We all would like to be part of a top-performing company, but what does it really take to build one?

Our research on how top-performing companies prepare for and manage change and how they execute plans and strategies effectively reveals some interesting similarities and differences between the best and less successful companies.

Here’s a look at what top-performing companies have in common and how you can apply these findings to your strategy execution.

Similarities Between the Best and the Rest

Companies in both categories can point to visions that employees believe are clear and strategies that are perceived to be realistic. Typically, they also have:

  • Employees who understand that the customer is king,
  • Quality products and services that are essential for success
  • Employees who are engaged and have the skills required to do their jobs.

What, then, differentiates the very best organizations from those that are less successful?

What Sets Top Companies Apart?

Top-performing companies are characterized by cultures that are flexible, adaptive, participative, and innovative. They operationalize these cultural attributes through leader behavior supported by leadership and organizational development programs and systems.

Leaders in top-performing companies appear to be particularly capable in five key areas.

Area 1: Managing Paradoxes

Leaders in top-performing companies are better at finding the right balance between achieving short- and long-term goals, establishing control and providing autonomy, ensuring stability and managing change, and keeping costs low and quality high while growing the business. They are also better at managing the sometimes contradictory needs of customers, employees, and stockholders/owners.

Area 2: Change Management

Our research surfaces five behaviors that characterize the most effective change manager:

Be forthright about the change and its impact.

64 percent of the 655 participants in our survey said that open and honest communication from leaders, even when they don’t have all the answers, would make change easier. People want leaders to be accessible and to engage in open dialog about change.

Model behaviors that support the change.

It is not enough to just say the right thing or even enthusiastically communicate the benefits and the business case for change. Employees want to see those words backed up with behavior. That is how they judge how effectively someone is leading and managing a change.

Have realistic objectives and milestones.

As employees reach realistic goals and milestones, they become more positive about the change and will see its benefits. Targeting unattainable goals will frustrate and demoralize employees during the first few critical months, and the time and energy you’ve spent preparing for the change will be wasted.

Don’t underestimate the resources required.

The over-commitment of existing resources or underestimating what it takes to accomplish objectives is a primary cause of failing change initiatives. Keep in mind that your employees have commitments to annual performance goals in addition to the work they need to do to make the change a success.

Maintain enthusiasm and excitement among employees.

During the first month of a change, managers meet with employees to get their support. After the first month, though, those managers return to their day-to-day jobs, and employees can lose focus. Leaders need to model behaviors that support the change for the duration of the initiative, not just at the kickoff.

Area 3: Practice Participative Leadership

Employees should be involved in critical decisions that affect them and be able to freely share their thoughts and concerns. It enhances decision quality and gives employees a sense of ownership. Nothing truly great can occur in the absence of that.

Aread 4:Lead by Example

Leaders in top-performing companies understand that people will not trust or follow them if they are not willing to live by the same values and support the same priorities they require of others.

Area 5: Work Effectively Across Organizational Boundaries

Top-performing leaders also excel at coordinating decisions and actions across organizational boundaries. To achieve this, effective leaders ensure three things are in place: shared goals, clear roles and decision authority, and transparency and sharing of information.

Becoming a top-performing company is challenging and can be difficult to achieve and maintain year after year. It requires constant attention to the leadership attributes and competencies discussed above and a willingness to review and continuously improve products, services, and the business model itself.

OnPoint has extensive experience helping organizations enhance their ability to execute strategy and manage change. Contact us for a free consultation to learn what your organization can do better to prepare for and manage change. In addition, visit our website for information on change management and other aspects of strategy execution.