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Best Practices of the Best Companies: The Agenda Archives

In April 1998, Fast Company introduced The Agenda: an annual awards issue that recognizes companies for excellence in grassroots leadership, humane technology, total teamwork, and sustainable growth. At a time when change is fast, powerful, and relentless, when the flow of information is overwhelming, when anything seems possible, these categories suggest what matters — not just what is doable, but what is worth doing.

In April 1998, Fast Company introduced The Agenda: an annual awards issue that recognizes companies for excellence in grassroots leadership, humane technology, total teamwork, and sustainable growth. At a time when change is fast, powerful, and relentless, when the flow of information is overwhelming, when anything seems possible, these categories suggest what matters — not just what is doable, but what is worth doing.

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Here is Fast Company’s best of the best — a list of the innovative, relentless companies that we hold in the highest regard and the stories that demonstrate those winning practices.

New This Year

Agenda Items
Fast Company’s collection of best-of-the-best innovations — technologies that set the business agenda.

What’s on Your Agenda?
Confusing times demand clear thinking and focused execution. We asked 10 executives and thinkers to explain the most crucial item on their leadership agenda.

Sound Off
Share the vision, ideas, and lessons on your agenda!

Best Practices of the Best Companies

2001

U.S. Military Academy
Grassroots Leadership
If Harvard Business School is the West Point of capitalism, then where is the West Point of leadership? It’s in West Point, New York. Here’s how raw cadets become resilient commanders.

Action Items
The five leadership qualities that give West Point graduates an edge over the competition.

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Hindustan Lever
Strategic Innovation
Most giant global companies focus on the same market: middle-class consumers in rich countries. Hindustan Lever focuses on India’s rural poor. Meeting their needs isn’t just about lowering prices. It’s about developing products and processes that do more with less.

Web-Exclusive Feature
Hindustan Lever’s strategic ingenuity has the potential to improve the quality of life for India’s rural citizens. Now the company is exporting those ideas to other parts of the world — from Indonesia to the Congo.

Action Items
A high-growth agenda for strategists looking to address rural customers.


EMC Corp.
Customer Service
Under the leadership of Mike Ruettgers, EMC bounces back from a near-death experience to become one of the “four horsemen of the Internet.” At the heart of EMC’s rise has been its fanatical devotion to customer service. The company has benefited from this critical insight: If you want service to pay off, don’t treat it as a profit center.

Action Items
On-site product upgrades maximize flexibility and minimize errors.


2000

Ford Motor Co.
Grassroots Leadership
As part of a cultural overhaul, Ford is embarking on a sweeping attempt to mass-manufacture leaders. It wants to build an army of “warrior-entrepreneurs” — people who have the courage and skills to topple old ideas and who believe in change passionately enough to make it happen.

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Action Items
Six rules for new business leaders from a Ford veteran and mentor.


Imagination Ltd.
Total Teamwork
Teamwork is how Imagination works. As the company creates interesting experiences for its customers — and for its customers’ customers — it is also creating a space at its own headquarters in which “the team experience” flourishes.

Action Items
Four steps for herding an extraordinary collection of talent into fast-working, high-performance teams.


MicroStrategy Inc.
People and Technology
MicroStrategy Inc. is setting the agenda for leveraging digital technology to create a fast, focused, and well-run organization; to strengthen relationships with customers, suppliers, and partners; and to cultivate new market opportunities.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“If I had more experience, if I was more careful, if I was more competent, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

Web-Exclusive Feature
A year after MicroStrategy Inc. made our Agenda issue for its visionary use of the Web, the company’s outspoken CEO shares the key to surviving a nearly catastrophic crash.

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Action Items
Four rules for a young, aggressive company that’s applying the latest technology to its internal and external operations.


Pioneer Human Services
Social Justice
One of the largest self-sustaining nonprofits in the country, Pioneer has succeeded as a business by employing society’s most marginalized people, many of whom have been deemed unemployable by other companies.

Action Items
Four key points of a nonprofit agenda that emphasizes performance as well as people.


1999

Navy Commander D. Michael Abrashoff
Grassroots Leadership
D. Michael Abrashoff sees his mission as nothing less than the reorientation of a famously rigid 200-year-old hierarchy. His aim: to focus on purpose rather than on chain of command.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“I let people know that there’s no excuse not to change.”

Action Items
Five rules for running a tight ship with grassroots leadership.

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The Freeplay Group
Social Justice
The Freeplay Group, based in Cape Town, South Africa, builds products that capture the imagination of the world — and that change the world.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“We’re trying to go from being funky and by-the-seat-of-our-pants to being more organized.”

Special Report
The Freeplay Group announces major layoffs.

Action Items
Five principles for making a difference as well as making a profit.


Mayo Clinic
Total Teamwork
Teams of doctors, nurses, and technicians at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic bring new-economy practices to “old-fashioned” medicine.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“It’s crucial that the people who make decisions actually know how those decisions will affect patients.”

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Action Items
Five principles that define Mayo-style teamwork.


Tivoli Systems
Fast Change
Tivoli Systems Inc., a fast-growing outfit that was acquired by IBM, is teaching Big Blue how to move.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“I don’t want to use the word ‘structure,’ but there are now more things in place to help us manage a large global operation.”

Action Items
Five rules for blending the power of a corporate giant with the agility of a startup.


1998

Interface Inc.
Sustainable Growth
Ray Anderson of Interface Inc. points the way to high profitability and zero waste — a future that merges economic growth with social responsibility.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“I want to pioneer the company of the next industrial revolution.”

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Action Items
Seven ways to achieve sustainable growth and environmentally friendly production.


PeopleSoft Inc.
Human Technology
David Duffield of PeopleSoft Inc. shows how powerful computers, linked to a worldwide network, can generate productivity — and let loose the human spirit.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“You can’t grow by 100% per year forever.”

Action Items
How to develop cutting-edge technology that respects and nurtures its users.


Royal Dutch/Shell Group
Grassroots Leadership
Steve Miller of Royal Dutch/Shell offers a powerful model of what leadership means — a recognition that commitment and creativity come from all parts and all levels of an organization.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“We’re scrambling to keep up with the phenomenal rate of learning around here.”

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Web-Exclusive Feature
Steve Miller marshaled a diverse group of Royal Dutch/Shell employees to transform the company’s operations in Europe. Now, as president, chairman of the board, and CEO of Shell Oil Co., he is using that same grassroots approach to meet a new challenge: diversity itself.

Action Items
Shell’s guidelines for pumping up leadership at all levels.


SEI Investments
Total Teamwork
Al West of SEI Investments lays out the advantages of a fast and agile organization that practices one-for-all, all-for-one collaboration.

Updating the Agenda: One Year Later
“We couldn’t have achieved our current level of growth and success within a hierarchy.”

Action Items
Four important lessons for achieving total teamwork.