10 Signs of a Great Organization

You need a north star.

Inc. magazine recently printed 10 signs of greatness in a company.

I thought the list was spot on—and that the traits of a great company also translate to a great non-profit, school, organization or City Hall.

Here’s the Inc. list with a few comments from a guy (that would be me) who has worked and volunteered in great places, good places and horrendous places over the past 31 years.

  1. Everyone is having fun—Inc. calls fun the “ultimate entry point for greatness.” I agree. And isn’t that a great sentiment? Fun environments are freeing, creative, productive, entrepreneurial and almost always successful. Fun attracts and retains talent, investment and ideas. “Without a sense of fun and creativity, forget ever achieving any level of greatness. To be great, you have to be a beacon.”
  2. No one is pedantic—Inc.’s John Brandon believes pedantry kills all progress and creativity. “When everyone acts like they know everything, when they are slavishly devoted to rules and when they are fussy, finicky, strict and overly fastidious, then nothing good will happen,” according to the magazine. A good point—flexibility and a willingness to experiment (and fail) enables greatness to occur.
  3. Empathy Abounds—Brandon defines empathy as an ability to see another point of view. “I’m going to help you, you’re going to help me,” he writes. “That’s called teamwork.”So take a look at your organization. Is there infighting? Do people work together, or work to undermine each other? Do key organizations and partners feel supported or neglected and or put upon?
  4. Expectations are Crystal Clear to Everyone—When bosses hoard information it breeds distrust and leads to everyone shooting in the dark. When you have a north star, or “true north” as author Bill George calls it, it enables people to focus. It also allows for true accountability versus a culture of random punishment. Goals should not be a well-kept secret. Stakeholders need to know the end game in order to have buy in to the organization.
  5. Grace is Prevalent—What if you fall short of your goals? Showing grace instead of a demeaning, belittling attitude is what makes a company great. “Grace is a license to fail,” says Inc.’s Brandon. But it’s not an excuse, it’s also a license to try new things, work hard and stick around. A culture of criticism kills momentum, instills fear and kills progress. “A culture of grace, encouragement, understanding and excitement will turn any organization into a giant,” says Brandon.
  6. Roles are Clearly Defined—In dysfunctional organizations, people often don’t know what they’re doing or where they fit in the big picture. This type of culture creates organizational anxiety. Employees need to be empowered not stifled.
  7. Everyone sees and rewards hard work—When companies treat employees like cattle that need to be silenced, cowed (no pun intended) and herded you will surely fail. If hard work and success are celebrated, you will succeed and learn.
  8. Every Employee is Happy—Happy employees create dynamic environments, according to Inc. An unhappy group ensures your enterprise will sink.
  9. Mentoring is more important than performance—“Being beaten into submission by an angry boss won’t work; mentoring will,” writes Brandon. “A great company is one where the most important knowledge is handed down from one employee to the next in a way that’s built on the foundation of individual relationships.” To this I would add to beware of the narcissistic “leader” who only feels good when he disparages everyone else. How do you tell if you are dealing with a narcissist? Here’s one tell-tale sign: If it’s not their idea, they aren’t interested. Narcissists in powerful positions will topple your enterprise faster than you can read this sentence.
  10. There’s a great leader—“Behind every great company is a great leader,” says Brandon. “A great leader has an attitude that generates enthusiasm and happiness among the staff. It’s contagious.” Meanwhile, corrosive leadership destroys any and all progress or chances for success.


  1. Please hang this in City Hall, maybe where the achievements and long-term goals used to be…

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