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7 Questions with Growth Expert Tiffani Bova

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Interview with Tiffani Bova, Chief Growth Evangelist

We recently had the opportunity to interview Tiffani Bova, Growth Expert. She is also a highly sought-after keynote speaker and author, and was named one of the top 50 business thinkers in the world by Thinkers50. Tiffani has developed an innovative program called “Boost Your Growth IQ” for CrossKnowledge, which is designed to help professionals enhance their knowledge and skills in the area of business growth.

In this interview, she shares with us her motivations and expertise on growth IQ. Read on to learn more about her thoughts and strategies for thriving in today’s fast-paced and constantly evolving business world.

What inspired you to specialize in corporate growth and what do you like most about it?

I sort of grew up in sales and that was my entry into “growth,” especially top-line growth since salespeople are really responsible for bringing in the business that drives growth at the top-line level for companies. As I started to move up in organizations, I started to understand the different pieces and parts of making growth more effective, efficient, scalable, predictable and reliable. Then I tried to further understand it. I like to say, I kind of deconstruct growth, meaning, okay, what’s working? What’s not working? How do I get better at what’s working and eliminate what’s not working? So I very methodically, even in my own sales career, tried to get smarter about my time and where I spent it.

That was over the course of a decade, and then I was advising companies on how to grow better and that was a full decade. I found myself having similar conversations with companies of all sizes in all regions around the world and all industries. And it really all came down to two things. To oversimplify: one, companies make stuff; two, companies sell stuff. I don’t have an opinion on what a company makes, but I do have an opinion on how companies sell. What is your go-to-market model? What is your sales philosophy? What is your partnership strategy? What is your marketing strategy? Then you start to realize that the key thing about growth is that it’s never just one thing. It’s really the combination of many things.

So, going back to the original question of what inspired me and what continues to inspire me is the fact that growth is ever-changing and never one thing. You could be really good at one thing and really terrible at another and they almost negate each other. So you always have to be focused on it and also, from the anthropologist’s perspective, why is this company growing and why is this other company not growing? It’s like a mystery you’re uncovering and you think “oh, that worked here, maybe it will work here too.” If it worked for this company it might also work for that company. It might work in this industry or that industry or this region or that region. It’s just never the same. It’s always interesting and impactful work.

How can frontline managers, who are often short of time and under pressure, drive growth within their teams?

This is a great question. I coined a term many years ago called “the seller’s dilemma”. And the seller’s dilemma is this: how do frontline sales growth managers manage the business while at the same time planning for the future? Those are two very different mindsets and unfortunately most frontline managers are so heads-down trying to hit their numbers today, this month, this quarter, because the business is trying to grow and they don’t have time to say “hold on, what’s working? What’s not working? Do I have the right people in the right roles? Do they have the right tools? Are we driving the right leads?” All the various things that go into selling and growth.

It requires a certain leadership style to keep people focused on the short-term while also providing the connection between what someone does during the work day and how that work threads to growth. If I can understand my role and my purpose and I see how what I do every day has an impact on the broader growth of the company, I then realize that my role matters, that what I do matters, that I’m playing a role in the success of the business. When a frontline manager can bridge that chasm between managing the day-to-day business and really thinking about it in a more impactful long-term way, then teams start to feel like they play a part in the success of the business and they become more committed and connected to what they do every day. I think that’s the number one thing for frontline managers—providing teams with a purpose, giving them autonomy and the freedom to do what they need to do to do their jobs and yet being there to help and coach them when they need it.

Is there a little bit of a balance there between short-term thinking and long-term thinking?

Yes. I would say that as you move up in an organization you become less focused on the short term and more focused on the long term. A former boss of mine, a CEO, many years ago, said to me “Tiffani, when you’re an individual contributor you care about right now, today.” For example, take sales. When you’re a team leader you might think about everyone’s today. And then let’s say you become a team manager and now let’s say you’re thinking about the week, not just the day. Maybe you think about the month. Then let’s say you become a director. Now, you’re thinking about a month or the quarter. And then you become a VP, you’re for sure thinking about the quarter, maybe the next two. Then you become an SVP or an EVP, now you’re thinking out multiple quarters or a full year. Once you get into the C-suite, you’re thinking three or five years out, you’re really thinking long-term. The farther you go up in an organization the farther you get away from the day-to-day—which is not necessarily always a good thing. That’s why that middle management layer is so important—because they’re the connective layer between leadership at the top and individual contributors at the bottom.

What skills do you consider most valuable for managers working in a growth-oriented organization?

I would say empathy, communication, and collaboration are all important. And they need to create an environment where everyone’s voice is heard. I know that sounds cliched, but what I mean by that is that sometimes in a team meeting the same people talk. It’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure they draw out the opinions and concerns or opportunities from everybody. And that requires leaders to really understand the dynamic of their team. Not everyone communicates in the same way. Not everyone is motivated by the same things.

I’ll tell you from my own personal experience: I was a high-performing salesperson so I got moved into management; but just because I’m a high-performing seller doesn’t mean I’ll be a great manager right? Just because you’re a high-performer in one role doesn’t mean you’ll succeed as a manager. I think we do a huge disservice as people move up in organizations by not giving them the training and the tools or mentorship or the opportunity for third-party education so that they learn how to be a better communicator or they learn how to do conflict resolution better. You know, empathy is one of those soft skills and soft skills are so much harder to learn than hard skills. The hard skills you can learn and measure. The soft skills are much harder to train and determine whether people are good at them.

The World Economic Forum estimates that 50 percent of workers will have to reskill by the year 2025. What that means is that leaders will not only have to invest in themselves reskilling but also create the opportunity for their people to reskill as well. They could say “hey, we’re going to read a book a month and then talk about it in our next meeting or we’re going to have a book club or a TED talk club or a podcast club or a CrossKnowledge class club or whatever it might be, bringing everyone into this culture of learning and curiosity.

So, I would say empathy, communication, and collaboration are the most valuable skills for managers.

How is it possible to grow during a downturn? How can companies find ways to grow in challenging times?

When I wrote Growth IQ, I wrote it to stand the test of time, whether it’s a high point and everyone is growing in a boom market or it’s a bear market and people are cutting costs and spending. If you look back at the last downturn in 2008 – 2009, a lot of the companies that we now rely on to manage our lives were founded during that time.

First, you need to get back to basics, making sure you shore up unnecessary processes and expenses in the business. Don’t contract your spending in a way that has an impact on the customer experience, or they’ll leave you. And don’t contract to the point where you ask your people to do twice as much as they used to. It’s impossible. So you may impact your ability to maintain a double-digit growth rate, you might only get to single-digit growth but you’re still growing. You could sort of say that no growth is the new growth because you’re not losing money. You’re not contracting.

So if you’re seeing growth slowing—which I call a growth stall—that’s when you really need to look at your current operations. Do you have the ability to streamline, automate, or use technology to increase productivity? Can you retrain staff so that they can do more things if possible? But if you cut back spend, cut heads, stop launching products, when you come out the other side you’re going to have a less viable company than you did going into a downturn. There’s always the danger of cutting too deep during these times.

How has your career given you a unique vantage point on what helps companies unlock growth?

I’ve had the opportunity to run sales organizations, marketing organizations, and customer service organizations and that gave me a unique perspective on the frontline of growth since all three of those groups touch it. And so, being a practitioner who then worked as an advisor for a decade on how to grow gave me a perspective blending the roles of practitioner and academic who watches how companies enact it, always looking for and identifying best practices.

Over a decade I had probably 4,500 conversations with customers on how to grow and how to improve those aspects of the organization, all the way from startups to Fortune 500 companies. What’s interesting about that is that the challenges are exactly the same; it’s just that the scale is different. A big company might decide to hire more salespeople while a startup needs to figure out when they hire their first salesperson. I want to get into new markets and I’m a Fortune 500 company or I’m a small business and I want to get into new markets. The questions are the same;the difference is the scale, the resources, the ability to raise capital, that’s what’s different. But the challenges remain fairly constant.

And so, I think, across my practitioner career, and my academic analyst life, and now the last eight years of advising companies, it’s been almost eighteen years; and it’s provided me with a vantage point that very few people have. I can see inside lots of companies and then I can watch from the outside too, always looking for those best practices.

And how does all this relate to your upcoming book, The Experience Mindset?

I’ve spent so much time studying the mechanics of how businesses operate but not a whole lot of time on the people side of it. I don’t mean the organizational structure; I mean the actual individual people. But over the last eight years I think I’ve spent a lot more time on the role that the human plays in growth. Do I have a purpose? Do I understand my role? Am I more committed and engaged? If those things are true, you get better performance and productivity out of those employees. And if those two things are also true, the customer will have a much better experience.

And so I got much more focused on understanding the connection between the employee experience and the customer experience during those moments that matter, which is when a customer touches a brand, whether that’s online, offline, human, bot, face-to-face, virtually—it doesn’t matter. And I think that experience—being the foundation for both the customer and the employee—is absolutely an area where, during a time when you’re cutting back, don’t cut back so far on your employees that they’re unable to do their jobs, right? Because when that employee is unable to do their job, the person who suffers most is the customer who doesn’t get a great experience. When you cut back on internal capabilities, the person who suffers the most is the customer.

So you always want to make sure that when you’re making decisions, especially now, in either pulling back spending or spending more, that you always keep those two constituencies front and center: the employee and the customer. And that’s basically the topic of the new book. 

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Tiffani Bova

Tiffani Bova is one of the latest recruits into the CrossKnowledge Faculty team, and creator of the Boost Your Growth IQ program. Ranked for the last 6 years in the Top 50 Business Thinkers in the world by Thinkers50, Tiffani Bova is a leader who Forbes says “reshapes our perception of growth.” Growth strategist, executive advisor and keynote speaker, Tiffani is the former Growth Evangelist at Salesforce, and a former Research Fellow at Gartner. She is the author of two Wall Street Journal bestsellers, Growth IQ and The Experience Mindset.

Tiffani is also host of the “What’s Next! with Tiffani Bova” podcast. She is a frequent guest on media outlets such as Bloomberg, BNN, Cheddar News, MSNBC and Yahoo! Finance. She often contributes her ideas to publications such as Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Diginomica, Quora, Rotman Management Magazine, Dialogue and Duke Corporate Education.