Business Center

Outstanding Organization

The Outstanding Organization: Generate Business Results by Eliminating Chaos and Building the Foundation for Everyday Excellence

outstanding organization

Author: Karen Martin
ISBN number: 9780071782371
Posted: June 4, 2014
Summary by Melissa Ly, a CDOT intern from the University of Colorado Denver

Book Review: "Too often, outstanding performance seems out of reach. Karen Martin explains, with elegant simplicity, why so many organizations 'can't get there from here.' Better yet, she provides clear, actionable advice on building a foundation that will allow anyone to achieve excellence." -Matthew E. May, author, The Laws of Subtraction

Process improvement efforts are not always long-withstanding or successful. It appears many businesses are not able to make greater strides with their adopted improvement methodologies and efforts, preventing these organizations from becoming outstanding organizations. The reason for the improvement method shortcomings, according to principal consultant Karen Martin of Karen Martin & Associates, LLC, is the organization’s self-inflicted chaos. Karen Martin’s book, The Outstanding Organization, maps out the foundation for an organization to be outstanding by presenting the tools to combat internal chaos.

Martin approaches this internal chaos by first identifying characteristics of outstanding organizations and pin-pointing chaos-causing behaviors, which include:

  • lack of clarity
  • lack of focus
  • lack of discipline
  • lack of engagement

Martin then provides tools to approach these sources of chaos.

Outstanding Organization

Outstanding organizations are those that “consistently deliver high value, relative to the alternatives, to stakeholders for years, if not decades.” If an organization is outstanding, they often have three consistent capabilities:

  1. Problem solving. Outstanding organizations can teach effective problem solving using a detailed methodology.
  2. Continuous improvement. This is a cultural mindset for continually improving the organization.
  3. Resilience. An outstanding organization will acknowledge its problems and will not lose energy in combating the issue.

Self-inflicted chaos results in an organization’s failure to reach these capabilities and outstanding status.

Self-Inflicted Chaos

The main issue preventing organizations from achieving the promised results of improvement methodologies is internal chaos; internal chaos is the “disorder and confusion that [an] organization creates on its own and, by extension, has the power to reduce or eliminate completely.” This self-inflicted chaos causes cracks in an organization’s foundation, resulting in instability of the processes built upon the foundation.

Addressing the Four Causes of Chaos

Martin identifies four factors of internal chaos. For each pillar of chaos, she presents methods for overcoming these factors.

1.Lack of Clarity

Clarity is defined as information and communication that is relevant, unambiguous, and honest. Organizations lacking clarity can be organizations that are unclear about customers’ wants and needs, organizations whose vision and purpose are not clear, and organizations with the inconsistent definition of processes. Lack of clarity affects performance in several ways, including misdirecting resources from productive use, wasteful of employee energy, and poor decisions and results. The habits within an organization are often the source of the lack of clarity (e.g., jargon, acronyms, and euphemisms).

Martin provides six pieces to achieving clarity:

  1. Words Matter. Organizations must replace ambiguous words, or “nice” words, with a language of clarity. This includes telling the plain truth even if it causes discomfort. To fight the ambiguity that comes from terminology and acronyms, organizations need to be aware, create a list of abbreviations, and communicate clearly.
  2. Know Thyself. Organizations need to ensure that each individual involved in a particular process clearly understands how the whole process is done.
  3. Know Your Performance. There needs to be metrics that are “relevant, reliable, timely, and true measures of performance.” Key metrics include those that measure quality, work effort, and speed.
  4. Visual Management. Visual management is the use of graphics that help people with their work or communicate information on performance and progress.
  5. Go and See. Organizations should not make decisions before it “goes and sees.”
  6. Where Are You Heading? Organizations must develop and provide clarity of its direction and plan.

2.Lack of Focus

Businesses that lack focus may be when “leaders dip into and out of projects, mandate that projects in progress be replaced with others, redirect resources, overrule decisions, and disappear when leadership support is most needed.” This can cause confusion in prioritizing projects. Like in the lack of clarity, the lack of focus can be accounted by organization behavior and habit.

Martin gives three parts to attaining focus:

  1. Setting Priorities. This requires organizations to reflect on the current performance and position in the market, to understand and identify goals that the organization can pursue, to select goals that will be pursued, and to manage the plan.
  2. Building Consensus with Catchball. Consensus means each individual involved in the particular instance is respectfully heard and seriously considered. Catchball is a tool to engage employees with the consensus-building.
  3. Maintaining Focus over Time. To do this, an organization needs to regularly review priorities and plans. This means choosing to hold, fold, or adjust goals. As a whole, there also needs to be focused meetings and focused project management.

3.Lack of Discipline

Lack of discipline can be seen in organizations that do not commit to long-term projects and efforts. This can result in a shortfall of outstanding performance and results.

Martin provides three main components to building discipline within an organization:

  1. The Role of Practice. This is a cyclic relationship; discipline requires practice and practice requires discipline.
  2. Consistent Problem Solving. Of the various problem-solving tools available, an organization must focus on one. Martin suggests using the Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA) model.
  3. Standardization and Process Management. Outstanding organizations must standardize as much as possible. Alongside standardization is consistent process management.

4.Lack of Engagement

Employee disengagement often correlates with the lack of commitment in employee projects and work. Denying work recognition and encouragement is a factor of disengaged employees within organizations. With this lack of engagement, employees may lack the motivation to deliver outstanding projects.

There are three Cs that drive engagement: connection, control, and creativity. Employees need to feel connected to the organization and its vision to feel engaged. Employees should also believe that there is mutual growth; both the employee and the organization grow together. And, finally, engagement is driven by the employees utilizing their natural talent and creativity.

Building engagement has three areas to consider:

  1. You had them at “You’re Hired”. There needs to be an exceptional process transitioning engagement-ready new hires to productive employees.
  2. Current Staff. To re-engage current employees, an organization needs to foster clarity, focus, and discipline. This includes providing employees with ways to engage in organizational improvements, like Kaizen Events and process pairing.
  3. Measuring Your Progress. Organizations should use a tool to measure engagement.

In order to overcome the four obstacles, the organization must have an underlying respect for people (a key pillar of Lean process improvement). Without respect, the tools presented will fail to work.