The 6 habits of highly successful, fast growth companies

Flickr photo via Jon Jordan

Flickr photo via Jon Jordan

Pull together a list of Seattle’s fastest-growing companies and you’ll see a wide variety of industries, leadership styles, go-to-market approaches and organizational structures.

But pull back the top layers that make them different, and you’ll likely find a handful of operational, productivity and management habits that make these companies look more alike than you otherwise might think.

These habits are industry-agnostic, and often work whether the company is startup, early stage or mature.  Look at some of the executives and leadership who perennially are successful across multiple companies and opportunities, and you’ll likely find these habits in play as well.

Fulfilling the potential inherent in executing these habits might not be easy, but the habits themselves are surprisingly simple.  Here’s a quick summary:

1. They plan ahead, but focus on right now

Successful, fast-growth companies have a long-term plan, including their Big Hairy Audacious Goal for 15-20 years from now, plus a 3-5 year plan that projects growth and owner/shareholder value, but that also narrows down to what the company and each individual needs to accomplish in the current quarter.

Many companies operate in markets that change very quickly, so long-term plans and projections may change.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t start with the long-term vision and ensure the immediate steps and priorities tie together.

2. The management team meets daily (but only for about four minutes)

Photo: Alan Cleaver

Photo: Alan Cleaver

Fast-growth companies don’t require their management teams to meet longer than they have to.  Key to this is alignment around a common and short set of measurable goals, and then focusing meeting time on identifying and designating for after-meeting follow-up the discussion and resolution of obstacles of those goals.

Do this right and you’re executing what many companies call the “stand up meeting,” where participants don’t sit down and instead do a rapid-fire roundtable focused only on problems, obstacles and identification of who owns next steps.  Even discussion of those next steps happens outside of and after the stand-up, maximizing time focused on what’s important, and then focusing only the right/relevant people on solving and executing.

3. They obsess about values and brand promise

For fast-growth companies, core values and brand promise are more than just words on the Web site.  They’re more than just a poster in the lobby.  Ask employees at fast-growth companies to name the company’s values, and they can recite them without notes. They know and live the brand promise.  It’s used to define strategies and tactics, daily decisions, new hires and more.

4. They fire bullets, not cannons

Jim Collins introduced this metaphor a couple years ago.

Mediocre and slow-growth companies decide what’s important and go right to building an expensive cannon.  The cannon, if effective, can drive significant growth and opportunity.  But too often, the cannon doesn’t work.   It’s aimed at the wrong target.  It’s deemed an expensive failure.

Fast-growth companies build cannons too, but not before they fire lots of bullets.  Because most ideas and tests don’t work, so smart companies fire quickly and often to separate the successes from the failures.  Then, and only then, once these companies identify the bullets that hit the mark, they put down the gun and pick up the cannon.

5. They bring focus to life, and actively/regularly celebrate success

Objectives on a piece of paper might be on target, but they don’t necessarily inspire.  Fast-growth companies translate their focus areas into quarterly and annual themes, including connected cross-functional communication tools, design elements and relevant rewards.

For example, a company focused on specific, measurable international expansion recently used a world travel theme to rally the entire organization behind the goals.  This manifested itself in mock travel posters featuring key goals, as well as rewards including international Friday afternoon parties based on incremental milestones.

6. They hoard cash, but spend to drive growth

(Flickr photo via JMRosenfeld)

(Flickr photo via JMRosenfeld)

Fast-growth companies spend money as if it’s their own, which means not only conserving cash but executing tactical strategies to get more of it faster and sooner.  They bill at the beginning of the month vs. the end, print invoices on colorful paper to help them stand out in the accountant’s stack, and pay their bills on time but at the end of their net-terms.

But the cash strategy of fast-growth companies isn’t all about conservation.  It also means using that cash aggressively to fuel growth and achieve objectives.  This means starting with a strong budget at the beginning of the year but making changes and staying opportunistic when warranted.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’d encourage you to check out a one-day workshop being held in November by the Gazelle’s organization right here in Seattle.  Many of these habits will be discussed, with specific stories from those in the areas who have used and profited from them.

Matt Heinz, a frequent guest contributor to GeekWire, is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via emailTwitterLinkedIn or his blog.

  • Zorian Rotenberg

    Great post! I am also a fan of Rockefeller Habits.