Propel Growth

Customer-centric innovation drives growth. But only if you align your business first.

windmills bw.jpg

But how do you build customer focus and the continuous innovation part of the machinery of your business? How do you build it into the culture of the organization? How do you graft innovation into your DNA?

First, recognize that “culture” is an output, not an input.

Act, and your culture responds; culture emerges as an equal and opposite reaction to every claim your leaders make, and every action your organization takes.


Too many companies mistakenly attempt to transform culture directly. They are doomed to tilt at Don Quixote’s windmill, lancing the wind when they need to fix the blades. To propel growth in new ways or through uncharted markets, you need to redesign the means of propulsion. The foundational workshop introduces Ampersand’s Propeller Model™ to help leaders construct an effective organization model to produce a culture of innovation. Let’s shift from windmills to a different kind of propeller.

Think of your organization as an airplane.

You want to propel your craft toward a vision somewhere in the future. Get specific. Claim your unique destination; no one ever attempted it before, because no one ever started from your position. There’s no map to chart your path. You can’t see wind shears. But they’re out there. Please return your seats to the upright position.

&propeller blue

Define your purpose.

Your Purpose or Missionserves as the hub, the fulcrum of force. It points the organization toward your intended destination. Leaders either bring a clear sense of purpose into this workshop, or articulate one as the first step in the process. This can be a significant activity, requiring lots of input from the organization, so Ampersand may recommend this as a prework exercise to prepare your Purpose declaration as an input to the session. Apple provides a useful benchmark, because their example is so clear.


Steve Jobs revealed Apple’s purpose in an Economist interview in 1980. His celebrated career clearly delivered on his vision and continues to do so today. For Jobs, business was personal. He was on a quest to make a difference. And he inspired legions of loyal advocates around the world. (Some years later he disclosed in an interview that “being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful – that’s what matters to me.”)

Plot your path through your market.

Your strategy maps the route, and leaders constantly reorient in the face of buffeting market headwinds. Strong captains inspire confidence in the face of unknowns. Announce your mission and the challenges you expect. Publish a visible and consistent mandate. Update your passengers along the way. Most organizations know today’s market well. Few attempt to anticipate tomorrow’s market well. You wouldn’t fly on a plane that didn’t forecast and prepare for inclement weather. This activity produces alternate scenarios based on probable market shifts to prepare you for anything.

Design to align.

The propeller blades describe the alignment of the organization to pull forward as one – talented, dedicated people equipped with a clear, shared innovation process, enabled by an integrated structure that allows them to operate seamlessly across businesses and markets. Each of these elements represents a sequential activity. You’ve established your destination. Next, design the process that gets you there. Only then can you determine the optimal structure for your journey.

Create the culture you deserve.

Culture is always the result – the vortex left in the propeller’s wake. Imagine symmetrically honed blades cutting effortlessly through the atmosphere. Perfectly engineered for a smooth take-off and a comfortable ride. Align your organization to innovate and that’s what your people expect. Thats what your processes deliver. That’s how your structure operates. The basic module concludes with a self assessment of the corporate culture. Individuals complete their review against each of the key elements. The results are shared. Gaps—and there are always gaps, and usually big ones—represent opportunity. The concluding exercise identifies quick wins to bolster alignment, and longer term plans to supplement the priority areas of concern.bargray-dark


We also offer a more advanced program, ideal for leadership teams who identify the need for a purpose-driven culture as a top priority. This program also works well for teams charged with culture alignment.&Propeller detail

Take your pulse.

This program starts with a more explicit culture assessment, performed as prework by the participants or by Ampersand. Findings can be blunt, but the unvarnished truth promotes the right level of attention. Findings provide indicators; pursue these hints to determine which element of the model they reflect. “We have a purpose statement?” “We don’t really have a process. We are always reinventing the wheel.” “Last time I had a performance review, well, it wasn’t in this century.” Expect to learn hard realities. Your people have no reason to believe. The business has no motivation other than to enrich owners. Your core process is haphazard and undocumented. You have not reorganized your business to align with new growth goals. Your structure blade is bent. Your disgruntled people won’t say it out loud, but they don’t really trust your resolve. Imagine if this was really the state of your aircraft? Brace yourself to fly this jalopy. Spin the prop.

biplane downWelcome to the bone-jarring cacophony that rattles your fuselage apart at the seams. Your culture reflects what you build — smooth alignment or exhausting turbulence. Align your business, or suffer a very choppy ride. And don’t forget to pack your ‘chute.

Emulate winners.

Having diagnosed the current realities, the participants learn about the best practices to emulate. Leading practitioners of customer-centered innovation propel through different markets with different offerings for different customers. But they all share one very sophisticated trait. They align around a singular purpose – a shared worldview and mission. And they organize themselves to pursue that purpose rigorously and relentlessly.

amazon logo

Amazondid not aspire to be the world’s largest bookstore. Jeff Bezos declared a vision to build the world’s most customer-centric company. Their dedication to continuously learn individual consumer preferences is built on an agile learn-and-adapt organization, constantly reorienting vast, expanding infrastructure to serve evolving consumer insights. Designers know that form follows function. Harvard professor Alfred 

Alfred Chandler

Chandler observed in his ground-breaking 1962 Strategy & Structure that “Structure follows strategy.” Markets change; so must strategies, with the organization to follow. Rigid structures cannot flex and ultimately fail. Clayton Christensen captured his observations of disruptive innovation in the Innovator’s Dilemma. A central theme of his work: to understand the underlying “job” that your customer tries to do so that your products best match their need. Designing the capacity and demand for deep consumer empathy is essential to sustainable innovation success. 

GE logo

Thomas Edison described the genius behind successful innovation as “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” General Electric still practices Edison’s ethic of insight-driven invention, where innovation is organized as a cross-functional management system. When designed into your operations, and practiced as an integral discipline, innovation can give you the engine to open new markets, serve new segments, and build a more profitable portfolio of growth products. Here are the steps.

1. Declare your purpose. Set your mission.


Your purpose, at the center, emanates from leaders’ real intent. Many executives pay lip service to the need to innovate, along with other employee-friendly gibberish. Whether you or your leaders speak truth or lies, words and actions will out. So speak from the heart; it takes a lot less effort. Inspire and empower your teams to do the same. Unmask false promises and punish lies. Innovation is hard. You fight through periods of uncertainty and ambiguity. A consistent mission wins trust. Your people will persevere when they believe you see innovation as vital to success.

2. Publish your process.

Chart out how you will propel growth. How should we discover new opportunities? Where do valuable ideas come from? How do we parse the few good from the many bad ideas? How do we select, fund, review, approve, renew and kill concepts as they evolve? What tools, rules, and policies inform each stage? What degree of flexibility and adaptability should we permit?

&4D cycle

If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”~ W. Edwards Deming Start by defining your goals in specific financial terms – the revenue or market share you need, by what date, to meet your growth goals.  (“We either get $500MM in year 3 and win that market, or we get the hell out.”) March through the specific activities, to discover unmet needs, define and prototype differentiating solutions, and test them in market. Iterate your way to success. When everyone understands the process — the same process — you have repeatability; you have accountability; you can interrogate, measure and improve. You can drive growth.

3. Design your structure.

Once you know what you have to do, you can figure out how to do it. Please get the sequence right. Fight the urge to scribble org charts before you know the process. We all default to a natural tendency to design around ourselves first. Overcome that shortsightedness. Design to deliver on the process. No more. No less.

tech org charts

 So designing the organization means starting with process. It’s easier to draw a process line than a structure tree. Structure comprises formal and informal systems, hierarchies and networks. These include infrastructure, physical plant and information systems. Don’t forget extended relationships beyond the organization — partners, suppliers, regulators, retail channels, even competitors, and of course always with your customers at the center. This working session considers all stakeholders.

4. Equip your people.

You’ve heard the countless well-intentioned pleas to put people at the center of the organization. That’s valid, as long as we’re talking about the RIGHT people. So let’s be honest. We love our people. Don’t know what we’d do without ’em. But “the people” don’t come first. They come last. You wouldn’t pick a team before you knew what sport you were playing. Nothing like assembling a hulking squad of sumo wrestlers only to discover the race is steeplechase. 

fat jockey

Know what you need to do. Figure out how to do it. Determine who you need to do it. Get them; direct them; support them. And remember that you may find not everyone is willing or able to make the shift. As Jay Marhoefer, the former head of organization effectiveness at UNUM insurance once said, sometimes, to change people, you have to change people Please do not misinterpret this as a bloodless inducement to line up the firing squad. People are your most important asset. But retaining the wrong people in the wrong roles punishes everyone. It really is cruel to be kind. So get it right. Trust your people to handle the truth. Line up the talent, structure the teams, and enable people to act in accordance with the goal. Leaders lead people. HR can help. But his is not HR’s job. Think through competencies & capabilities, attraction & retention, training & development. Anything less yields a very expensive, very slow ride to low growth. You’ll probably clip a few hedges, too.

5. Monitor your culture.


No matter what you do, culture results. If you don’t like your culture, change the organization. Determine the values you want, then test against the values you’ve got — as a set of shared beliefs, expectations, attitudes, heritage and identity. Remember that your culture is simply the whirlwind left in the wake of your propeller. It’s hard to get your arms around swirling mist. Even harder to measure. But you can. And in this program, you will. “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” ~ Albert Einstein