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Up to speed

Fast Companyis a magazine for, about and inspirational to organizations that embody the attributes that define the best ways to compete, work, and win. In "Is Your Company Up To Speed," from the June 2003 issue, Fast Company poses these questions to businesses who want to be "fast." Does your strategy buck the conventional wisdom? Are you as committed to creating new leaders as you are to launching new products? Is your organization built for speed? Here are 10 make-or-break questions to evaluate your restaurant's performance: 

1. Do you have an emotional bond with your customers? 

Competing strictly on price, quality, and features is the road that most companies travel. But in a world of overcapacity and sensory overload, there will always be some company that can do things a little cheaper or better than you can.

Companies that prosper over the long term don't just offer good deals. They exude genuine affection for their customers. How else to explain the enthusiasm that Internet shoppers display for Amazon and its palpable devotion to customers? Folks who buy bikes from Harley-Davidson are so nuts about them that Harley has created a program to reassure potential customers that they can buy a Harley without being a fanatic.

2. Does your strategy stand out from the crowd?
You can't do great things for your shareholders if you're satisfied with doing things "a little better" than your rivals. If you want to win big, you have to think different. That's the strategic lesson of the dominance of Dell in the computer business, of Southwest Airlines' 30-year flight to growth and profitability in an industry oozing red ink, and of the fast rise of Washington Mutual in an industry in which most big players are slashing costs, cutting branches, and downsizing customer expectations.

Behind the success of each of these companies are strategic ideas that challenged the status quo in their industry. That's why so many companies that are leaders today were once dismissed as mavericks, wild cards, insurgents. Their strategies seemed unfamiliar and even strange to the incumbent powers — many of whom now look longingly at what the mavericks have built. Today, the acid test of strategy is originality.

3. Are you a fun place to work — and a fun organization to do business with?
The most productive companies tend to be the most playful companies. Think of Southwest Airlines and the experience of flying on one of its planes. There's a reason that the experience often feels so entertaining: Southwest evaluates job candidates in part on their sense of humor. You don't have to be downbeat to be disciplined. People are hungry for a workplace that doesn't always feel like work -- where they're invited to express their personality, to bring their personal interests to the office, to laugh as well as buckle down.

Likewise, the most successful products tend to be the ones that bring a smile to the face of customers: Who's not happy after eating a Krispy Kreme doughnut, purchased in a colorful shop with a see-through window into the doughnut-making equipment?

4. Are you built to change?
The only certainty in business today is that some crucial elements of your strategy — the competitive landscape, your customer's expectations, the underlying economics of your industry -- will be different tomorrow. The half-life of a great idea, a new product, or a popular marketing campaign has never been shorter. That's why change itself has become a core capability in organizations that prosper over the long term. The best companies may look to the past as a source of inspiration, but they don't allow it to become an excuse for imitation. They look to history for continuity but not for repetition.

5. Do you embrace the value of values?
Today, more than ever, customers don't just ask, What products do you make? They also ask, What values do you stand for? The company with the clearest sense of purpose wins. That's why Whole Foods Market logs head-spinning growth in the supermarket business. The company's fierce commitment to its fresh, nutritious products keeps its customers believing and its employees working hard. Starbucks Coffee is another case in point. At the heart of its success is not just premium coffee or fashionable outlets; it's a worldview — the allure of an affordable luxury — that connects with customers and attracts a certain kind of employee.

6. Are you as disciplined as you are creative?
Creating long-run value means delivering short-run results — every quarter, every week. There is no contradiction between creativity and execution. Indeed, the most innovative companies tend to be the most disciplined when it comes to making their numbers.

What's so noteworthy about such business game changers as Cisco Systems, FedEx, and Wal-Mart is how seamlessly they combine cutting-edge strategies with real-time information — and metrics that let senior executives (and in-the-trenches managers) know how well the company is doing at any moment in time. Fast companies understand that what gets measured really does get attention -- so they pay attention to what they measure.

7. Are you winning the battle for talent?
You can't keep your customers happy if your organization is filled with people who are unhappy (or untalented). And if you want to fill your company with great ideas (see question 2), then you have to fill it with smart people. Fast companies recognize both of these principles, which is why they treat the human element in business — whom they hire, whom they promote, how they keep everyone motivated — just as seriously, just as creatively, just as rigorously as they treat finance, R&D, or marketing. [Fast] companies understand that the best way to win battles in the product market or the financial markets is first to win the battle in the talent market.

8. Do you use technology to change expectations and reshape your business?
Most companies have lost their zeal for tech-driven transformation. But fast companies keep the faith. They believe that the Internet remains the most powerful laboratory for business experimentation ever. It transforms how people work together, how companies interact with customers, and the economics of entire industries. There is nothing more disruptive today than an original strategic insight fueled by a savvy application of computers and communication.

9. Are you built for speed?
Being fast doesn't mean being reckless. But fast companies do understand the cost of hesitation and delay — whether it's responding to a customer complaint or launching a new product. Successful companies know that time is as valuable a resource as money or head count.

10. Have you built a company of leaders?
There's much more to leadership than the vision and charisma of the CEO. The most effective form of leadership is grassroots leadership: The companies with the most confident and committed leaders, deepest in the ranks, are the companies that win.

We've provided some links to related Trade Secrets to help you build the momentum you need to get up to speed. For thefull Fast Company article, take a look on their web site.

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