Business Strategy

9 Traits Shared by High-Performing Companies


High-performing companies exhibit nine traits that are often a predictor of long-term success. When followed consistently, these businesses outperform their peers and are more resilient to market turmoil and disruption. They are also more likely to have earned a reputation as best in class — both internally with employees and externally with clients.

Define clear guiding principles

The presence of clearly defined guiding principles that are communicated and adopted at every level of the business is foundational for building a high performing culture that supports growth.

Guiding principles define the DNA of your company and form the basis of your brand experience. These principles are the non-negotiables that serve to illuminate the why of your business, what you aim to achieve, how you plan to do it, and the behaviors that matter most for company success.

  • Purpose (why) — Your purpose describes the reason your business exists and the positive impact you want to have on the people you serve.
  • Vision (what) — Your vision is the North Star that guides the company’s direction for the future. It should be aspirational and achievable for all stakeholders.
  • Mission (how) — Your mission communicates the way you operate as a business. It should be unique, serving as inspiration for your internal team as they fulfill the vision.
  • Core values (who) — Your core values describe the behaviors and attitudes for all employees. They are concrete action words rather than abstract concepts. When done well, they not only guide decision-making and how interactions will take place, they also create the foundation of the company’s culture and ultimately the experience you will consistently receive. When all elements are working together — and there is buy-in at all levels of the company — you will gain momentum, much like the flywheel described in Jim Collins’ Good to Great. This not only elevates your company, it helps position you for long-term growth.

Optimize the employee experience

Attracting and retaining talent remains the top priority for most leaders. While clearly defined guiding principles establish the brand experience, cultivating a meaningful employee experience requires an intentional focus on the culture that will help your team reach their full potential.

Creating an engaging company culture comes down to the universal 5C’s, including career development, credible leadership, collaborative environments, connection with peers, and contribution to the company’s success.

Exceed client expectations

In the business-to-business environment, a lot of our expectations are set by our experiences in the business-to-consumer world. For example, Amazon can deliver almost anything you want to your doorstep with remarkable speed while also anticipating and suggesting what you may want next. Customers have those same expectations from their business relationships, and the patience to get it right is waning. Research shows that after three misses, even your best customers will often move on to the next option — one that is easily located with a basic internet search.

High-performing businesses not only deliver on their promises, they frequently go beyond the client’s expectations to create a memorable and unique experience. When you consistently do that, the result is client loyalty.

Focus intensely on quality

Quality can mean different things to different people, but at the core it’s about consistently delivering the expected value that clients are seeking to meet their needs. High performing businesses invest in internal systems to define what quality means in terms of accuracy and reliability with a QA/QC process that monitors if they are hitting the mark. Additionally, they keep a pulse on customer satisfaction through an ongoing listening program. The rewards are significant in terms of enhanced reputation, customer referrals and loyalty.

Adapt to change

Since the 1960’s a SWOT analysis has been a universal strategic business tool to assess a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. While many find the  S, W, and O easier to evaluate, today the T has never been more important to understand. Not only the threats, but also the changing trends that can impact business.

Disruption is coming at a dizzying pace — from emerging technologies, changing generational preferences, new regulations, and emerging economic realities. High performing companies are aware of all elements of their SWOT and remain nimble to make adjustments iteratively in the short-term to ensure achievement of their long-term vision.

Monitor a data-rich dashboard

High-performing organizations make a point of building data-rich dashboards to track the key performance indicators (KPIs) that directly impact the company’s bottom line and their reputation in the broader market. The operative word here is data-rich — the key forward-looking metrics that measure the brand, employee and client experience. The most effective dashboards provide a clear visual and narrative representation of real-time company performance financially, in the marketplace and against the competition.

View the ecosystem holistically

When was the last time you paused to look not only at your company and competitors but the complete ecosystem that propels your industry? Best in class organizations understand that business doesn’t happen in a vacuum. No matter how much you improve your internal processes and workflow, a broader look can help you understand the movements of the market, anticipate the needs and challenges of what’s to come, and identify opportunities for strategic alliances.

Avoid unnecessary complexity

In its 2005 Super Bowl ad, office supply retailer Staples made the “Easy button” a part of our day-to-day vernacular. Who doesn’t want an easy button to take away complexity and provide you with exactly what you want? This mindset remains today, and if you can’t explain something succinctly or remember it easily, you could be creating a roadblock in your brand, employee or client experience.

Learn and improve continuously

Continuous learning and improvement is central to the prolonged success of high-performing companies. In the past it was true that “knowledge is power.” Today, as work continues to evolve, the ability to perpetually learn and problem-solve will be the most sought-after skill in an organization. It’s the intersection of high-tech digital dexterity and high-touch soft-skills that can manage as well as coach and mentor. This will keep your company relevant for all generations.

Translating these traits to a competitive advantage

The interplay between these foundational traits and the three core experiences will propel not only powerful reputations but also success as a best in class organization.

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