As founder and CEO of management consulting firm Gap International, Pontish Yeramyan has dedicated her career to defining and cultivating the kind of innovative thinking and leadership that builds a 21st century organization. A proponent of creating organizational alignment and maximizing people’s growth and performance, she has guided the transformation of countless companies. Here, Ms. Yeramyan shares wisdom garnered over more than 30 years of working with business leaders to push performance to the next level.
Q: What’s a CEO’s first step toward raising the performance trajectory?
Yeramyan: First, developing a passion for growth, which makes it exciting. Passion for growth is inspiring, calling you to keep creating, keep making a difference, keep excelling. Without it, it can be simply normal business life, and not the kind of thinking that would necessarily produce amazing results. Even the best companies can go to a new level, and tapping into that sense of limitlessness can be very exciting to put in motion.
Q: Great, an effective leader needs that inspired momentum. But how can he or she build it up throughout the entire company?
Yeramyan: By first connecting to their own sense of purpose—I would ask them what they are about. Purpose is very important for people. And people don't get out of bed just for quarterly results; they get out of bed because they are engaged in the purpose of their organization. So a leader would want to define that organizational purpose, and galvanize everyone around it, so everybody is connected—from the receptionist to the factory workers to the CEO. They have one thing they’re working for, which is to fulfill that purpose and make it real.
Q: So a leader must foster a unified culture within the company. Let’s talk about that culture. Gap International is known for its white paper on the 21st century organization, which stresses the importance of creating a breakthrough environment. What is a breakthrough environment?
Yeramyan: It’s an environment in which breakthrough results can be achieved and the organization can continuously excel. It is all about magnifying the outcomes. Along with purpose, the breakthrough environment would include affinity, ownership, interdependence and risk. Put these factors into your environment the way a gardener puts nutrients into his or her soil to produce better plants. You can put the best seeds into untouched soil and they won't produce good outputs. Or you can carefully nurture the soil, adding nutrients and minerals and water, and those seeds will produce magnificently, with a quality and richness of flowers and fruit. Continuously measuring these factors and adding them as inputs into the environment will enable people and teams to produce brilliant outputs.
Q: Can you give more insight into how one of these five ingredients—affinity, ownership, interdependence, purpose and risk—spurs growth?
Yeramyan: Affinity, for example, directly impacts how fast things can get done. You can start by getting an understanding; if we were all connected, we all heard each other, what would that look like in this company? We can move things together quickly. Aren’t we more inclined to answer emails or do things for people we’re connected to? Affinity is key for speed of execution.
Q: Speed of execution is more important than ever in the dynamic marketplace of today. How does an executive create the affinity that helps achieve it?
Yeramyan: As we’ve talked about, everyone being connected to the purpose of the organization pulls people together. But it’s important to go way deeper, to nurture, to lead, to demonstrate an environment that calls people to be connected to each other. When you do this, you have a team in which it’s not scary to bring in a new thought. You can build on each other’s ideas. You own each other’s results, not just your own department’s. You can achieve success that’s not limited to your own silo, results that resonate throughout the company.
Q: But isn’t independence a virtue in a top-tier executive?
Yeramyan: What you want is what we call interdependence. Often business leaders can pretend to know everything so they don’t appear weak. But we have seen that amazing results happen in environments where people can take risks and push beyond the status quo with each other’s support. This includes how they work with and contribute to each other. We’ve found it is not a normal way of working, to frequently bounce thoughts off bosses and colleagues with the aim of sharing all the best thinking possible. But the teams that feel they can only say things that are “normal” will only accomplish normal results. For extraordinary results you must have extraordinary input.
Q: One of the frustrations of leadership can be the chasm between promise and achievement. How long before a breakthrough environment yields extraordinary results?
Yeramyan: It goes again to our analogy of gardening. At the beginning, you plant seeds and you don’t see anything. Digging up the seed to see what’s happening kills the growth. But leaders have to be persistent and patient and not cynical, and keep pumping the right ingredients into the environment to nurture the growth. They have to demonstrate their commitment to their people, even when it looks like people might be struggling to get their heads around what is needed. Everyone wants to succeed. In the beginning, a leader invests time in creating affinity. But as alignment in the workplace increases, everything gets more streamlined and takes less time.
Q: That sounds like a challenge. If my company is already doing well, perhaps this is not the right moment to invest in trying to push the growth trajectory higher?
Yeramyan: It is always the right moment. There is unlimited potential and plenty of possibility. No matter how successful, a leader can always look at the business to see what is possible and where it could go, and invent a next chapter of something fresh and extraordinary to go after. The question is: How willing are you to keep stepping into new growth possibilities? Can you keep going and create the next level? You can always go to the next thing, and the next thing—it’s exciting. If you want to compete globally, keep this in mind as a beacon of growth: Possibility is infinite.
As originally published in Forbes, by Jessica Dineen.