Four Key Traits of the Most Admired Organizations

Four key traits are common to all of the Most Admired Organizations from our study of over 27,000 organizations in 110 countries –a commitment to “fanatic discipline”, “productive paranoia”, creativity, and ambition were essential to long term organizational success.

First, and most importantly, Most Admired organizations exhibit “fanatic discipline”. Jim Collins describes fanatic discipline as a consistency of action and a willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve a great outcome. In Most Admired organizations, this discipline is applied to achieving a deep level of customer intimacy – where you understand not only how your products are used, but truly how they integrate into the lives of the people who use them. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the PC, the mp3 player or smart phones – rather, he reinvented these ideas and made them accessible in new ways. He created products that became a “compelling lifestyle experience” by continually asking, “How are we going to become a part of our customers’ lives?”

The second trait is “Productive Paranoia”. This is not a paranoia based on fear or hiding from reality – instead it is the willingness to look at your competitors and what they are doing right. It is essential to know that while you don’t want to be your competitor, you must understand what draws some of the market to choose your competitors. In most industries, billions of dollars are being spent among a number of competitors and it is imperative to understand what your competitors have going for them as well as their potential weaknesses.

Creativity – it is a given, almost a cliché, that every employee in a Most Admired company is expected to innovate and be creative – but in this case, I’m talking about ‘empirical creativity’. What is empirical creativity and how do you achieve it? Gaining an intimate understanding about your customers leads to developing more creative solutions for them. You can’t be afraid to ask – to admit that you don’t already know everything. You have to allow your customers into the innovation process with you. You have to understand their definition of success as well as your own. The humility to ask and listen leads to greater understanding of your customers, more creative solutions, and longer relationships. The organizations that know more about their customers win their customers’ loyalty.

Finally, another key factor is ambition – a continued sense of “staying hungry” even after achieving great success. Ambition in this sense is key to what Jim Collins calls “Level 5 Leadership”.  Level 5 leaders are those who reject the “Tyranny of the OR” and embrace the “Genius of the AND”. The Most Admired leaders are AND thinkers. What can we do to grow AND increase quality? What can we do to be ambitious about our brand AND be humble enough to listen? The Most Admired leaders know that long term success requires both ambition and humility.

Organizations that continue to think this way – who are disciplined, assertive and continually set “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” are the ones who go on to become #1 in their industries. They don’t rest on their laurels after achieving their goals, they set new ones. Those that don’t continue to set new BHAG’s to accelerate growth lose their mojo and their leadership positions. In the thousands of organizations that we studied, the companies that didn’t set new goals and tried to coast were out of the pole position within 3-5 years, and often out of business in 10 years. “Accelerating growth” turns out to be a critical core competency of the 10X and Most Admired organizations.

Fanatic discipline enables you to continue to deliver great products of high quality and productive paranoia keeps you aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. Ambition ensures that you continue to innovate and not rest on your laurels. Humility allows you to listen and develop a deep level of customer intimacy where customers feel more like partners knowing that you are committed to their success as well as your own. A commitment to all four of these key factors of Most Admired organizations leads to 10X performance and long term success.

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