3. Disciplined Approach to Business

For some people, the old-fashioned idea of being “disciplined” is a turn-off. But that’s not so for the top performers. They’re rated 114 % stronger than the lowest performers when it comes to taking a disciplined approach to business. Instead of “shooting from the hip,” top-performing small businesses take the time to plan well in advance for changes that are likely to affect their organizations. They do so because the people in the higher-performing organizations truly believe that planning is a critical factor in achieving company success, as opposed to just being a “high overhead exercise.”

However, top performers are also very practical, in that they value planning more than voluminous planning documents. Eisenhower said it this way: “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” High-per-forming small businesses work at being realistic; they “sweat the details.” They’re careful about not forming or setting their expectations until they’ve learned enough about the situation at hand to know whether or not those expections are reasonable. They have a culture where people don’t go off “half-cocked.” They’re disciplined about the commitments they make.

4. Strategic Use of Technology

High-performing organizations give more emphasis than lower-performing companies to using technology to impact the business in strategic ways (109 percent more, according to our analysis). Underlying this rating is the greater use of long-term technology plans aimed at delivering competitive advantage.

Such organizations have developed a culture that figures out ways to deploy technology, not for technology’s sake, but to better serve their strategy. They’re also willing and able to invest to make it happen. This investment includes not just the technology itself, but the training to make sure they maximize the utilization of the technology.

5. Effective Use of Trusted Relationships

Another area where high-performing organizations stand out is their ability to utilize the expertise of external organizations. Top performers are rated more than 100 percent stronger than the lower-performing organizations in this area. Because of their size, small businesses have more generalists than specialists in their organizations and, as a result, can make decisions quickly, while keeping overhead costs lower.

High-performing small businesses have learned to supplement their internal expertise by building trusted relationships with the right types of organizations. This allows them to cost-effectively buy the amount of expertise they need when they need it. One example from our research indicated that high-performing organizations rate their satisfaction with the business advice they get from their external CPA much higher than low-performing organizations.

We believe there are three primary reasons why such organizations are more effective using outside expertise. First, high-performing organizations are stronger financially and can afford to hire the best. In addition, they can afford to make contractor selection mistakes and learn from them. Some of my toughest learning experiences in business have been related to picking the right (or “wrong”) advisors.

Second, high-performing organizations have a clearer picture of where they want to go. They have a clear vision and strong leadership, and are disciplined in their approach to business. All these factors make it easier to focus a consultant or advisor on something specific. Ill-defined projects are a guaranteed formula for failure.

Third, high-performing organizations have stronger learning cultures that allow them to do a better job of listening to and applying expert advice. This feeds on itself: the more they listen and learn, the better they perform, and the better they perform, the better advisors they can hire.

All these factors together give top-performing small businesses the great advantage of being able to utilize outside talent when needed.

-From Gary Harpst’s Six Disciplines for Exellence