In a world that feels like it’s changing faster than ever, the world’s top organizations aren’t content to stand still. 

We surveyed nearly 400 senior executives from companies participating in this year’s World’s Most Admired Companies (WMACs) rankings about how they see growth in today’s challenging, dynamic marketplace. Even across 52 industries and multiple continents, most of these leading organizations have one thing in common: big growth ambitions, backed up by powerful strategies that hinge on culture and talent. 

What’s more, they’re big on innovation—but not the sporadic kind reserved for annual meetings, then put back on the shelf for next year. For WMACs, transforming for growth isn’t a one-time event. It’s a mindset and a constant process that informs every aspect of their business. 

Leveraging Different Sources of Growth 

When it comes to crafting a compelling, realistic growth vision, it’s crucial to understand your market and zero in on your competitive advantage. Will you introduce new products and services, focus on new ways to enhance customer experience, or improve on what you already offer? Are mergers and acquisitions part of your path to growth, or should you focus on joint ventures and strategic alliances with other companies?  

For WMACs, developing innovative new products and services tops their list of growth strategies (56% ranking it in their top three), followed closely by enhancing customer experiences (52%) and improving existing products or services (46%). Next up was a focus on mergers and acquisitions (32%), and then targeting new customer segments (29%).  

What connects and drives their growth strategies? Innovation. The world’s top organizations adopt a culture of continuous improvement to lead their industries and meet evolving market demands and consumer expectations.  

WMACs don’t assume that what worked well in the past will work in the future. Instead, they work to stay resilient in the face of change—and continuously update their strategies for long-term growth. 

Tech Innovation Powered by People 

The World’s Most Admired see technology as crucial for growth—and yet, they value people even more.  

Tech adoption is their number one organizational lever for growth, and tech innovation among their top three innovation priorities. Adopting tech might mean ensuring tech fundamentals such as cloud-based storage and e-commerce are as robust and efficient as they can be for the best customer experiences. 

But that’s just the start. A staggering 86% believe that artificial intelligence (AI) offers an opportunity to improve productivity and margins. About half (51%) of WMACs see it presenting opportunities to develop new revenue streams (compared with only 36% of peer companies). Accordingly, 88% of WMACs are actively leveraging or experimenting with AI across their entire business. 

It’s clear that tech will play a major role in driving WMACs towards their ambitious growth objectives. Still, technology is a tool, and WMACs know that tools are only as good as the people who wield them. That’s why an overwhelming 82% firmly believe that talent is more important than technology to drive growth.

“Technology is a tool, and WMACs know that tools are only as good as the people who wield them”

Talent Reigns Supreme 

The Most Admired put people first in their growth strategies—talent is directly connected to more than half of the growth drivers they prioritize. 

For example, 83% say they rely on flexible, cross-functional teams with a diverse set of skills and expertise to execute innovative initiatives. And two thirds (67%) of WMACs place primary responsibility for innovation in the organization, not just with senior executives (as compared with 56% of peer companies). 

In WMACs, traditional hierarchies with strictly compartmentalized tasks are not the norm. Instead, their team structure encourages open communication and leverages a variety of perspectives.  

When it comes to growing through mergers and acquisitions (M&As), WMAC executives highlight the importance of leadership (41% ranking it among the top three success factors) and culture (39%). They know that having the right people steering the ship and creating a culture of learning and development are key to any successful M&A.

Creating a Culture of Innovation Goes Both Ways 

To an extent, a strong culture of trust, learning, and development must come from the top—but it’s just as important to build from the bottom up. If you center innovation and growth in your culture goals, you’ll anchor your company for turbulent economic waters.  

Developing your talent pipeline is an important part of the picture, but it’s not just about making the right hires. A growth plan means assessing your talent needs—now and in the future—and creating a comprehensive strategy to help everyone in your organization develop their skills. That might include customized learning tailored to specific roles, mentorship programs that encourage the exchange of innovative ideas, or continuous training in cutting-edge technology. Whatever the strategy, every organization needs a holistic talent development program. 

WMACs are particularly focused on addressing talent and skills gaps in implementing growth strategies.  Among the WMACs, 43% place this issue among the top potential growth barriers to navigate, versus 30% of peer companies. 

Most of the World’s Most Admired Companies agree that investing in their people is a fundamental competitive strategy. Retaining talent in a competitive market is just one benefit. When the pace of change feels faster than ever, investing in your workforce is the best way to set your organization up for maximum agility. 


Growth Strategies of the World's Most Admired Companies

Profit Prowess or Sales Surge? It’s a Balancing Act 

Some organizations achieve impressive revenue growth but struggle to sustain operations profitably. On the other hand, an obsession with cost-cutting without attention to revenue can hinder a company’s long-term competitiveness.  

What are the growth priorities of the World’s Most Admired? Just over half (53%) place an emphasis on sales, either prioritizing top line growth or increasing market share, while 47% put bottom line profitability in first place. Regardless of the focus, it comes down to proper planning. You can’t execute a growth strategy without identifying your high-level goals, and that should start with understanding whether you should focus on your top or bottom line.  

Implementing Change—to Evolve or Upend?  

Do the changes needed to prepare for future growth require a massive revolution of current approaches and capabilities? With strong foundations in place, the World’s Most Admired largely say no. Two-thirds of WMACs say it will be an evolution, not a revolution. Of course, in some organizations, more dramatic shifts may be needed. 

To translate a strong vision for growth into a concrete strategy, an organization must efficiently align and mobilize its resources. Then, it’s a matter of using the right tools to track and evaluate progress. But even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. When the inevitable occurs, strong executives know how to learn from their failures—just as they know to celebrate their successes along the way. 

Transforming for Growth 

There are many roads to growth, and a lot of context to consider when designing a robust plan. No matter the path, top organizations know that a robust transformation strategy is an indispensable tool in their arsenal. 

And yet, even the best growth strategy is doomed to fail without the right supporting structures, skillsets, and culture. What’s the best way to fuel innovation for business growth? How can you successfully drive organizational change? Click here for Korn Ferry’s transformational insights.