Founder's Mentality Blog
To sustain growth, companies need to excel at scaling, the act of institutionalizing innovation across the enterprise. Roger Philby, founder and CEO of The Chemistry Group, and James Allen, a senior partner with Bain’s Global Strategy practice, share how companies can uncover a community of people who are skilled at turning disruptive ideas into scalable solutions.
Read the Founder's Mentality Blog: How to Identify Great Scalers
Read the transcript below.
JAMES ALLEN: Welcome, and thanks for watching this video. We're very excited to present what we refer to as the phase 2 findings of our work on the scaling community. I'll be introducing you in a moment to Roger Philby, the founder of Chemistry Group, with whom we've done a lot of this research. But let me just first give a little bit of background about what the heck we're doing and why we're focusing on this idea of a scaling community.
So we've been on a journey on micro-battles. And micro-battles is, for us, the way you rediscover the art of getting stuff done, the way you rediscover the art of business building within clients that are on a journey from moving from an incumbent to a scale insurgent or from an insurgent to scale insurgent. And all that background is in our work on Founder's Mentality. At the essence of micro-battles is the idea, first, of how you translate your strategy into something you can prototype in the marketplace. We refer to that as winning.
And what we argue is that's necessary but not sufficient to come up with an innovation. That innovation needs to be industrialized across the enterprise. And to do that, you need to build scaling skills. And that involves turning that innovation into a repeatable model and then deploying that repeatable model across the organization. And that's the work we've been doing on micro-battles to great success everywhere.
At issue is, as you begin to look at what capabilities a firm needs to excel at micro-battles, we've begun to discover that there are actually three communities and organizations. The first we know very well. It's the execution community. It operates by flawless execution against an existing playbook. These are your company's heroes. They're your salespeople, your factory managers, people that make sure you sell your products and make your product safely and keep the people in the factory safe as they do so.
They just need playbooks. Give me my routine. Give me the behaviors you want. I will execute flawlessly against them. In a world of disruption and greater turbulence, we're talking more and more about what we refer to as the disruption community—some people call it the Agile community—which is trying to innovate, both in product and services, the firm's business processes and occasionally even the business model.
That may only be 15% of what you do. Of course, when you look back at the history of your company, it may account for 50% of value creation if these innovations are big and bold. But the question that comes up repeatedly within micro-battles is who takes an innovation and translates it into the playbooks of the execution community. And we found that that role is done by scalers, or what we refer to as members of the scaling community. And these are the people that stand between your innovators and your executors. They are not generating the ideas or innovation, but they're helping to translate those into the playbooks of the execution community.
They are industrializing innovation. And our work has been to understand in detail, who are these people? How can you find them in your own organization? And that has led to our work with the Chemistry Group. So let me hand over now to Roger Philby, the founder of the Chemistry Group, with whom we've been working on phases 1 and phases 2 of this research.
ROGER PHILBY: Let me just take a moment to tell you about the study methodology. Chemistry have a process called defining what great looks like. So the project has been, how do we define what great looks like for scalers? The process starts with a hypothesis. And we've been working with Bain extensively on all of the work that's been done on micro-battles and the communities that exist within micro-battles and understanding that context. We then create a hypothesis.
So based on that information, we created a hypothesis with Bain on, OK, what do we think a great scaler looks like? Based on that hypothesis, we then test that hypothesis. And we tested the hypothesis in two ways. Bain provided an extensive community of exemplar scalers. So from their experiences, the way we were defining scalers, they identified a study community that Chemistry then profiled. And we measured their personality, and we measured their behavior.
And I'll talk about that in a minute. So we took two pieces of data against our hypothesis. We took the exemplars provided by Bain. And we also took Chemistry's 15 years' worth of benchmark data. And we tested the hypothesis. So the findings I'm just about to take you through are actually the conclusion of that test, which is actually what is the definition of a great scaler? What do they look like?
OK, so before we jump into the findings, let me just give you an idea of the approach that we took. So Chemistry have a way of looking at human beings we've been developing over the last 17 years. We call it the 5-Box Model. And we call it the 5-Box Model quite literally because it's five boxes stacked one on top of the other. Intellect, personality, motivation, behavior and experience.
Intellect, personality and motivation gives us a clue as to an individual's potential, their propensity to change their behavior in the future. Their behavior and their experiences obviously give us clues to how they're behaving today and the experiences they've had that has helped create those behaviors. In this particular study, we looked at two factors. One was personality, which, if we're going to take any of the top three in and the 5-Box Model, that's the one we take to really predict, if you're not behaving in one way today, how might you behave in the future? We take personality. So that's the one we've taken.
And then the other one we've taken is current behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. And so we've measured behavior of participants as well. So to be clear, we've measured personality because that gives us a prediction of future behavior. And we've measured behavior.
So what does personality mean? Well, we've measured 30 personality traits. This is a Chemistry proprietary framework that we've used. And those 30 personality traits basically factored into big five categories. The first one being feeling: how an individual experiences and responds to their own emotions. Expressing: how an individual directs energy externally and presents themselves. Exploring: how an individual seeks and engages with experiences.
Connecting: how an individual connects and cooperates with others. And the last one is doing: how an individual displays self-discipline, order and control. So those are the 30 personality traits we've measured in the participants in the study. Then we've looked at 11 behaviors. Now, this behavioral framework dates back to the '60s. It's been proven over time in business to really analyze leadership behavior and management behavior. So it's directly linked to performance in job and behavior.
And so we have 11 of the behaviors that we've looked at across 4 key clusters: the strategic cluster, the people cluster, the inspirational cluster and the delivery cluster. What you can see is a scale. So each behavior is measured on a scale from 1 to 5. I won't go into each behavior, but let me tell you what the scale represents, an example from processing information.
So level 1 of processing information is, actually, I ignore the data that's presented to me. I am using concepts that aren't related to the decision I need to make. It's very negative. The chances of me making a great decision are low. Level 2 is a passive behavior. I make assumptions on the data. I may use pre-existing data I've had before. I'm not using the new data that's hitting me. I'm making an assumption. That's very passive.
Level 3 is what we would term value add. It's a really good level of the behavior. And in that judgment process, I'm using multiple forms of information to make that judgment. And I'm making fairly robust decisions. Level 4 is what we call the strength behavior. Actually, I do this consistently all the time. My element of decision making is significantly more robust than level 3. The key thing at level 4 is I'm doing it all the time. I apply it to all of my thinking if it's processing information.
Level 5, frankly, is a totally different level altogether. Think of level 5, as I set up a system and a process, that the approach to decision making, if it's processing information, is sustained in my organization even when I'm not there. It's a very different level of behavior. So we have looked at the 11 behaviors across those 5 scales and measured each of the people in the study community against those. And the findings I'm just about to take you through.
As I take you through the findings, we're thinking about personality traits give us a predictor of potential and then behaviors. How are these people behaving today, and what might be different in their behavior? So with that said, let's jump into the findings. So insight one: The first thing to say is the scalers in the study consistently performed across all 11 behaviors. And across Chemistry's 17-year data set, this was the first thing that stuck out for us, that actually, across all 11 behaviors, actually, scalers consistently perform across the two, which is not true of the disrupter and executor communities. So that's the first insight.
The second insight, when we look deeper into those behaviors, is scalers spike in two that we think are really significant when we then look at behavior and performance. They are processing information and improving performance. Let's talk about processing information. So processing information is really how we make decisions. And the average score across the study community was a 4.4. And so that's super high out of 5. But what does it mean?
Well, what it means is that these people are really robustly making commercial decisions. They don't make assumptions. They take multiple concepts, multiple pieces of information at speed and can hold all of those concepts in their minds at once and robustly determine which one is going to solve the problem, create the performance or the outcome they desire at speed. What's fascinating for us is that it's actually directly linked to this other behavior that they spike in called improving performance. And again, as an average, they score really highly in improving performance.
And improving performance is quite literally what it says. It's the measuring and monitoring of performance for performance improvement. And so you've got these two key behaviors that actually create a feedback loop, a flywheel, if you like, of organizational performance, which is actually looking at the data, looking at the business and where it might need to perform, what lever do we need to pick? So improving performance, I'm picking the right lever combined with processing information. Their decision making is so accurate. So I'm pulling the right lever every time. And I have an expectation of the performance uplift.
So that was insight two was high processing information and high improving performance. What we're interested in, as a team of scientists, is where does that come from? And so we go back to the personality data. And we go, OK, so where might we be seeing someone's preferences to exhibit these behaviors? And what we see in the personality data is those behavioral spikes I just talked about are supported in that these people are principled and resistant in their personalities.
So what we see is they have very high believe, which is about self-esteem, not ego. They have a high glow, so they're very positive about their decision making. But they have very high overcome, so they seek challenge, and they look for challenge. So you've got these people who are going to kind of lean into business challenge combined with people who are relatively high restrain, so they look for long-term benefit rather than short-term gratification.
But quite fascinating about this population in comparison, say, to disrupters is they're low thrill. So they pick the right things to work on, and they sustain that work. So they're not quick to change their minds. So I've chosen the right thing that I know is going to improve performance, and actually, I'm going to be quite principled about that and quite resistant to any sort of distractions. So we remain focused.
And that is inherent. So when I say that's their personality. And so when we say they're principled and resistant, they're principled and resistant inherently. What was quite fascinating was scalers are highly influential, but they influence through actions and building confidence rather than maybe empathy or inspirational communication or what some people might call charisma.
It's not that they perform badly on those behaviors. It's just that, actually, when talking to scalers, and you hear their language and where they focus, they absolutely focus on results. So we will see them say things like, well, I didn't need to tell a sort of inspirational story. I let the facts and the results to speak for themselves. They wouldn't see the storytelling, the narrative, as is important as the end result.
And so we see that, actually, it's not that they're bad at it. They just downplay inspirational communication or empathy. And up on, actually, I'm going to build confidence through delivering high-performance results. So further clues to why these scalers are the connectors between the disrupters and the executors is seen in the personality data. Again, there's a key scale in personality, which is about conscientiousness. So it's about being able to translate why into a deliverable.
And what we find with scalers is on a scale of conscientiousness, maybe going from 1 to 10, what we're seeing is scalers feature in the middle of that scale. And what we find with disrupters is they tend to feature on the bottom of the conscientiousness scale and executors tend to feature on the end, the top end of the conscientiousness scale. And given their behavior, this is hardly surprising, because actually, scalers' role, as we know, is to connect ideas that may well be generated from disrupters with scalable results and delivery through the people doing the doing.
And that's exactly where scalers sit on these personality scales. They sit in the middle of where we see the disrupters falling and where we see the executors falling. And so that kind of connector role is directly apparent in, actually, who these people are internally, which was a fascinating insight. So if scalers are—and we believe that scalers are—not totally unique. But you won't see a lot of them in your business today fully developed as we did with the study community.
But how could we develop more scalers in our businesses? Actually, the clue is in the data. So personality is formed at a very young age. If any of you have children, their personality—so some of these things, I talked about, their conscientiousness, their approach to change—are actually formed by the time they're 8 years old.
And so what we have in the data is a set of data that tells us that, actually, there's some people that intrinsically have a preference to be a scaler. They have the potential to be a scaler. And then what we have is, behaviorally, how you need to behave in order to be a scaler, and therefore deliver scaler results. And this is fascinating not only from a study perspective but actually the application in your business in the real world, which is you will have a set of people in your business who have the potential to be scalers.
And all businesses will have a set of people who have the potential to be scalers. That is, they have the personality that we have seen in the exemplar scalers. But actually, they might not be behaving like a scaler today. And so the opportunity here is to create, develop, build scalers in organizations by identifying those people whose personality traits fit those of the exemplar scalers that we found in our study and actually then deliver a set of experiences that develop the exemplar behaviors.
And I think that is really the real opportunity. And one of the outcomes from this study is that, actually, we can develop scalers in our businesses.
JAMES ALLEN: So thank you very much, Roger. And I think all of you can imagine how excited we are by this research as it's coming forward. What does it mean to you, first? Well, first, the good news is that you have scalers. One of the things that we're starting to learn as we move into phase 3 is every organization has members of the scaling community. That's the good news. You will find them, and with the right programs, you can develop them to be extraordinary members of the scaling community, helping you industrialize innovation.
The bad news is you've got them, but they're often very, very frustrated. They're frustrated because they're often perceived as being anti-innovation. They're the ones that are sitting in your innovation meeting saying, yes, it's a great idea, but it can't be explained within the natural rhythms of our salesforce that have 72 sales visits a day. How am I going to get this into the rhythms of my execution salesforce? That sounds anti-innovation. In fact, they're ahead. They're trying to scale it while the rest of the organization is just trying to stay in the prototyping stage.
So you've got them, but they're probably highly frustrated. And the job that you'll have ahead of you is, how do I put them into the right place in the organization so that they can deploy innovation at industrial scale? Where are we going with this? We are now moving into phase 3, where we're applying the lessons from the study community across the population of people so that we can identify ways for you to identify who these people are easily within your organization and also give some advice about what experiences they'll need to be able to develop into proper scalers.
If you want any more information on that, first, just please call us. We have a Founder's Mentality blog that is trying to update people on where we are. But obviously, if there are any specific questions, do reach out. And I hope you are looking forward, as we are, to the findings in phase 3. Thank you very much.
How to Identify Great Scalers
People who excel at scaling businesses are defined by a unique set of traits and behaviors.