Sound Business Habits and Best Practices of Good Companies

August 2004


Randall Scasny

Why discuss successful habits or best practices of good companies in a job advice column? Well, for starters, becoming familiar with these widely accepted standards of business excellence can help you ask questions during a job interview.

More importantly, the answers the company provides will help you size it up and eliminate job offers from companies that do not have your values as well as give you some "insurance" that a company you decide to work for will be the sort of company you will enjoy working for.

This topic may surprise you, especially if you are a retiree. If the military has anything, it has processes, standards, requirements, etc. that define missions and standards of performance.

One would expect that all companies practice sound business habits to guide their work. It's been my experience, they don't. Especially entrepreneurial ventures that conduct business like barnstorming pilots of a century ago, that is, "flying by the seat of their pants."

Imagine yourself working in an organization that is unstructured, without a chain of command and where standard operating procedures change on a whim? Most would answer this question with a firm, "No!"

It's good to be mindful of generally accepted sound habits and best business practices. They give an indication of how well or not companies are managed. And well managed companies generally are stable, profitable and enjoyable places to work.

Sound business habits and best practices of good companies come in two categories:

Tangible Processes: Quality Management Systems

One tangible way to get a sense of how well a company is managed is by finding out how they manage quality. In a general sense, quality can be defined as the successful accomplishment of a mission's requirements according to a set of standards.

There are two popular quality management systems (QMS) implemented by private industry: IS0 9000 and Six Sigma (see references below). While IS0 9000 is described as a QMS, Six Sigma can be described as both a QMS and business philosophy.

The certification for either program is time consuming, expensive and arduous. Companies that achieve certification are indeed a cut above the rest. Most defense industry contractors are IS0 9000 certified. Boeing, Northrup Grumman, CACI, Lockheed Martin, etc. to name a few.

It is interesting to note that some companies are compelled to achieve certification because of their customers' contract requirements. No matter what reason caused them to get certified, the corporate culture and management mindset changes for the better as a result of it!

Learning during an interview if a company is QMS certified can help a job candidate determine how sophisticated a company's back office processes, so to speak, really are. Of course, just because a company is not certified, does not mean they are not well managed. But these certifications can tell a job hunter that the management has taken a deep look at how they operate and that self-reflection in itself is an achievement.

Intangible Processes: Management Habits

The intangible processes are common habits management uses to motivate its employees for excellent performance. The military may group these processes under terms such as duty, honor, espirit de corps.

In private industry, these processes focus on improving work environments, employee utilization and happiness. (I'll only discuss of few of them. After defining each point, I'll suggest questions a job candidate can ask during a job interview.)

Core Values and Ideology: Most companies have mission statements. These statements should tell a job candidate what a company's core ideology or values are. Here are two excerpts of mission statements that delineate a company's values:

1. Service to the customer above all else.
2. We are in the business of preserving and improving human life.

As you can see, these statements do not mention profit or growth. They are values that form the foundation of the company that, if implemented successfully, will create wealth and stimulate growth.

How can you use these statements during a job interview? Well, ask the interviewer if the company has a mission statement. If it does, ask them to give an example how they demonstrated the statement.

If nothing else, this will create a lively discussion. And that's is exactly what you want to do. Only with good discussions with a potential employer that veer from the interview "program" can you obtain valuable information to make a decision.

Innovation: The best new jobs created in the U.S. economy are the result of new innovations. (One example of this is the burgeoning nanotechnology industry where materials are modified on a molecular level to improve their operating characteristics.)

Most companies need to innovate in some fashion to be competitive. Asking an interviewer to describe an innovative process, service or product of the company would be a great springboard for you to learn about the product development side of the company.

Promoting Managers From Within Organization: I have worked for companies that promote their managers from the ground up as well as for companies who find candidates from outside the company. I have found that promoting managers from within the organization makes for a smoother working environment.

People already within an organization know how it works and how to get things done. They know the company's products. In addition, promoting from within gives ambitious employees the incentive to perform above expectations to get promoted.

Of course, one can argue that a manager from outside the organization can bring to it a fresh outlook, new ideas and leadership that an under-performing department or division, for instance, needs.

While I agree there are necessary exceptions, I've found promoted new managers make the transition better than outside managers. A simple question to ask an interviewer would be to describe the career path of an employee such as yourself.

Giving Employees A Sense of Ownership: Employee satisfaction is achieved by more than money and benefits. People want to feel they are doing a good job and their co-workers and boss believe they are doing a good job. Micro-managed employees are rarely happy.

The happiest workers are those who feel they "own their job" and feel empowered by it. Asking an interviewer to describe how the company gives a sense of job ownership would be another great interview discussion.

. . .

In this article, I've covered only a few of the sound business habits and best practices of good companies. (In this short article, I couldn't cover all of them.)

Asking any one of the questions I have suggested above can provide an interviewee with an insight to a company he or she would lack had they just asked about benefits and the 401k plan.

If you've been offered a job by a company, or have more than one offer to consider, the above questions should give you some way to decide in a methodical fashion, based upon some known standards, whether one or the other is a good fit for you and the next step for your career transition.

Good Luck In Your Job Search!


Note: These references are links to articles or websites mentioned in this article.

All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily express the opinions of or the publisher.