March 19, 2012 / Tips & Trends

4 Things That Set Great Companies Apart from the Crowd

Most businesses these days are operating in survival mode.

But take a look at the ones whose performance has been steady. This may sound idealistic, but the companies flourishing in this environment are finding non-traditional ways to compete, they’re staying focused on what matters most to their clients, and they’re not losing sight of how their product or service can make a difference in the world.

Here are four ways the best companies are naturally wired to lead:

1. They Discover Opportunity in Unlikely Places

Great organizations are always on the lookout for opportunities that others don’t see. Think of what Steve Jobs did with Apple: he sought to create new industries rather than competing in highly saturated markets. Leaders who seek to discover new opportunities are fearless when embarking upon new things and will continually test different methods to get the formula right.

The best companies focus on the opportunities that create new kinds of experiences for their clients. They take on projects that most would see as unnecessary, or too complicated to invest in. They end up with products and services that make people’s lifestyles more enjoyable, more secure and easier to manage.  Clearly, Apple’s iPad is a great example of this, but there are others like Groupon, Facebook, Google, Skype, Zipcar, and more.

Great organizations are also always looking for talented people who can help them create new opportunities. For example, the New York Knicks signed Jeremy Lin after losing Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to injury. They needed fresh talent with a new attitude and the ability to reignite their momentum and ultimately win games. Not only has Jeremy Lin delivered, he has turned out to be a media darling, and the fans love the way he plays. The Knicks were able to see a winning opportunity in a player who was undrafted and even released by other teams where he didn’t fit with the organization’s culture.

2. They’re Structured, Yet Entrepreneurial

This is a tricky one, but the best companies have mastered it. Companies like Zappos, Google and Facebook (all Gen Y companies, by the way) have designed their cultures to be structured in how they operate, yet entrepreneurial in how they encourage their employees to think, act and innovate. They encourage transparency and open-mindedness. But their leaders are disciplined enough to ensure that the organization’s performance goals are met while the company culture remains intact.

This requires a leadership team that trusts its people and celebrates differences. Leaders must recognize that there are many ways to find success, and that diversity of thought creates serendipity. Those who earn serendipity see what others don’t, do what others won’t, and keep pushing when prudence says quit. Here is a list of the top 10 serendipitous product discoveries, including Viagra, chocolate chips¸ artificial sweetener, and brandy.

3. They Don’t Let Their Focus Get Clouded By Distractions

The uncertainty of the US economy makes it difficult for any company to stay focused. But in today’s marketplace, being strategic is not only about anticipating your competitor’s next new product or advertising campaign, it’s about having an instinctual feel for the crisis and change that may surface around you. Leaders with high levels of strategic focus have a knack for anticipating the natural ebbs and flows of the marketplace.

Companies like Nokia and Blackberry were caught off guard by the disruptive technologies of the Android OS and the iPhone; Blockbuster never anticipated Netflix. Most automakers and consumers alike were shocked by the sudden reinvention of Hyundai and its sister company KIA that captured market share not only in the US, but around the world. This is why businesses talk so much about risk – and why companies shake up their C-suite from time to time.

Strategic focus requires leadership with circular vision: vision with the capacity to see around, beneath and beyond what you seek in order to anticipate change and find the most valuable opportunities.

4. They Seek Social Significance

The best companies use the platform of their corporate brand to create social significance that reverberates and multiplies. For example, IKEA partnered with UNICEF to create a program to help prevent child labor by changing the conditions that led to child labor in the first place: poverty, hunger, and illiteracy.

Because poverty is often the result of illness, IKEA and UNICEF also worked with the World Health Organization to establish a five-year vaccination program, vaccinating almost three hundred thousand women and children from three thousand villages from 2002 to 2007. IKEA has consistently been a leader as a company that makes the world a better place.

That kind of charitable work may seem like mere marketing, or worse, a distraction from the bottom line. But it’s the mark of a truly great company to recognize that a sense of mission and purpose inspires workers and customers alike. When people work for a company that is genuinely trying to make the world a better place, they’re inspired. They see opportunity in new places, and they’re willing to take risks to achieve great things.

Source: Forbes.com, Glenn Llopis, Contributor

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