Tom Greenwood (Founder of Wholegrain Digital) suggests that a focus on personal growth is the best way to achieve conventional business success.

If I was Managing Director of any other company, I probably would have been fired a long time ago. In a world where businesses are obsessed with growth, I have spent much of the past decade trying to hold back the growth of our company. 

Growth is like a religion in business circles. Owners and managers love to show off about how much they’ve grown their headcount and revenue year on year, and there’s an invisible peer pressure to join in. Even though my business, Wholegrain Digital, has grown over the past few years, I’ve always been slightly embarrassed to tell people that I have actively tried to slow it down.  

Why would I slow business growth? 

It may sound strange to many that I would actively limit the growth of our company when most businesses are working so hard in order to grow but it’s simply that the size of the business has never been a key success metric for me. 

Businesses exist for many different reasons and I don’t believe that bigger is inherently better. I believe that there is a right size for every company depending on what it is trying to achieve at any point in time.

For much of the past 15 years, my focus as a business leader has been on creating an organisation that can support me and those I work with live fulfilling lives. From this perspective, I have seen that there is more than one type of growth.

The alternative growth model

It’s generally assumed that business growth means increasing revenue, profits and headcount but I believe that personal growth is a far more interesting form of growth to focus on. While commercial success metrics might provide some momentary joy when they are achieved, it’s personal growth that is truly rewarding and provides lasting satisfaction.

Personal growth is the constant evolution of ourselves as human beings. It’s when we gain new knowledge, skills and experience. Perhaps more significantly though, it’s when we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the complex world that we live in, as well as deepen the soft skills required to be effective, such as emotional intelligence and more nuanced communication skills.

Money and commercial success may be a source of external motivation for many, but personal growth is one of the most powerful sources of intrinsic motivation – motivation that comes from within. Intrinsic motivation is what makes us genuinely want to get out of bed in the morning and put ourselves to work on a challenge.

For me, developing an organisation focused on personal development is a more rewarding growth model than just focussing on headcount and turnover. That’s why it’s been my priority for the past 15 years. So much so, that our work to support our team’s personal growth is in part what led to the creation of Treeka, to support other businesses who want to embrace this alternative form of growth.

A choice without compromise

Now, you might be thinking that I’m missing an all important sense of commercial reality. Supporting people’s personal growth is a nice thing to do, but it doesn’t pay the bills. How can it be the priority?

Well, I would disagree that personal growth is just a nice to have. I believe that it can also support a business achieve its commercial objectives. People are the single most important factor in the success of most businesses and so by focusing on personal growth at all levels of the organisation, businesses gain the benefit of more capable, motivated and loyal teams. That’s a significant competitive advantage.

The focus on personal growth is in my view the best way to achieve conventional business success. If then you choose to grow the size of the business, you’ll have a team with the capability to do so.