A Map for Success (Guest Commentary)

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Arkansas as evidenced by this year's Arkansas Business of the Year competition. We were honored to be named the 2010 Arkansas Business of the Year in the mid-size category (26-75 employees). Just two weeks after that, we also received two prestigious national awards: 2011 Small Agency of the Year and honorable mention for 2011 Agency of the Year in the PRWeek annual awards competition.

People often ask me to share the story of our company's success. I came to Arkansas in 1995 with both corporate and agency public relations experience but was determined to establish my own strategic communications firm. I found the state and the region to be business-friendly as well as business-minded. Over the past 16 years, we've expanded our capabilities and established a team of communications experts serving national clients in numerous industries. We've enjoyed exponential growth and have earned the opportunity to work with companies like Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt and Southwestern Energy Co.

Our success is due to many factors including having Arkansas as our headquarters home and a four-point approach to growth that might be valuable to other growth-minded companies:

• Develop a road map.
In the early years, we spent so much time working in the business that little time was left to work on it. With a rapidly growing company, we needed a new road map to help us serve our clients at an even greater level of excellence. We focused on expanding systems and processes, emphasizing our unique culture, hiring all-star talent from across the country and actively managing growth.

We also created an operations assessment tool to help us evaluate each aspect of the business. This helped us make the changes and investments necessary to expand and prioritize company needs.

• Define a direction.
I've always been guided by my personal beliefs and passion for the business, but we needed something more concrete to help us establish a "true north" direction. Together our employee group defined five core values: trust, open communication, service, results and commitment.

To bring those values to life, we established a monthly, companywide "Bright Spots" meeting to celebrate successes. We also launched "Ignite," a powerful pay-it-forward program where company money and time is earmarked for employees to perform random acts of kindness in the community.

• Avoid target fixation.
Undoubtedly, the events of the past few years have changed how people do business. I wanted to look further down the road to anticipate long-term impacts. As a result, we've made a number of changes.

We're willing to accept a higher degree of uncertainty in order to leverage potential opportunities. For example, we've based hiring on forecasted business growth and invested in top-notch talent rather than hunkering down with a wait-and-see mentality. This is based on my belief that excellence attracts excellence, and our client work has been expanding because we continue to add exceptional talent.

I've also spent more one-on-one time with our leaders and enabled them to guide more of the business overall. This has not only stretched our leadership team, but freed me to continue looking up.

• Make the journey matter.
I've always been focused on the destination, but in so doing I realized I had missed much of the journey along the way. Some things in life are meant to be experienced, not accomplished. Over the past few years, I've taken up motorcycling, long-distance running and fly-fishing, and the experiences have brought new joy to my life. I've encouraged our leadership team to spend more time on personal pursuits to create more balance to the intense focus we have on the business.

Our approach has helped us manage the growth that has come our way. It has also helped us leverage new opportunities and continuously improve ourselves and our company.

Elise S. Mitchell is president and CEO of Mitchell Communications Group of Fayetteville. E-mail her at Elise.Mitchell@MitchCommGroup.com.