Would you be interested to know what a group of 50+ business owners summarized as the top 4 characteristics of businesses that are always growing?


At a recent 90 Day Planning workshop our customers were asked to discuss the differences between ‘running’ a business and ‘growing’ a business. Or more specifically, list the characteristics and practices of companies that are being ‘run’, and then list the characteristics and practices of businesses that always seem to be ‘growing’. Prior to this discussion it was the consensus of all that there really is no such thing as ‘running’ a business, and that all businesses, like trees, are either growing or dying. All agreed that the delusion of running a business is widespread, and hence the comparison of the organizations who believe their job is to ‘run’ things vs. organizations who are continually locked into a ‘grow’ mindset.

The activity lasted about 20 minutes – beginning calm and quiet, and quickly escalating into a loud and passionate discussion with accompanying hand gestures and table pounding to accentuate key points.

All the items that surfaced relating to ‘grow’ businesses we condensed into these four characteristics.


1. The people work harder on themselves than they do on their job.


We titled this one using the classic Jim Rohn sentiment of ‘work harder on yourself than you do on your job’ as it so aptly summarized this trait. It was a resounding accord that the organizations in which the people are always focused on growing themselves, are constantly growing as a company. Instead of just looking externally for the software, equipment, resource, or business changing cosmic event that will rocket them into massive growth – they look in the mirror, first. They work harder on themselves than they do on their jobs. The people in ever-growing businesses are always working on their identity, including their knowledge and skills, their beliefs and values, and their environment – increasing their ‘mass’ as we sometimes call it.

ActionCOACH founder Brad Sugars will often reference this characteristic of companies that are always growing by saying “when your identity gets ahead of your results – you go into growth mode; when your results get ahead of your identity – the growth stops.” A profoundly simple concept which helps us visualize a vacuum that is created when we grow our identity (grow ourselves) into which our results or growth rushes in to fill the void. The business will grow exactly as far as the leaders do, and not farther.


2. They respect and serve the shareholders.

And how does a company show respect and service to the shareholders? Growth and increasing return on investment of course. In other words – businesses in which the only shareholders are the operators may be content simply earning a living in exchange for working in the business. Investors, or other shareholders however, would never be satisfied with that situation. A couple ways a company can serve and respect the shareholders (yes, especially if you are the only shareholder), include updating your 90 day plan every 90 days and ensuring everyone is doing wage appropriate tasks.


3. They focus on market needs not their own needs

Call it vision, call it purpose, call it the company’s ‘why’; it was unanimous that a resounding focus on the gap between the current situation and the company’s desired impact on society and the marketplace resulted in a business that was constantly in growth mode.

Constant focus on individual needs can cause a thermostat setting within the company to be programmed to, yep you guessed it…comfortable. In this situation a business gets cracking when we dip slightly below comfortable, but it also regulates and cuts off when we’ve achieved comfort again – a classic ‘run’ business. Whereas keeping the reticular activating system (like our brain’s GPS system) set on a massive purpose or goal or impact on the marketplace – well there’s no chance of comfort setting in, and always work to be done = growth mode.


4. They are always looking for leverage

A common characteristic of ‘run’ businesses is the constant hunt for work, the next job, the next sale, the next customer. Whereas the ‘grow’ business is always seeking leverage – not chasing the next customer but the next partnership that could create a pipeline of customers for the next 5 years, etc.

ActionCOACH and Brad Sugars teach three definitions of leverage.

– Do the work once get ROI forever or long term
– Divide to multiple
– Ever more with ever less

The grow businesses are asking themselves questions as to what can be done in each of those three constantly, and not asking questions like ‘who are we going to get to take over Tues and Thurs deliveries?’


And, a bonus characteristic…


5. They use the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) System for Goal Setting

It’s not easy to adopt the OKR method in your organization, but the companies that try it, and stick with it, are growing. Read more on why more and more organizations are looking at implementing the OKR format HERE.