Key activity indicators of successful companies

What makes successful companies different? What a great research question, and one that the University of Strathclyde posited a couple years back. They followed up with 37 companies, in 8 EU countries and gathered over 1,000 stories (interview descriptions of processes and activities).

Catherine Maguire from Strathclyde was presenting their findings. They began with the CIM-OSA model of business processes (one I’m very familiar with as it formed a good chunk of my research career). Turns out my supervisor was on the advisory panel for this work also, small world!

Basically, CIM-OSA identified three key processes that all businesses do: Manage, Operate, and Support. The research focus has been around Operate (and to a lesser extent Support). The research group I was with in Plymouth did most of the early work developing a reference model for the Operate Process. Catherine was looking at the Manage process.

Being a very industry orientated researcher (probably why I wasn’t very good as an academic) I always suspected that the actually process maps were less interesting that the activities and practices they represented. In my own research I concentrated more on these activities and the social systems around them, than the formal modelling (drawing boxes & arrows).

Catherine’s group has now confirmed what we all ‘knew’ but hadn’t ‘proved’. The actual processes in successful companies are the same as for less successful companies. Successful companies are a bit more integrated; the big difference is in the “how”.

Hugh MacLeod from The Hughtrain

Hugh MacLeod from The Hughtrain

Or as the song goes, “It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it”…

There are a hundred+1 jobs to do when you’re running a business, and they’re all important. Fulfilling Orders and Getting Orders (to use process speak) are probably the most important, but I was talking to a HR exec a couple nights ago that insisted that hiring the best people was the most important because they’d then make the business work (might have been a vested interest there).

So where do you start?

The more successful companies were generally more mature in all their Manage activities but Strathclyde did find that there were around 15 activities that seemed to differentiate more successful from less successful companies.

What Catherine’s research has found is that given equal resources, and for their 37 companies, higher maturity in these 15 activities was a reliable indicator of a successful company. Catherine flashed the activities up on screen and they were largely around communication (as I’d expect) but I didn’t get a chance to write them down, hopefully I’ll be able to update this post shortly with that list.

I did ask if they’d looked at how the Manage Processes that these activities represented subsequently interacted with the Operate Processes. From a business change perspective you’re generally presented with a whole load of symptoms operationally and have to analyse your way back to root causes. This research could really help by making explicit some of the implicit links that are learned from practice.

I’m following up with Catherine to see if I can reproduce that list of Activities here together with links to the online tool they’ve developed to help companies self-rate themselves.

Personally I can’t hold 15 things in my head simultaneously; what 5 activities are embedded in your organisation that differenciate you from the competition?

2 thoughts on “Key activity indicators of successful companies

  1. Good post! I have a book in my ‘to read’ pile at the moment (Good to Great by Jim Collins) which is on a simular topic (I think). Might be worth a look if you haven’t read it already.

  2. Thanks Matt, I’ve just downloaded Jim’s “Good to Great” pdf diagnostic paper. It’s a bit more jingoistic (which you’d expect from an airport management book) but many similar concepts.

    I’m still trying to get Strathclyde to release their list of activities, I think they’re holding off until a few more papers have been published. Will do a compare & contrast when I can.