What is a great enterprise, be it a great company or a great social sector enterprise? Not how you build one, but what is a great organization—what are the criteria of greatness? There are three tests: Superior Results, Distinctive Impact, and Lasting Endurance.
In business, performance is defined by financial results—return on invested capital—and achievement of corporate purpose. In the social sectors, performance is defined by results and efficiency in delivering on the social mission. But whether business or social, you must achieve top-flight results. To use an analogy, if you are a sports team, you must win championships; if you don’t find a way to win at your chosen game, you cannot be considered truly great.
A truly great enterprise makes such a unique contribution to the communities it touches, and does its work with such unadulterated excellence that, if it were to disappear, it would leave a gaping hole that could not be easily filled by any other institution on the planet. If your organization went away, who would miss it, and why? This does not require being big; think of a small but fabulous local restaurant that would be terribly missed if it disappeared. Big does not equal great, and great does not equal big.
A truly great organization prospers over a long period of time, beyond any great idea, market opportunity, technology cycle, or well-funded program. When clobbered by setbacks, it finds a way to bounce back stronger than before. A great enterprise transcends dependence on any single extraordinary leader; if your organization cannot be great without you, then it is not yet a truly great organization.
Finally, I caution against ever believing that your organization has achieved an end-state of greatness. To be built to last means embracing the idea that good to great is never done. No matter how far we have gone, or how much we have achieved, we are merely good relative to what we can do next. Greatness is an inherently dynamic process, not an end point. The moment you think of yourself as great, your slide toward mediocrity will have already begun.