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updated 5/13/2014 5:17:18 PM ET 2014-05-13T21:17:18

Companies are outwardly different. One makes machine tools, another makes software, others want to sell you lunch or do your bookkeeping. Those differences are superficial. The most successful companies share five core characteristics.

1. Leadership at all levels. Leadership has to start at the top but it isn't great unless it spreads throughout the organization. The most successful companies recognize effective leaders and harness them to maximize results.

Related: 7 Ways to Become a Better Leader

2. Applied wisdom.When  an organization shares important information across the organization and applies that information to improve results, that is applied wisdom. Applied wisdom is sharing internal best practices and knowledge about customers across departments. Strategy is comminicated all the way to the front lines and successful practices are replicated across the organization.

3. Effective communication. Successful companies communicate the overall strategy so every person in the organization understands his or her role. Strategy, like the champagne tower at a wedding, starts at the top but cascades throughout the organization. Just as champagne must fill every glass for the tower to work, every employee must know their part in the strategy for it to succeed. Effective communication requires transparency and candor.

Related: Time for a Company Culture Audit

4. Speed optimization. Successful organizations know when to accelerate and when to slow based on indicators built into their processes. Think of a subway or train system. Stations are milestones, signals tell the engineer when to go faster or slower, depending on what is ahead. What are your indicators to determine your optimum speed?

5. Find money where others don’t look. Successful companies turn customer complaints into new business. They focus on customer retention, not customer service. 

How many of these five characteristics can you confidently say your organization has? That answer alone will tell you where your greatest opportunity for improved performance lies.

Related: Customer Retention Begins on the Front Lines

Copyright © 2013 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.

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