Cracking The Code Behind The World’s Strongest Companies

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

On the surface, a list of the most admired companies worldwide reveals few common denominators. They include hedge funds and hamburger chains; sell computers, cars and credit cards; are headquartered everywhere from Singapore to Silicon Valley, Munich to Minneapolis. Examine their corporate cultures, however, and a set of basic building blocks—a shared DNA—emerges that links high-performing organizations across industries and geographies, imparting a lasting adaptive advantage over the competition.

In DNA of High-Performing Organizations, The Conference Board set out to map this genome of cultural assets systematically, tracing their expression in particular global leaders to reveal how all organizations can evolve toward a culture of higher performance. The research authors began by cross-referencing 11 annual rankings of companies from public sources including Fortune, Forbes and Bloomberg. They identified as high-performing organizations those that were ranked as leaders in both financial performance and people management; just 56 companies met these criteria. The resulting report is based on a detailed survey of 76 executives at 27 of those companies.Chess pieces symbolizing high performance organizations.

“In today’s globalized competitive environment, a huge array of measures—from market capitalization to employee engagement scores—is available to evaluate a company’s success,” said Rebecca Ray, executive vice president, knowledge organization for The Conference Board and a co-author of the report. “But such numbers alone reveal little about how an organization succeeds—or fails—in adapting to change, developing new capabilities and executing its long-term strategy. DNA of High-Performing Organizations provides a deeper and more holistic picture, drawing on specific insights, examples, struggles and successes from companies that have maintained an extraordinary level of execution over time.”

FedEx and Coca-Cola, or Target and American Express, would seem to offer little shared insight into excelling in each other’s businesses,” said Amy Lui Abel, managing director of human capital research at The Conference Board and a co-author of the report. “However, our survey of executives at those four high-performing organizations, and 23 others, revealed a layer of meaningful commonality underlying their success. While the DNA of every high-performance culture is unique, they rest on a common catalog of ‘genetic’ elements that proactive leaders will identify, adapt and incorporate into their own company’s identity.”

In addition to details drawn from survey responses, DNA of High-Performing Organizations includes in-depth profiles of four high-performing organizations—The Coca-Cola Company, Target, FedEx and American Express—as well as a diagnostic tool to measure adherence to the key strategies ranked by the surveyed executives. These 15 top strategies encompass three common “DNA elements”:

Effective and efficient alignment of resources to execute business strategies

  • Create a culture of rigor and standards for financial stability
  • Require process around fiscal management, oversight and decision making
  • Execute strategies in an operationally efficiently manner
  • Align organizational structure to support business strategy
  • Create/maintain a culture of accountability

Strong focus on the customer

  • Delivery high-quality products/services
  • Create a strong customer-centric culture
  • Focus organization’s process and products toward customer needs

Organizational capability to support critical business objectives

  • Attract and retain talent through strong brand/reputation
  • Provide leaning and development opportunities to employees at all levels
  • Require managers to set clear goals and manage performance
  • Raise employee engagement to drive productivity
  • Develop a global mindset among leaders
  • Align rewards and recognition to support business strategy
  • Help managers create effective teams