Growth & Change are about People

1.Organizations grow and change only when people grow and change.

Organizations everywhere are struggling with change and seeking new ways to grow.

Many specialists help them on the way forward.

A cavalcade of consultants convey and communicate with countless charts potential choices to the C-Suite.

A flurry of futurists frame, focus, and filter the way forward with the finesse of fortune tellers.

Masters of the Universe market M&A moves that might make multiples move upwards and mean many more millions in market-cap.

PR professionals produce and promote points of view that provoke the press to perceive with pristine perspectives.

And while many of these will be essential ingredients to a recipe of change and growth none of these will work without helping grow and change the people in the organization.

Because while firms are a collection of ideas, technologies, patents, brands, ecosystems and people, it is people who are the the key since they create the ideas, technologies, patents, brands and eco-systems!

Michael Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the face”.

Boards and leadership of firms come quickly to the realization that everything is easy until people get in the way.

Telling people that change is good, threatening them with job loss if they do not change or creating communication materials and slogans to goad them into a cult like devotion to the new dear leader or the way forward rarely works in the short run and will likely fail after the threat of flagellation fades.

Because if there is nothing in it for them, people will out-wit, out-wait, out-pretend, and out-maneuver “management”. Until then they will fill the time genuflecting and bowing and going through the monitored motions of attending the right meetings, muttering the motivational mantras and stating the slogans required.

If you want your organization or team to grow and change you will need to deliver answers to four questions to your staff:

Why are the recommended changes good for them?

How can it help them grow ?

What are the monetary or other incentives to change?

When and where will training w be provided to help them learn the new skills needed?

Change does not happen because of M&A, Press Releases, Re-organizations or a new Leader, all of which undoubtedly play a role.

An organization changes and grows when the people in the organization change and grow.

2.There are two ways to change an organization: Get people to change or change the people.

What are the key ingredients that helped drive successful transformation of companies including very large ones like Walmart or Microsoft?

Both firms had “lifers” take over as the CEO after years of each company roaming in the wilderness. They both succeeded in rejuvenating their firms by combining two different approaches.

A) Upgrading the mindset of a majority of the people at the firm.

This is best seen by the changes Satya Nadella has made at Microsoft which including moving from a “know it all mindset” to a “growth mindset”, a focus on enterprise and business professionals, a focus on openness and cloud (into which the Xbox strategy neatly fits) and the elimination of the Windows Operating division. He also engineered a move away from a prickly approach of a “We vs the World” mindset to the embrace of the everything in the world including Linux with the purchase of GitHub.

Along with these initiatives to upgrade the people there was the leveraging of new talent brought in via “LinkedIn” and some nip and tucking in other key areas.

Through it all the focus has been on new behaviors and mindsets of people including top level and key talent.

B) A recruitment of key outsiders and high-level leaders to bring in new skills and thinking.

This can be seen at Walmart which had fallen behind Amazon in the world of E-Commerce. Doug McMillon made two huge purchases in Jet and FlipKart, putting their leadership in charge of the re-vitalization of their online efforts. While there continues to be “silo-wars” at Walmart there is little doubt that the company is a newly armed and respected player and is seen as a future force and not just a huge operator from the past.

What is central to all successful changes is that companies that grow combine revitalized/new leadership, a re-defined strategy and or organization with an emphasis on growing and helping as many employees as possible transform themselves.

A new strategy, a new leader and a new organization are often necessary, but they are never sufficient to regain growth and manage change. To achieve this aim it is critical that the rank and file needs to be communicated with, incentivized and trained to change and grow.

3. The Six C’s Required of Modern Talent.

Today like never before we are living in a world of rapid transformation and change.

New industries rise and fall and the inter-connected unstoppable forces of globalization, demographic change and technology twist and toss all of us.

In this landscape how do we train talent or hone our own skills?

What will remain relevant and in demand in an age of shorter and shorter half-lives of firms and business models?

Six key skills will be essential in the future. Three of these have to do with the individual (Cognition, Creativity, Curiosity) and three how we connect with each other and the world outside our minds (Collaborate, Communicate, Convince).

Cognition is simply learning to think and keeping your mental operating system constantly upgraded. This requires deliberate practice and sustained work. Improved cognition is achievable.

Creativity is connecting dots in new ways, looking beyond the obvious and this skill will be key as AI powered computers, data crunch and co-relate faster than we ever will. To be human is to be creative. We need to learn and feed this inside us.

Curiosity is simply being alive to possibilities, questioning the status quo and asking what if? Today the key competitor or opportunity in any category comes from outside it. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but the lack of curiosity killed the careers of many people.

But being cognitively gifted, creative and curios will not be enough since we are living in a connected world where eco-systems, teams and linkages is how ideas are born, value created, and long-term careers forged. For these we need to hone and build and train for three other skills.

Collaborate: Collaboration is key to work in a world where API’s (Application Protocol Interfaces) are not just about handshakes between software/hardware but between individuals with different skills, teams in different countries, partners, suppliers and much more.

Communicate: Learn to write. Learn to speak. Learn to present. It may be so old school but watch the people who succeed, and they are good at communication. And all of these can be taught and learned.

Convince: Every one of us is a salesperson regardless of what we believe our title is. This is true even if we do not sell anything at work. We have to convince colleagues of our points of view. We have to convince our partners to join us on our life journey. Learn to convince and learn to sell.

4. The Four Keys to Evaluating Experienced Hires Before Letting Them In.

It is rare that a company can avoid hiring significant talent from outside if it is serious about transforming itself to change and grow. New skills, new mindsets and new blood enhances the corporate genetic pool.

But these hires are particularly fraught, and experience indicates that focusing on four key criteria can minimize the risk.

These are a) Mental Agility, b) Integrity, c) Impact and d) Fit/Chemistry.

Two of these filters Mental Agility and Fit/Chemistry require multiple interviews (Zoom or in person) and two of them —Impact and Integrity —require deep investigation (background checks, references).

Mental agility is key to lead a team or a company in a world of change and only in an interview can one test for this. Similarly, chemistry matters. Too many companies bring in a wunderkind who either fails to adapt or is chewed up and spit out by the organization. While “Culture” may eat strategy for breakfast it honed its chewing skills by gnawing on the bones of outside talent.

Integrity and the Impact needs to be evaluated over time and requires in depth research.

Integrity has never been more important and in today’s correctly sensitized environment this is not just about financial trust but dealings with people of different backgrounds among other things.

Impact on Business can be measured through financial results but as important is how the individual has built teams, grown people and dealt with long term periods of stress or setback.

Ex-bosses and ex-direct reports rather than colleagues and industry experts are usually the ideal people to interrogate since they can provide perspective, put things into context and provide a multi-faceted picture of the person.

5. How to change and grow yourself.

In the end we will only change and grow, if we ourselves want to change and grow.

There will be many reasons from lack of time, to looming retirement, to the pain of the new that we will transform into more elegant sounding excuses. But change will come, and change will not care. And if we want to stay successful and retain our jobs and remain relevant, we will have to change.

Three ways to change

a) Invest an hour a day learning: Just as we know daily physical exercise will extend our lives so too will daily mental growth extend our career, relevance (and can provide joy)

b) Grow yourself by developing a new skill or upgrading a skill every few months: It might be a passion like photography or mountain climbing, learning a new language or building competency in one of many areas. Doing and deliberate practice will result in your mind being re-wired in new ways.

c) Build a case for the opposite of what you believe is true: It is critical to look for dis-confirming versus confirming evidence. Today, due to polarized media and a retreat into like-minded groups we often suffer from incestuous thinking. This means we will miss

Change might suck

But irrelevance is worse.

And if we want to grow, we will have to change…

My book will be available for almost free all-day Thursday (Dec 24) on Amazon!

This Thursday the 24th of December, my publisher HarperCollins is making a Kindle version of my book available for almost free! It will be priced at $1.99. You do not need a Kindle just the free Kindle App which allows the book to be read on any phone, tablet or computer. Please mark the date and spread the word.

All photos by Richard Thompson III

Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is a sought-after speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at

Rishad Tobaccowala