HR Management

5 Secrets of the Best-Performing Companies

By Chris Ceplenski, Senior Editor

What makes a great company great? A top author studied 180,000 companies and found five super success factors top organizations shared.

Best-selling author Jason Jennings wondered what it took to be a great company. He and his research team studied more than 180,000 companies to find out. Here are the five “secrets” they uncovered.

Secret #1: Great companies have a “cause”

A cause, Jennings explains, is neither a mission statement nor a vision statement. Nor is it a goal. It’s not, for example, about increasing revenue by X million dollars in Y amount of time. Instead, says Jennings, a cause is the authentic reason for the existence of the organization.

A cause is “big and bold,” he explains. “For example, Microsoft’s cause is to put its operating systems on every desk in the world. It was the cause Bill Gates had in mind from the beginning and still has today.”

A cause, Jennings asserts, provides purpose, fuels passion, drives momentum and, most significant, builds cultures.

A company’s culture is the “ultimate competitive advantage,” Jennings says. “Competitors can ‘steal’ your products or services or even key employees. But a competitor can never steal a great company’s culture.”

Secret #2: Great companies let go

“What are you holding onto that you need to let go of?” Jennings asks. He noted that great companies don’t let egos drive decision-making processes and are willing to let go of “yesterday’s breadwinners” and “same-old, same-old.” When companies are willing to drop ways of doing things that no longer work and products that are no longer profitable, he said, they are better able to deal with change.

Secret #3: Focusing on the “right” customers

The traditional way of thinking about customer satisfaction is that satisfied customers will come back. However, Jennings says that two-thirds of customers who stop doing business with companies deem themselves “satisfied.” The new way to approach customer service, he says, is to acknowledge that there is such a thing as a “wrong” customer. Jennings purports that great companies put intense focus on knowing who their “right” customers are and keeping them.

Secret #4: Getting everyone to act like owners

Another secret is that great companies get everyone to think and act like owners, creating a culture where “everyone knows that creating long-term value counts,” says Jennings. One best-performing company Jennings discussed provided its employees not only with job descriptions, but an explanation of how what they did added long-term value to the company. These employees were armed with the link between their functions and overall company performance.

This concept also includes giving “decision rights to the right people.” If you want your company to grow, Jennings asserts, people with the knowledge needed to make the decisions must make them, not people in “the corner office.” The hierarchal structure should not determine who has this power. And, Jennings notes, people making the decisions should be compensated for the value they create.

Everybody should also be held accountable, but not for “top-down pronouncements.” In other words, employees should not be told “This is your goal next year, and you will meet it.” Instead, a mutual agreement should be reached. But once they’ve agreed, employees must then deliver.

Secret #5: Great leaders are stewards

Jennings’s final secret is that leadership is no longer about “pillaging and plundering” and getting your face splashed across the covers of business magazines. In fact, Jennings says that leaders at most of his best companies were wary of being identified publicly in his books.

Their characteristics: Stewards share information. They don’t hoard it. They are also accessible (the presidents/CEOs of best-performing companies list their private phone number in the phone book). And they “get rid of superficial distinctions” like large, private offices. In fact, not one of the best-performing companies Jennings identified has a “suit and tie” atmosphere. They are nearly all business casual.

Finally, stewards “keep their hands dirty” by listening and talking to customers and asking them what they want and need. “What better way,” Jennings asks, “is there to send a message to the rest of the employees that they too should show interest in customers?”

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