How The Best-Performing Businesses Differ From The Rest

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A new research study from Six Disciplines compares the best practices of the top and bottom-performing companies to determine what they do right, where they go wrong, what correlation their practices have to financial performance, and what you should learn from their experiences.

In times like these, business leaders need to understand what differentiates the best from the rest, so they can focus on what best-practices to adhere to, and which ones to avoid.

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A survey conducted by Six Disciplines, a leader in strategy execution coaching, reveals what top-performing organizations do differently, and provides insights for business leaders who want to know where they should focus their efforts going forward.

The original survey, conducted several years ago with over 300 C-level executives from small and mid-sized businesses, has now been re-published by Six Disciplines, in an effort to share the insightful results, and to validate the original research findings.

In conducting the original research, focus groups consistently aggregated their feedback around the following general best-practice themes:

  • The ability to attract/retain quality people
  • The strength of the senior leadership team
  • The strategic use of technology
  • A disciplined approach to business
  • A quality-oriented culture
  • Effective use of trusted relationships
  • A culture of teamwork and commitment

“In times like these, business leaders need to understand what differentiates the best from the rest, so they can focus on what best-practices to adhere to, and which ones to avoid,” says Gary Harpst, CEO and founder of Six Disciplines. “Armed with this information, leaders can confidently focus on a small number of best-practices, and build them into their strategic planning process,” added Harpst.

What The Top Performers Do Right

Based on the research, the top performers are very good at the following set of 10 best-practices. The numbers behind each best-practice are the

What The Top Performers Do Right
Rank    Best Practices of Top-Performers    Average scores of top quartile of CEOs surveyed
(1-to-5 scale 5 =highest)
1.    Expect/Demand Quality    4.78
2..    Technology Is Seen As An Investment Not Expense     4.62
3.    Leaders Are Involved In Strategic Change    4.57
4.    A Teamwork Approach To Challenges    4.51
5.    Employees Are Engaged and Fulfilled    4.44
6.    People Help One Another Succeed    4.40
7.    Leaders Set Clear Vision    4.39
8.    Technology Is A Competitive Advantage    4.32
9.    Technology and Training Are Up-To-Date    4.32
10.    Seek/Listen To Advice    4.29

Where The Lowest Performers Go Wrong
The following is a list of the top 10 “best-practices” that the lowest performers adhere to - the least. (One might refer to these as being “worst-practices”.) The numbers behind each “worst-practice” are the average scores for the bottom quartile on a scale of 1-to-5, with 5 being the highest score.

Where The Lowest Performers Go Wrong
Rank    Worst-Practices of Bottom-Performers    Average scores of top quartile of CEOs surveyed
(1-to-5 scale 1 =lowest)
1.    There Are Written Project Plans    1.92
2.    Planning Is Seen As Critical    2.20
3.    Leaders Set Clear Vision    2.21
4.    They Prepare And Plan For Change    2.25
5.    Ability To Attract/Retain Quality People    2.30
6.    Technology Is A Competitive Advantage    2.37
7.    Technology And Training Is Up-To-Date    2.49
8.    A Teamwork Approach To Challenges    2.79
9.    Leaders Are Involved In Strategic Change    2.82
10.    Technology Is Seen As An Investment Not Expense    2.95

Best-Practice Adherence Correlates Strongly With Financial Performance

Those businesses in the top quartile of best-practice adherence rated their financial strength (strong cash position and consistent profitability) as 47% stronger compared to the bottom quadrant. In addition, top-performer’s growth rates over the past three years were reported to be 61% higher (12.1% versus 7.5%). In addition, the strongest financial performance difference was that top-performing business leader expressed their growth expectations over the next three years to be 83% higher than bottom-performing businesses.    

Where You Should Put Your Focus
So where should you focus to change your business for the better? Should you start trying to be like the best, or should you start doing what the worst are not doing?

The list below sorts the top 10 best-practices based on the difference in the rankings between the top performers and the bottom performers. Think of this as an approximate ranking of what contributes the most to explaining the difference in performance between top-performing and bottom-performing businesses.

Where You Should Put Your Focus
Rank    The Difference in Best-Practices Between Top-Performing And Bottom-Performing Organizations    How The Best
Differ From The Rest
1.     Leaders Set Clear Vision    99%
2.    They Have Written Project Plans    92%
3    Planning Is Seen As Critical    86%
4    Technology Is A Competitive Advantage    82%
5.    They Prepare And Plan For Change    81%
6.    Ability To Attract/Retain Quality People    78%
7.    Technology And Training Is Up-To-Date    73%
8.    Leaders Involved In Strategic Change    62%
9.    Teamwork Approach To Challenges    62%
10.    Technology Seen As An Investment Not Expense    57%

Take the "How The Best Differ From The Rest" survey yourself and receive a personalized summary of your responses benchmarked against the results from over 300 CEO respondents.

For a limited time, you can download the 11-page "How The Best Differ From The Rest" research whitepaper, which includes a review of the 14 best-practices evaluated, where the lowest performers go wrong, what the top-performers do right, and where to put your focus.

The research findings are also presented with additional statistical validation in Chapter One, “How The Best Differ From The Rest”, from the award-winning business improvement handbook, Six Disciplines for Excellence, which is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and from the Six Disciplines store.

About Six Disciplines
Six Disciplines, a leader in strategy execution coaching, helps transform stalled organizations into high-performing organizations. Six Disciplines combines a proven business-building methodology, business coaching, innovative software, and an online community for accelerated learning. The Six Disciplines program is delivered by a growing network of licensed business coaches.

Six Disciplines regularly conducts research on topics related to strategy, planning, execution, process management, change management, business coaching, leadership development, measurement, team building, and innovation. To learn more, visit

Results of the survey results in this release may be used in print or broadcast media, provided credit is given to Six Disciplines.

Media Contact (For Interviews with CEO Gary Harpst and Additional Analysis of This Research):
Skip Reardon Phone: 567-208-4513 Twitter: @sreardon


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