How companies become, and stay, great

We talk about “great companies” quite a bit at SYPartners. Clients often ask us to clarify what we mean by it. What does it mean to “be great”?

We believe enduringly great companies do 9 particular things. And they don’t just “check” them off on a list. They see them as ongoing process that requires attention, dedication, and fresh perspective.

1. Great companies define their purpose, and live it fully.
Great companies know why they exist and are clear about the value they create in the world—value that transcends what they sell. They integrate their purpose into every part of the organization, using it to guide decisions and provide meaning to the work no matter what direction the company takes.

2. Great companies set an aggressive vision.
Great companies have a clear direction for their future and articulate what they aim to accomplish in a certain period of time. Enduringly great companies constantly revisit their vision to ensure it is still bold and relevant enough to guide the work of the organization, and address the broader business landscape.

3. Great companies rally around shared values.
An organization is bound together by its values and beliefs—they shape a unique culture. Great companies not only understand what they stand for, they actually live their values every day through their work. They use their values and beliefs to inform how they hire, develop skills, and make decisions.

4. Great companies build active and aligned leaders.
Greatness requires active and fearless leadership to deliver on purpose and vision. Leaders’ ability to align on decisions and model behaviors sets a standard for the whole organization. Great companies continually invest in leadership development.

5. Great companies cultivate operational discipline.
Delivering on a company’s purpose and vision requires rigor. Great companies have laser-sharp focus on what’s important and make smart decisions about what to do and not do. They have the discipline to stick to those decisions and follow through.

6. Great companies aren’t afraid to adapt.
Great companies maintain keen insight into what’s relevant to the times, and they adapt their business to stay ahead. They take risks, fail fast, and learn from their experiences—never sacrificing boldness.

7. Great companies lead with a point of view in the world.
Great companies declare a point of view in the world—oftentimes it’s their purpose. But the greatest of the great use their thought leadership to create more than just shareholder value. They work toward something beyond the walls of their own organization to shape the world they operate in and engage others in their journey.

8. Great companies stay hungry.
To be great, you have to want it. Great companies constantly look for new opportunities to tackle. Without drive, vision and strategy are just words on paper. Companies that are truly great have big ambitions—and they act on them.

9. Great companies harness the power of belief.
Becoming great requires the ability to follow something bigger than numbers. Great companies harness the power of belief to rally people around new ideas. They understand the value of building belief through experiences rather than just communicating information, especially in the face of change.

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