Is there a secret to driving growth today?

The call for growth is so widespread it can seem wallpaper. Yet, according to our research, people are re-appraising company growth agendas. They are seeking more meaning than profit alone, and finding fresh ways to grow by motivating customers rather than just cost-cutting. To meet this growth ambition, the most successful companies are changing their organisational and leadership capabilities. It’s a new growth code, challenging to implement, but essential nonetheless.

BRAND LEARNING led research into what the most successful companies do in practice. We interviewed over 900 people, from more than 90 companies, across 42 countries and across industries. Steered by an advisory board chaired by Niall FitzGerald, former Chairman of Unilever, and working with partners The Marketing Academy, The Conference Board, The Marketing Society, Econsultancy, Marketing Week and The MMA, we gained insights from Chairmen and CEOs as well as marketing, HR and sales specialists.

Everyone acknowledges that growth is important. Financially, commercially, culturally. But, to change their behaviour, people need more than targets. They need the company growth ambition to be motivating personally (connected to their own opportunities), to be meaningful (connected to company/personal purpose), and to have integrity (commercially robust, not socially or ethically damaging).

Leading companies set out a growth purpose that ignites the imagination and energy of their teams, and drives their strategic choices. To deliver this growth purpose, respondents want to change the practices in their companies. The good, and also surprising, news is that 69% of respondents are confident their companies can deliver the changes required.

We describe these changes in what we call the growth code. It's what it takes to focus on growing both customer happiness and employee effectiveness.


A growth-ready organisation, poised to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, is characterised by seven distinctive hallmarks, the 7Cs (shown below).

Involved employees are critical for excellent customer experiences. They bring their full energy to their work, feeling listened to as the company shapes its direction, and feeling empowered to deliver results.

Momentum-driving leaders fuel change. Research respondents criticised lipservice leaders who talked compellingly of change but don’t change their own behaviours, and butterfly leaders who move too quickly on to the next change initiative. By contrast the leaders they most admire observably demonstrate 7C hallmarks.


Beneath The Growth Code and the 7C Hallmarks lie specific practices shared by leading companies.

Organisational practices like ruthless silo-busting across functions and geographies, to create teams made up of people from different functions, oriented around specific customer experience goals. Companies like PERNOD RICARD, RECKITT BENCKISER AND NATIONWIDE all use silo-busting team approaches. Some form temporary teams, some form permanent teams, and, in the case of RECKITT BENCKISER it’s about physically sitting teams together as category teams made up of all the functions involved like marketing, shopper, sales, and finance.

Involvement practices like ZAPPOS 5-second happiness survey, sent out every week to measure employee net promoter score and from which any questions posed get a rapid, personal, response. BEAM SUNTORY’s tight-loose-tight framework balanced clear direction and accountability – set by weekly and mid-year planning reviews for example – with a high degree of empowerment. The idea is to give people a tight brief and clear objectives, then give them freedom in their approach to delivering it, and then collectively measure results.

Leadership practices set the example, good or bad, that people follow. For example, in his interview with us, Matt Donovan, Microsoft’s GM Brand Office, describes a story of how CEO Satya Nadella has driven collaboration from the top. “At an early Senior Leadership meeting they identified a problem, which in our old model would have been owned by an individual leader of that business unit. Satya said, 'No, no, no, it's not his problem alone, it's all our problem. So, what are you going to do to help him solve that problem? What are you (turning to another leader) doing in your business to help him solve that problem?’ These types of stories of his leadership are trickling down into the business, and affecting behavior.”

While the specific practices range from behaviours to structural changes, one thing shone out. Starting from a position of what will make customers happy rapidly leads to ‘what will it take to motivate and equip our people to deliver this customer experience?’ Having a capability strategy aligned to the company’s strategy and the customer experience priorities, is a powerful distinguisher of copmanies that drive growth. In fact 76% of companies driving growth in our research have a capability strategy tied-in to delivering the company strategy, versus only 46% of their less su

Brand Learning: Inspiring people. Lifting Capabilities. Growing organisations.
We work with companies across the world to lift the performance of their teams to drive growth

As always we’d welcome your reflections and challenges via LinkedIn and Twitter. If you want to explore how BRAND LEARNING can help you in lifting the capabilities in your organisation, do get in touch. We have identified specific implications for teams in marketing, sales, HR and capability as well as for company leaders, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss these with you.