While all companies prioritise delivering top-line growth, it’s a focus on people which sets apart the leaders from the rest, according to the Initiative for Real Growth (IRG) study led by WPP’s Kantar Consulting.

The IRG research, which included more than 500 interviews with senior business leaders and over 1500 survey respondents across 73 countries, found that companies which overperform on revenue growth care about the growth of their people as well as boosting the top-line, while underperformers were more focused on protecting the bottom line as well as top-line growth.

Read the research here.

Overperforming companies understand the transformative power of people when it comes to sustainable business growth – not just employees, but also their customers and users. For example, Google tracks things like how often users came back, how long they used each service, and how loyal they are. These are all very people-centric metrics – they’re not about the bottom line. Google have confidence that if they keep their interests of their user first, the top-line and bottom line will follow.

The research notes that, especially in the interviews, business leaders on overperforming companies envisaged a future where a more humanised idea of growth plays a much greater role – it becomes an umbrella that overarches all the other building blocks.

Haidilao, a Chinese hot pot restaurant taking Asia by storm, has over a billion in revenue. They got there by being obsessed with serving their colleagues, their consumers, and their communities. That means things like providing equity stakes to their managers, things like providing excellent starting pay and benefits and drawing management solely from internal promotions. The customer experience focuses on entertainment: if a waiter sees a patron having hotpot alone, he or she will place a big cuddly soft toy in the seat opposite so they feel less lonely. Waiters sing songs for customer birthdays, and visitors can even get a massage while waiting for their food.

Another example is Cisco – when the company was facing some big challenges, they looked to what their own people were passionate about, what their own teams and managers were proposing, and out of those proposals they codified a social contract. They created internal startup teams to encourage employees to pursue their passion. Once they’ve achieved their goal, Cisco brings them back into the fold and celebrates not only their successes, but even their failures, because they believe in ‘winning together’ and sharing growth. This approach very quickly turned years of stagnant revenue growth into 3% year over year.

Three keys to success:

  • Link business growth to your people growth KPIs and incentives, don’t focus on one specific kind of growth at the expense of all others – get rid of the idea that your purpose is solely ‘profitable growth’.
  • The purpose a brand needs to articulate is one that has a direct impact on people and the world around them.
  • Give staff the freedom to pursue their passions at work, and this will energise the company for growth.