Creating the high-performing company

When speaker Bill Morris, Country Managing Director for Accenture, took to the podium before a record crowd at the Toronto Board of Trade recently, he began by apparently biting the hand that was feeding him – and everyone else at the Technology Innovators Series breakfast.

In view of such advances as speed-of-light communication, dispersed workforces, borderless trade and competition that never sleeps, Morris wondered out loud whether organizations with distinct regional interests, such as the Toronto Board of Trade, have been reduced to “obsolete relics of a bygone business era”.

Morris proceeded to offer his view of what it takes to be a world-class, high-performing organization. Drawing on the findings of an Accenture study, he said that high performers have three common characteristics: they compete in the right place at the right time and in the right way, they dare to be different, and they empower their people to do extraordinary things.

He added that when it comes to creating high-performance companies, Canada can do it, but we don’t do it nearly often enough. He then cited three examples of high-performing Canadian organizations.

“Magna International shines in the tumultuous auto sector,” he said, adding that three things make the company stand out. First, P&L drives everyone’s bonuses, fostering a business owner mentality; second, Magna has used perfectly timed acquisitions to compete effectively, becoming a very stable one-stop shop in an industry that has seen a slew of bankruptcies; third, the company has dared to be different, creating a role for themselves as a design partner and industry innovator, rather than just a parts jobber.

“Daring to be different challenges everyone’s roles and expectations and often empowers people to do extraordinary things,” said Morris. And as a prime example, he cited Encana. “People thought Encana was crazy when they chose a strategy that based the future of the company on people rather than conventional energy sources. Engineering brilliance and sophisticated risk and project management are the new people-centric energy resources now driving Encana’s remarkable success.”

When it comes to the three indicators of high-performance, one Canadian firm has shown “the ability to deliver the perfect triple-play”: CN. It became the leading North American railroad by being in the right place at the right time – shifting its traditional east-west axis to north-south. It dared to be different by creating an industry-leading scheduling capability, and putting relentless focus on being on time. And CN’s people learn to do extraordinary things, largely due to the efforts of CEO Hunter Harrison, who personally runs 18 “Hunter Camps” a year, spending 54 days exclusively devoted to building his people.

Morris offered advice to attending firms as to what they can do to help create national champions. “We must encourage smarter regulation and make this city, province and country the go-to place for talent – and champions will follow,” he said.

Aging workforces mean there is a growing international war for talent, but it’s a war that plays right into Canada’s strengths, and Toronto’s in particular, he noted. The city’s leadership in immigration, combined with our immigration policies will become a huge competitive advantage.

“Our future relies on attracting and keeping just these kinds of ‘first round draft choices’ from the international job pool,” he said.

To the relief of his host, Morris concluded that “IT has made the very things that Toronto embodies all the more relevant, and the role of the Toronto Board of Trade even more vital.”

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