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Winning Companies: Winning People, The differing approaches of winners and losers
By Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas

A management revolution is boosting the achievements of average performers and facilitating the flow of work and opportunities around the globe. Pioneers are building critical success factors into the processes for key activities and adopting cost effective ways of helping people to emulate the winning ways of high performing superstars. Workgroup productivity and corporate performance are being transformed to deliver both commercial success for organisations and personal satisfaction for individuals.

Have you ever wondered why some people and groups are so much more effective than others at undertaking equivalent tasks in similar circumstances? In many sectors leading competitors have similar offerings, adopt prevailing technologies and systems, recruit from the major business schools, fall for current management fads and employ the same professional firms. Yet examine a particular area of operation and huge variations of performance are evident. Why is this? Do certain critical success factors explain the differences? What is it that high performers do differently?

The Winning Companies: Winning People research programme examines practices in areas critical to corporate success such as competitive bidding, building customer relationships, pricing, purchasing and creating and exploiting know-how. Studies rank participant’s attainments in relation to outcomes achieved from the most to the least successful. The approaches of high and low achievers – for example, those in the top and bottom quartiles of accomplishment – are then compared to isolate critical success factors that explain the differences of attainment.

In total, over 4,000 organisations from smaller firms to major corporations have participated in the research programme. Some 2,000 of these have contributed to particular exercises to identify critical success factors for key business development activities. The findings are remarkably consistent across sectors, corporate nationalities and different sizes of organisation.

Critical success factors have been identified for a range of important corporate activities. Because most of them are attitudinal and behavioural the investigating teams have also distinguished the approaches of high performers or winners from those of low achieving losers. The findings across the full programme of studies and areas as varied as understanding the business environment, visioning and corporate learning to creating an effective board and establishing an entrepreneurial culture are now summarised for the first time in a new book: ‘Winning Companies: Winning People’*.

Overall, the findings and winner-loser comparisons are intriguing. Companies that excel at certain activities usually perform badly at others. If this were not so and particular companies practiced successful approaches across the board to a greater extent than competitors, market leaders would become much more dominant than is currently the case. Were most companies to adopt winning ways then overall productivity would increase by an unprecedented amount.

Getting down to the level of individual activities reveals many surprises. Groups in smaller businesses with limited funds, less advanced technologies and inferior offerings sometimes do better than their peers in better endowed companies. The back office processes and practices of one superstar performer were archaic compared with the competitors it routed in the marketplace. Quite simply it excelled at critical success factors for building relationships with high value customers.

A disturbing aspect of the findings is the massive expenditure of money and management time on people, activities, technologies and widely adopted fads that do not relate to critical success factors for competing and winning. Almost every company visited during the research programme was found to be devoting considerable resources to similar initiatives that would make little if any difference to outcomes achieved in areas covered by the investigation.

The offerings of some global providers of business services appear to be counter productive in that they entrench losing behaviours. The reason for this paradox is that many of the companies examined and those who supply them do not appear to be aware of either the critical success factors for certain activities or successful approaches to them. Most companies are poor judges of their relative performance in the areas examined and unaware of the reasons why they are not more successful.

Most companies also lack awareness of both who their superstars are and relatively simple and cost effective ways of enabling others to emulate the achievements of high performers. The various studies within the research programme suggest a relatively small proportion of people excel at the activities examined, while there is a long tail of barely adequate performance. Yet often the more able are found to be engaged on similar tasks to those occupying less competent colleagues.

Training and development activities invariably focus on what people are not good at rather than enable them to achieve more in the areas in which they excel. People are encouraged to address weaknesses and concentrate upon activities they do not enjoy rather than build upon their strengths and do what they enjoy doing and do best.

In many companies potential high achievers are held back by corporate procedures and processes that do not incorporate critical success factors and winning approaches that have been identified by the investigating teams. Company wide training and standardisation programmes often force the adoption of corporate practices by certain people whose own approaches would have been more successful. Invariably someone has a better way of operating than the approach suggested in the corporate manual.

If one took a mid point in the range of outcomes achieved across the various studies as the dividing line between winners and losers most workgroups would be losers. Sometimes two thirds of survey participants would fall into the loser category on this basis. People who describe their jobs as winning business actually spend most of their time losing business, for example working on proposals that are subsequently rejected. There is a huge opportunity for improvement across the board.

Even high performers could do so much better. In relation to competitive bidding the superstars in the top quartile of achievement are only very effective at less than half of the identified critical success factors. The findings suggest every company participating in the research programme could significantly boost its overall performance by building more critical success factors into certain processes and adopting more winning approaches in areas of relative under achievement.

Many under achievers are not dissatisfied with their performance as they are unaware of what could be done differently to obtain better results. The Winning Companies: Winning People investigation represents a ‘good news’ story for those who would like to raise their game. Critical success factors for important areas such as winning new and repeat business have now been identified, and because most of them are attitudinal and behavioural they can be quickly adopted.

It is also encouraging that winning and losing approaches can be so clearly distinguished. The former can be emulated and the latter avoided. The core research data bases have been constructed so that in addition to the guidance available in the new ‘Winning Companies: Winning People’ book and individual critical success factor reports bespoke benchmarking reports can be generated that offer comparison with average and high performers and highlight areas to concentrate upon to match the achievements of superstars. Individuals and organisations can increasingly decide to remain or become a winner or a loser. Go for it!

© Colin Coulson-Thomas, 2006


Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas
About the Author:

Colin Coulson-Thomas is Professor of Direction and Leadership at Lincoln Business School of the University of Lincoln and leader of the Winning Companies: Winning People Research and Best Practice Programme. He has helped over 100 companies to improve director, board and/or corporate performance, reviewed the business development processes and practices of over 100 companies and spoken at over 200 national, international and corporate events in some 30 countries. Colin can be contacted:

Tel: 01733 361 149
Fax: 01733 361 459
Email: colinct@tiscali.co.uk
Web: www.coulson-thomas.com

Winning Companies: Winning People

Winning Companies: Winning People

Winning Companies: Winning People, The differing approaches of winners and losers’ by Colin Coulson-Thomas. New book shows how average performers can become superstars.

Average performers can be helped to adopt the winning ways of high performing superstars. Workgroup productivity and corporate performance can be transformed to deliver commercial success for organisations and personal satisfaction for individuals. A new book ‘Winning Companies: Winning People’ by Colin Coulson-Thomas shows how.

Find out more about the book in our online store.



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