The Will To Be Great

As a marketer and communicator, I have long been a student and admirer of great companies. What these companies do to innovate, create great new products, redefine their categories or consistently rank as top performers fascinates me.

Of course, there are companies in all industries that have established their own disciplines for excellence. The management strategies employed by Ritz Carlton, for example, are different from those at Apple, but one characteristic stands out among all companies that achieve (or aspire to achieve) greatness: The will to be great.

Girls can do anything!

Willfulness. I hadn’t thought much about this apparently obvious attribute until some colleagues from D.A. Davidson and I visited the headquarters of Robert W Baird & Co. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a few years ago. Baird and Davidson have similar business models and we were interested in learning more about some of their best practices and processes. Mostly, we were eager to understand their ongoing success earning a spot on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Baird’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Leslie Dixon, led the discussion. Beginning with documented research detailing the measurable economic benefits of being a great employer, Ms. Dixon went on to say that attracting and retaining great people was, ultimately, a function of will. “Great companies”, she said, “must have the will to adopt and execute policies and practices that make them great. It’s hard work that demands resolve and determination.”

Most leaders think of their companies as good, if not great, places to work. But knowing you operate a great place to work takes the discussion to an entirely different level. It requires a determined, ongoing effort to engage and support people. It is deliberate. It is constant. And at Baird, it’s still working. In 2014, they ranked no. 9 on the list for the eleventh consecutive year. You can read more about it here.

You may be asking what Baird’s will to be a great place to work has to do with marketing. I would argue that, regardless of the company, a great place to work has a huge advantage from a marketing perspective. An engaged, happy workforce delivers better customer service. It acts as an army of brand ambassadors. Employees given appropriate resources and support are good neighbors and citizens, earning good will in their communities.

The importance of will applies to marketing strategies as well. Steve Jobs’ will to bring Apple’s revolutionary technology and design to market is legendary. Ritz Carlton’s will to engage with its associates and guests is prevalent in every aspect of the enterprise.

These are just a few companies among many with the will to do something important and do it brilliantly well. Can you or your company say the same? Ask yourself these three questions…

  1. How does my company distinguish itself, operationally or in the marketplace? (Superior service? Better performance? Lower prices?)
  2. Are the qualities described in these claims supported by policies and practices designed specifically to uphold them?
  3. Do you conduct regular testing or research to measure the validity and value of the qualities you espouse?

If your answers to these questions are yes, then you can safely say that you possess the will to be great. If you answered no to any one of them, can you be sure you are delivering what you say you are?