Each year I look forward to receiving the top 50 and 100 employers list. I receive both the local as well as the top 100 for Canada. My interest for receiving them is somewhat selfish but it is also fuelled with a sense of pride and admiration. Selfish because I primarily want to work with successful companies, pride because many of the companies I have worked with make the top list, and admiration because it takes a concerted effort for companies to reach the top.
Top performing organizations are found across our economic landscape. They come from the private, not-for-profit and cooperative endeavours. All of them mirror attributes that stem from their vision for the future, strong leadership, employee commitment and excellent customer service. When I look closely at them, here is what I find.
Top performing companies have longevity. It goes without saying that the passage of time gives them longevity. However it is what they have done during that time that's important. The ability to work through economic swings, changes in the marketplace and crises earns them their stripes. They have been in business usually for over 30 years and many for over 100 years. They grew incrementally, usually from small beginnings to what is now for many a global outreach.
The leadership team is clear about the company's vision and mission. More importantly leaders model the company values. They know why they exist and what they deliver and protect the company's image with integrity and sound stewardship. They keep their vision, mission and values in front of their customers through strong branding strategies.
If you go into any of the top performing organizations, you can't help but notice their branding power. Their vision, mission and value statements are present for anyone to see. They provide consistent messages to the outside world and often only a word or a phrase or a logo is needed for anyone to recognize the brand.
Their leaders and managers "walk the talk" to use an old cliché. The leaders and managers have a strong allegiance to the company and are committed to achieving not only financial gains for their shareholders but to developing an organizational culture where people want to work. They realize that financial gain only comes about by strong team effort built on trust, recognition and just rewards. The leader managers are optimistic about the future, respect their colleagues and employees and reflect the values the company deems important.
Top performing companies don't leave things to chance. They develop contingency plans to soften the blow of a crises or to meet changes in the marketplace. They allocate resources to scan the marketplace to ensure their products are relevant and cull those that aren't. They recognize that developing contingency plans to meet changing circumstances is not easy. Sometimes contingency plans call for the need to reduce employees. When Top Performing Organizations are confronted with the people reduction scenario, they do so in the most humane way possible by: searching for all possible ways to retain staff, building in internal on-going career coaching, and calling upon external career transition coaches when necessary.
Top performing companies are employee centric. They are concerned about their employees careers, and find ways to continually upgrade employee knowledge and skills. They view learning as an investment in their future and understand that even if the employee leaves the company they will be their ambassador for years to come. By placing emphasis on their employees careers, they know they will benefit in the long term as they will have a natural pool to draw upon when the time comes to find successors for those leaving the company. I also find that they have strong team practices, experiment with differing organizational models to meet new requirements, engage employees in the decision-making process, and promote a pleasing and flexible work environment.
They are customer centric. Top performing companies know that the ultimate key to their success is the promotion of customer service next to none. They have a strong customer service strategy that ties in with their overall strategic direction and values. They spend an enormous amount of energy in making sure that their employees understand who their customers are and how to best serve them. They know that a culture built on customer service means that everyone in the business treats everyone else as if they were their customer.
Top performing companies work hard at becoming top performers, but they are not perfect. They have issues and problems like any other company. These could include hiring staff in times of a heated economy, continually training employees when the economy is weak, dealing with employees who don't take appropriate responsibility and accountability for their actions, making sure they have an appropriate mix of products and services, or resolving a host of strategic or organizational issues. It's not that they don't have problems, it's how they deal with them that counts. They recognize that they can't take things for granted and rest on past successes but always need to keep going forward with continued discipline and agility.
Lessons Learned: When top performing companies begin to lose those attributes which have propelled them to the top, they begin to slide off the list. To keep themselves on the list they keep their leadership team working at peak performance. If businesses want to join this elite group then they need to have in place disciplined leaders who: maintain strategic focus on the changing requirements of their marketplace, commit to the business's vision, mission and values, develop an organizational culture with an engaged workforce, provide top notch customer service, and have the flexibility to meet unforeseen contingencies when they arise. What is encouraging to me is that I find that many successful small businesses have the same attributes as their big brother counterparts, only on a smaller scale. They won't make the top 100 list but they are top performers just the same. To these businesses, I also salute.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC From the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.