It’s natural in business to become focused on the world around you. It’s your partnerships with customers, peers and suppliers, after all, that balance out to create your revenues. But, no matter how hard you look to the outside, a business that fails to watch its internal practices will often find the economic tides hard to withstand.

Enter Tier 1 Performance Solutions.

Tier 1, founded in 2002, may never be a household name, but its co-founders don’t lose sleep over that. What the company fails to gain in consumer notoriety, it more than makes up for in corporate circles. A diversified training, education and knowledge services provider, Tier 1 provides a range of internal enhancement solutions to commercial, government and non-profit organizations.

“It’s very important for us to span across those three markets,” says Normand Desmarais, a founding member. “It shelters us from any issues with the economy and gives us a much broader basis to grow this business. If any sector has a downturn, it won’t have a devastating effect on our company.”

Like all start-ups, Tier 1 came from relatively humble beginnings, initially using small local accounting, legal and payroll firms as service providers, and using friends and family to fill the workforce gaps.

Tier 1 did, however, have a few advantages not every new company enjoys. Before Tier 1 was launched, Desmarais, Kevin Moore, now chief learning officer of Tier 1, and Greg Harmeyer, now chief executive officer of Tier 1, were part owners of A.F. Kelly, a business solutions company that was sold in 2002. Desmarais and Moore took some capital they had leftover from A.F. Kelly, the significant network they’d built and a few key clients — Wendy’s, FedEx and Rockwell Collins, a communications and aviation electronics company — and started Tier 1. Desmarais and Moore brought on Harmeyer after the company was formed.

In addition, Tier 1 benefited from a business incubator program in Northern Kentucky known as the Northern Kentucky ezone, a division of the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation.

The incubator helped the entrepreneurs improve their operations. “The help we got was them kicking us in the pants to make sure we had the right business practices in place,” Desmarais says.

While it’s enjoyed advantages, however, Tier 1 does hit rough patches.

“One of things we grapple with is hiring the right people for our business,” Desmarais says. “We’re still looking for very talented and qualified individuals, and we’re finding that it’s not an easy task. There are lots of wonderful people in the Greater Cincinnati Region, and we’re finding them, but it’s a challenge.”

For examples of the kind of work Tier 1 does, Desmarais points to the employee training it recently developed for Wendy’s restaurants in the United States and Canada. He also points to the web portal Tier 1 developed for FedEx. The portal will allow FedEx employees to share best practices as the company rolls out a new business-marketing department. At Cincinnati-based Cintas, Tier 1 helps the engineering safety group to communicate across various locations.

While those are just a few examples, Desmarais says they are indicative of most of Tier 1’s business. All large companies have to frequently adjust to meet market demands and take constant stock of what they’re doing well and what they could improve. If changes are implemented and a memo is lost somewhere down the line, then valuable time and money can be wasted in an extended retooling process.

“Those initiatives can reach out to hundreds of thousands of employees across the globe. How do you communicate to and educate all of those folks? That’s a significant logistical challenge, and that’s what Tier 1 is doing for these organizations,” Desmarais says. Sometimes, he says, it’s how to best reach the customer, but most of the time, it’s reevaluating jobs internally to help employees perform better.

Employee performance has paid off for Tier 1. It has enjoyed tremendous expansion, makingInc.magazine’s 5,000 list for fast growth two years running. In addition, Tier 1 was a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Blue Ribbon winner in 2007 and 2008, and earned the 2008 Project Management Institute’s Excellence in Project Management Award. Desmarais, Moore and Harmeyer also shared the 2007 SBA Kentucky Small Businessperson of the Year award.

As the company grows, it needs new locations to accommodate its ever-expanding business. Branches are currently opening in Denver and Atlanta, and future branches are planned to open later this year in Chicago and Columbus. Several other U.S. locations are also flagged for possible plant branches further down the road, but Desmarais says he wants to see how the four new locations fare first.

With a growth rate of about 50 percent per year, Tier 1 shouldn’t have much trouble proving that helping people do their jobs better pays off for everyone.