Staying at the Top with Uncompromising Innovation and Quality

What is a good indicator of having reached “the top”? Is it market share in your domestic or  global market? Is Market Value of your firm a prudent indicator? Or being considered the “best  place to work” a good yard stick? While there can be no single benchmark, the quest for  “reaching the top” continues to drive each one of us – be it a student, or a sports person or an  organization.

In my opinion, while the foregoing parameters are important to gauge your company’s progress  on a time scale and in relation to peers, I quite relate to Aamir Khan’s statement in the movie – 3 Idiots which essentially said “Strive for excellence & success will follow”. The really successful  organizations (or individuals) never really seem to be “striving” to reach the top. For them  success was incidental, Excellence was the focus.

Having said that, getting to a leading position is an important accomplishment in your  professional journey. However, the rise to the top will also bring with it the responsibility to  maintain the leading position. With lots of attention fixated on your success story, and ease of  information flow in today’s connected world, your competitors and new entrants will be gearing  up to replicate your business model.

Historically, few companies have survived the leadership position with transitioning times. A look  at the Fortune 500 list, shows over 2500 companies have appeared on the list since 1955, when  the list was first published. Some of the biggest and celebrated names today were not even  existent, and some of the largest names have fallen victim to increased competitiveness. WalMart, for instance, topped the list in 2010, was not even born when the list was first published. In  India, the mix of companies leading the charts has transformed significantly from 1990 (pre  liberalization) to now.

While there can be various strategic, tactical, competitive, regulatory, human factors and other  explanations to this change amongst the top companies, evidence suggests that the  companies that stay on the top for over two decades, are those that had an explicit focus on  “Quality” at all levels.

So essentially, staying ahead in the race to top, translates into “building a high-Quality  organization”. Quality affects the organization in various ways – from improved productivity to  higher profitability and from better customer satisfaction to a positive public perception. Not  only does this help the organization to grow and succeed, but also leads to employee growth  and empowerment.

While there cannot be any magic recipe to create such an organization, we can take some of  these steps towards achieving it.

Leadership through Innovation : Corporates today are challenged by innovations originating  from across the world, both from within and at times outside the industry. Further, with a conducive entrepreneurship ecosystem, even small sized companies are challenging the larger  companies or changing the industry dynamics through their innovative business models. Today  home-grown innovations have changed the way industries were operating before, by bringing  convenience and transparency to its customers.

Hence, it becomes imperative to continuously innovate to move from your current strengths to  future strengths by propagating innovation in your company. Innovation, while necessitating  both a top-down and bottoms-up system, needs the highest level of sponsorship and grassroots  level adoption. In innovation driven organizations,CEO is the True “Chief Innovation Officer”.

Differentiate or Die : Most companies spend time in replicating the business models or approach  of a leading company. It is imperative for the leader to differentiate their firm from the  competitors, or they will lose the enterprising edge they command. The differentiators need to  be built around the unmet needs of the customer, add tangible incremental value and should  be difficult to replicate.

Make Prudent Investments : You need to constantly invest and stay ahead of the curve. Equally  important is to direct these investments in accordance with the focus areas of your company.

Nurture and Retain Talent : Human Capital is the single most important asset that an organization carries along the journey to build a world class institution, and it is critical to constantly invest in,  mentor and retain this talent.

Corporate Governance : As a company or a professional or an entrepreneur, we need to create  conditions for wealth creation. This also entails a big responsibility to create this wealth legally  and ethically. Corporate Governance is not just about compliance and an agenda for  discussion in board meetings. The foundation of excellence in any aspect of an organization is  the measure of FAITH and TRUST that the institution commands amongst all its stakeholders.  Earning, retaining and growing Institutional FAITH and TRUST is the result of the cumulative efforts  and contribution of each and every member of the organization, made through their individual  interactions with customers and all stakeholders.