The (Human-Centered) Growth Imperative

Nora Guerrera
5 min readDec 1, 2023

The competing tensions of growth and culture.

This week’s post is from Mark Hines, the founder of Gray Cardigan. Gray Cardigan helps studios, agencies, and consultancies solve problems that limit margin and growth. They help their clients design sustainable businesses with cultures that embrace growth.

There’s a palpable conflict that has lodged itself at the center of so many businesses today — the competing tensions of growth and culture.

The leaders I work with every day are hyper-aware that their ability to reach their growth goals is directly dependent on their team’s ability and desire to take the organization to places the leaders couldn’t get to on their own. Yet, despite all they’ve invested in their workplace culture to attract, retain, and motivate, their teams often aren’t bought-in to the truth at the heart of those goals — the business needs to grow.

It’s easy to see why people are leery when the topic of corporate growth comes up. Grow-at-any-cost capitalism has proven caustic to our society and our planet (to put it mildly). Yet, the reality of our system remains — our lives run on money. Costs are increasing. Life goals need funding. Retirement needs to be secured. Our people need raises and promotions to survive and thrive. They need to work for companies that can help them get there, and they’ll vote with their legs and move to another company when they think that’s the best way to get what they need.

As leaders, we need to create an environment where everyone can see themselves in the growth story of the company…financially and otherwise. Our teams need to believe that growth is necessary, it can happen ‘here,’ and it’s not the only thing that matters. To do this, I believe our job as business leaders is to adopt a human-centered approach to growth.

What does that mean? I think it’s these five things:

  1. Talk about it. Be clear about the role financial growth plays (and will play) in how your business runs. Start talking about it during the interview process and keep talking about it throughout their time with you. Pay attention to the share of voice financials have in your company’s communication — it can’t dominate, but it can’t be absent. Today’s employee will keep you accountable to what you promised and you can engage in better dialogue if the story has been clear from the beginning.
  2. Co-create the why. Your people know why their personal financial life needs growth…learn what it means to each of them (or your key leaders if your organization is large) and make it your mission to do what you can to help them get there while being direct and realistic about what role you can play. Create an environment where they can tell you why they need the company to grow and then keep those reasons front and center in what you do and how you talk about the company. Make some pretty obvious connections to the health of your customers to the health of your team’s pocketbooks.
  3. Embrace transparency. Show people how the business works. Talk about the costs, the revenue and where the profit goes. I’m not saying tell people what you or anyone else makes (though there are orgs that do), but I am saying make sure everyone in the company knows how they contribute to the financial growth of the company. In my experience most people are surprised by all the moving financial parts of a business — and usually want to know what they can do to help improve the outlook.
  4. Do things efficiently and well. A percentage of your team is motivated by growth and putting points on the board, and they may not worry about doing more of something that’s not very steady today. However, if you’ve got technicians or practitioners on staff they’re going to have a very, very hard time getting behind trying to accelerate an engine that’s not running right. Practitioners almost always value the ‘how’ over (but not instead of) the ‘why,’ so if it seems to them you’re trying to do even more things the wrong way, they’ll opt out. Instead, find out where your people believe growth will hurt and prioritize your time to make those things run more smoothly. It’ll never be perfect for them or you, but they’ll see that growth isn’t the only consideration.
  5. Share the wealth. You’ve heard all of the cliches about rising tides and the like before, so I won’t bore you with them here. If your team is going to be a part of your growth story, your company has to be a part of theirs. Prioritize rewards, even when it’s challenging, and they’ll see that you meant what you said about growth. But, remember, money isn’t everything. Share what you have to offer in ways that are in line with their goals and your unique culture, and you’ll see just how far you can all go together.

I’ve seen these principles work in companies that have achieved both tremendous financial success and incredible workplace cultures. With a few tweaks to your business, you can be a force for financial good — for you and the team that is fueling your success.

If you’d like to learn more, contact Mark and the team at Gray Cardigan. Discover how you can take a human-centered approach to design a sustainable business with a culture that embraces growth.

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Nora Guerrera

Strategist, Leader, Coach, Teacher. I help clients explore, create and use digital to bring game-changing experiences to their businesses and their customers.