Secrets of the Best – Learn Best Practices from Canada's Best Managed Companies



Published on November 21, 2017

For nearly 25 years, Canada’s Best Managed Companies program has recognized and celebrated private company excellence. During this time, we have had the opportunity to meet with and study thousands of the best private companies in Canada. This longevity has provided Deloitte with privileged and unique insight into the makings of a Best Managed company and how the best practices of this remarkable cohort of leading Canadian businesses continually evolves to keep pace with the times.

First, let’s take a look at how we evaluate these companies. The framework we use has evolved over the years, but it is based on four cornerstones that all successful businesses must demonstrate – Strategy, the Capability and focus to execute, world-class Commitment to the business through its leaders and people, and excellent Financial performance.

Over the years, we have seen the best practices of each of these companies and what they need to do in order to rank as one of Canada’s Best Managed companies.

We thought it would be valuable to share those best practices with you, in order to help you in your role as a business leader.


First let’s consider Strategy. One area of excellence for these businesses is the strong sense of direction and focus they bring to their business, as well as how they engage their people with their strategic decisions.  Trends we have noted include the following:

  • A significant increase in the focus on who the target customer is and, perhaps more importantly, who it is not, and using that information to make relevant choices on how to compete to win.
  • A substantial level of effort by companies towards communicating a strategic direction to its employees, avoiding the likelihood of failure experienced as a result of a confused vision and
  • Increased focused on measuring their strategic direction through selective focus on key metrics and milestones that demonstrate an organization is moving in the right direction

Closely following a focus on strategy has resulted in a significant increase in the effort by many of these businesses to redefine their mission, vison and values.  Over the last five years or so we have seen a marked number of businesses revisit their core vision and values as a means of increasing focus and positioning the business toward a higher purpose, thus ultimately allowing employees and leaders alike to bring more meaning into their work lives.

The challenge all businesses and professionals need to explore is whether they have spent the requisite time setting and articulating direction and if they have brought meaning to the work of their business. This effort brings rewards in terms of higher focus and commitment and the potential to transform work into a “life’s work.”


Having set and communicated direction and strategy, these companies are world-class when it comes to execution. To achieve this, they have increased focus by reducing priorities, increasing emphasis on technology, systems and processes, and measuring and embracing productivity and innovation as levers that allow them to do more with less, thus improving their ability to compete.

In order to execute, however, we have seen a consistent increase in the rigour around who is on the team and whether they have the right people to achieve the focused direction of the business. One CEO recently quipped that he periodically asks himself if he would enthusiastically re-hire the same executive team today. Best Managed companies may agonize over making the requisite team changes (which makes them human and therefore worth following) but they ultimately make the changes to give the business the leadership it needs to be successful.


Another area in which we see Best Managed companies distinguish themselves is how they excel in earning a higher level of commitment from their leaders and their people. We see this through deliberate investments in their culture and their people in some very focused ways. These companies disproportionately invest in consistently upskilling their team. Investment in people, their soft skills, leadership skills and technical and industry skills enables the companies to be nimble and skilled and demonstrates externally that these companies have the “best” people. 

At our annual symposium in Toronto last year, author Tom Peters spoke and articulated this investment as follows – “your customers will never be more satisfied than your employees and hence investing in their well-being and ability to serve only makes sense” – he went further and noted that we can’t guarantee people a job for life in today’s world, but we can guarantee that we will invest in them – this moral imperative is worth reflecting upon.


A business award that did not measure and require excellent financial performance would naturally strike us as hollow. Best Managed companies excel in this area by measuring and communicating what is important in the context of their businesses. Financial success is not easily assessed without fully understanding the strategic direction of a company and what levers the business really needs to monitor and control. The thoughtful approach to this analysis helps set Best Managed companies apart.

Modernizing financial leadership of the business, increasing expectations of the finance team as a business partner, increasing communication rather than simply measuring performance, maintaining appropriate risk and control measures and maintaining a healthy balance sheet are all additional areas all these companies emphasize.

So what does this mean for today’s financial executive in particular? Asking these questions will get you started on the right track:

  • How clear is the direction in the company and what can you do to help simplify the message?
  • What measures are available that will demonstrate the company is on track?
  • How capable is your team in achieving the goals of the finance team? Do you have the right group to achieve what you intend?

If you are struggling in any of these areas, begin to make the moves to both upskill the existing team and make the necessary changes to allow the finance team to be a full business partner. Challenge yourself in terms of your team’s commitment and what you can do to further engage the team. Finally, if you are satisfied that your team is effectively executing the basics and is clearly reporting what is important, then your next step will be to build your toolkit. Allow for excellence by increasing your ability to add value to the business using enhanced analytics and encouraging and rewarding more innovation and productivity from your team.



Peter E Brown Peter E. Brown
Peter is a Deloitte Partner, Global Leader of the Best Managed Companies program, member of the Global Private Company Leadership Team, and co-Leader for Canada’s Best Managed Companies program.



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