded out from “losers.”

Results also matter in growth cultures, but in addition to rewarding success, they also treat failures and shortcomings as critical opportunities for learning and improving, individually and collectively.

These are easy words to say, but they’re much harder to practice. Instinctively, we’re each inclined to hide, rationalize, minimize, cover up, and deny our weaknesses and mistakes because they make us feel vulnerable, at risk, and unworthy. These fears narrow and limit our perspective rather than enlarging it — at a time when the complexity of the problems we face often exceeds the complexity of thinking necessary to solve them.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Tony Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. Become a fan of The Energy Project on Facebook and connect with Tony at Twitter.com/TonySchwartz and Twitter.com/Energy_Project.

 

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