The Realization That Changed The Course of My Company—and My Life

The following is an excerpt from Elevate Your Team, a new book from award-winning CEO and #1 WSJ and USA Today bestselling author Robert Glazer.

I couldn’t decide if I was a genius or an idiot.

It was 2017, and the company I founded, Acceleration Partners (AP), had just completed another year of double-digit growth. We had also recently won three consecutive Inc. 500 awards from 2013 to 2015, an honor bestowed each year to the five hundred fastest-growing private companies in America.

From the outside, we were on a fast track, but the view from inside the company told a different story. Even though we had a healthy company culture and had even won a few Best Places to Work awards, we had an emerging talent development problem that threatened to jeopardize our growth and our culture.

The problem wasn’t a fundamental failure to develop our people. In fact, several of our hires from the early years of AP were keeping pace with our growth and would go on to take important executive leadership roles.

However, there was an increasingly large group of employees who struggled to keep pace. While they improved each year, they weren’t growing as fast as the company. Despite their progress, these employees still fell behind and often hit a wall at the worst possible time.

For a made-up example of our challenge (for obvious legal and ethical reasons), imagine we hired a Marketing Manager to oversee our marketing portfolio. While the manager improved in their first year at the company, within a year or two, AP grew so quickly that we found ourselves needing director-level work on our marketing team: a leader who could build and manage a team of marketers rather than just an individual contributor who could execute marketing projects. To be fair, we needed both roles.

In situations like this one—and we had several—we had a choice to make with a relatively new manager who was talented but objectively not ready to step up to the director level and lead a team. This type of scenario presents a few options that don’t feel so great:

  1. Hire a director above them, wounding their pride in the process.
  2. Transition them out of the company, and replace them with a director.
  3. Promote them into a director role they aren’t ready for, hope for the best, and then try to find a new manager.

The first choice is logical but often turns a high performer into an unengaged employee; they believe leadership doesn’t trust them to step up, and they feel disappointed going from being in charge to having someone else take over.

The second choice is efficient, but it diminishes trust throughout the company when people start to believe they’ll be replaced whenever your business takes a leap forward. Plus, you lose a good manager who knows how to deliver marketing outcomes for the company, creating at least a temporary setback.

The third choice is the path companies usually take, especially with people who have performed well up to that point. Promoting from within is cheaper and faster than hiring someone new, and it boosts a business’s reputation on the recruiting and retention fronts. But while this route can often yield a surprise overperformer, it can also create poor outcomes for both the employee and the company, especially if the newly promoted director finds themselves in over their head and their team suffers as a result.

We found ourselves facing these types of decisions regularly. Our employees were improving, just not quite fast enough, and we didn’t have a clear strategy to address that challenge. If you’re a leader of a team, department, or organization with this type of high-growth trajectory, you’ve probably experienced this same conundrum.

In the moment, I was stumped. But looking back, I see so clearly that I possessed the answer to this exact problem. I just had not yet been able to connect the dots.

During the same year we were facing these challenges, I had hit a professional milestone—I had written my second book: Elevate. 

In Elevate, I defined a concept called “capacity building”: the method through which individuals seek, acquire, and develop the skills and abilities to consistently perform at a higher level in pursuit of their innate potential. That book was entirely focused on building capacity across personal and professional life in four key areas—spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional.

One of the core principles of capacity building is the idea that each of us is the same person at work and outside it, and lasting achievement in one of those spheres is dependent on growth in the other.

Once I finished my first draft of Elevate and had the capacity building framework laid out clearly, I had my idiot-genius epiphany: I had spent years cultivating all these ideas for individual growth and performance, but I failed to realize those same ideas could form the backbone of our employee development strategy.

I realized the same capacity building framework for individuals could serve as a foundation for a blueprint to help our employees meet the challenges of growth. To some degree, we were already using the principle of holistic growth as a guidepost for our training process: including helping our new managers articulate their personal core values, giving our employees the flexibility to structure their workday around personal passions, and more.

Sometimes in life, we find ourselves unintentionally running in the perfect direction. It occurred to me that we were already dabbling in capacity building, helping our people grow outside work and reaping the benefits during the workday as a result.

Then it hit me: the key to accelerating employee’s growth trajectory was doubling down and making this unintentional capacity building strategy more deliberate and company wide.

Today, we are focused most on helping our people grow holistically. Capacity building is a core part of our culture, aligned with one of our three core values, “Excel and Improve.” It is the centerpiece of our leadership training, which focuses as heavily on building self-awareness, authenticity, and individual ability as a leader as it does on management tactics such as running a meeting, giving feedback, or delegating.

The results speak for themselves. Even though we’ve grown our top-line revenue by 4,000 percent in the past decade and grown from seven to over 300 employees, we’ve kept an employee turnover rate that is historically far below our industry average and have won over twenty-five Best Places to Work awards.

Many of the people who have left our organization, our AP alumni, have taken on leadership roles at other companies, which is a great outcome and something we support.

This is the playbook for a talent development strategy that will build your business by building your people. It will show you how to help your employees get better holistically in four key areas that elevate professional and personal performance: spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional capacity.

In the process, you’ll be creating an ultimate win-win for your company and your employees—you’ll help your people reach their career goals, and you’ll build a team of high performers who help hit your organizational goals and eventually can step into leadership roles. To that end: at AP, we’ve built our leadership team by promoting 80 percent of our leaders from within by using this capacity building approach.

I think you’ll be amazed at the results you’ll get from building your team’s capacity and will find it the most rewarding way to build and grow a business. Don’t miss this opportunity to take your team to the next level.

Excerpted from Elevate Your Team: Empower Your Team To Reach Their Full Potential and Build A Business That Builds Leaders by Robert Glazer. Publisher: Simple Truths.