It’s an annual ritual. It starts around October and continues from there until the end of the year. “It” is the annual declaration of growth for the upcoming year. Business owners, CEOs and managers want to know: How much are we going to grow next year?

It seems everyone has a fixation on growth. Growth is what adds value, or is at least perceived to add value to companies. The assumption is that if there is growth, then a company is traveling in the right direction.  However, quantitative growth doesn’t necessarily speak to the qualitative elements of an organization.

Change is driven by difference. Aircraft for instance, need a difference in air pressure over and under their wings. Automobiles are driven because of the difference in forces acting on the tire. In business, it’s the difference of actions or activity that cause a change in customer behavior. Inherent in any call for growth is the question, “What’s driving the change?”

Many businesses plan for growth, set goals, and never reach them. Growth is a by-product of an improvement process. Imagine the energy and buy-in one could create if an approach was taken that began by asking the question, “What can we improve this year to impact our results?”

Creating a culture of improvement is a win/win because everyone can get involved. Marc Burrage, of Hays Japan writes that there are 5 things that motivate employees more than money.

  1. Learning and Development
  2. A Clear Path of Progression
  3. Recognition
  4. Autonomy and responsibility
  5. Work environment

In this over-quantified age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get excited about numbers alone. Many times, we use money to cheat the system.  Employees want to be a part of something bigger, something that focuses on excellence. We believe that we can bribe people with incentives, our plan will yield success, despite obvious flaws in the plan.  Strategies focused on growth alone rarely fundamentally change the way a company functions, but a culture of improvement can fundamentally change how the business operates on every level.

One of the great benefits of focusing on improvement is that its impact is exponential. Each new improvement is based on a previous improvement so it’s easy to envision an exponential rise in results like the behavior of Moore’s Laws. It might not be quite that dramatic, but the rise in results can easily be described as exponential to some degree.

Pushing for better results is good but many times the process seems a little backwards. Choosing a revenue target first that doesn’t address the change required to meet that number, is an empty effort. A larger revenue number is a greater result, but it’s not necessarily an improved result.  We get the revenue number we deserve. Focusing on what drives the revenue, aligning ourselves with those drivers and adopting new behavior with new expectations yields a target that we can meet and feel confident about.