Outstanding: 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional


"Outstanding! hits the nail on the head in every way: Practical content, terrific stories, and an easy read. Miller has provided a road map for organizations to become exceptional—just follow the path laid out. Definitely a must read!"
—Dave Ramsey, author of Total Money Makeover and host of The Dave Ramsey Show

Every day outstanding organizations do things and promote values that ensure they will retain customers, grow revenues, increase ...

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Outstanding!: 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional

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"Outstanding! hits the nail on the head in every way: Practical content, terrific stories, and an easy read. Miller has provided a road map for organizations to become exceptional—just follow the path laid out. Definitely a must read!"
—Dave Ramsey, author of Total Money Makeover and host of The Dave Ramsey Show

Every day outstanding organizations do things and promote values that ensure they will retain customers, grow revenues, increase market share, and build their reputations. People in these organizations hold values and take actions— individually and collectively—that are not always easy or obvious but are fundamentally powerful.

Informed by his own commitment to the concept of personal accountability and enlivened by compelling true stories from exceptional organizations, in this insightful and accessible book John Miller identifies the principles and behaviors that distinguish such organizations from the pack and provides readers with ways to integrate them into their own work.

With its pithy entries that carry significant impact, Outstanding is by turns a playbook, a guide, and an inspiration. It is filled with practical ideas that can—and should—be used every single day by individuals and teams from the boardroom to the stockroom for creating a distinguished organization with which customers and stakeholders will want to work.

Be Outstanding!

Outstanding means being superior, striking, exceptional, clearly noticeable-—essentially, standing out. People are attracted to outstanding organizations. They want to buy from them, sell to them, invest in them, volunteer at them, and work for them. And as we close out the first decade of the twenty-first century, what better time than this to consider new ideas and implement ways to become better at everything we do so that we can have an outstanding 2010!

In Outstanding! I've outlined 47 ways that can help make any organization exceptional-—whether it's a corporation, a nonprofit, a small business, a government agency, a church, or a service group. While every reader will no doubt find his or her favorites, these six speak to every organization, no matter what its size or purpose.

Choose to Change: Many organizations have terrific ways of doing things, but outstanding organizations are willing to set aside "the way we've always done things" and-—while keeping their end goals in mind-—recognize when it's time to do things differently. They know that change will come and that it's better to initiate change from the inside than have change happen to them from the outside. When the latter takes place, it's often too late to effectively respond.

Keep the Mission Top of Mind: People will do practically anything (as long as it's legal and ethical) if they understand why they are doing it-—and they'll do it joyfully, with a full heart. The truth is this: purpose powers passion. The organization's mission can excite people, giving them fuel, if you will, to do their jobs each day anddo them well. Outstanding organizations and their people never forget why they exist.

Get Actions in Line with Values: Espousing values like "customer first," respect, and "people are our greatest asset" is meaningless unless our behaviors support those ideas. For example, if we embrace the word "humility," then we have to avoid boasting, bragging, and trying to top each other in our interactions. Or if we say we value learning and continuous improvement, then we need to work to ensure that complacency is driven from our cultures and that we are each coachable in all we do. Integrity is a rare commodity in our world, so let's allow that light to shine within our organizations.

Fight the Fat: When radio host Dave Ramsey talks about financial issues he instructs people to "bother to bother." In other words, decide to stay on top of and in control of the dollars. Whether times are good or bad, great organizations don't get fat. The mistakes organizations commonly commit are things like not paying attention to costs, taking clients for granted, ignoring market trends, failing to improve inefficient systems, disregarding customer input, or not worrying about the competition. When dollars rush in like a dyke upstream has burst, it's not uncommon to look past those errors and let our standards slip. But outstanding organizations always fight the fat.

Speak Well . . . Make the Right Impression: People have perceptions of organization that stem almost entirely from how people representing the organization speak to them. As far as customers are concerned, the people with whom they interact are the organization. No matter how an organization sees itself, it's what customers think that's important. And how we speak to anyone with whom we do business is what tells them whether we are outstanding-—or not.

Listen in All Directions: In Outstanding! I write about listening in three ways: management listening to the people, the people listening to each other, and everyone in the organization listening to the customer. Multitasking is the enemy of good listening. It's critical that we look each other in the eye with undivided attention, saying, in effect, "You are the most important person in my world at this moment and I want to hear every word you have to say." Listening is ultimately done by an individual, yet organizations must create cultures that encourage and support listening in all directions and ways.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780399156403
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/7/2010
  • Pages: 206
  • Sales rank: 298,902
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

John G. Miller is the founder of QBQ, Inc., an organizational development company dedicated to making personal accountability a core value for organizations and individuals. QBQ, Inc. has worked with hundreds of Fortune 500 and other companies and governmental and non-government organizations internationally. Miller, who appears frequently on national television and radio, is the author of the bestselling QBQ! The Question Behind the Question and Flipping the Switch: Five Keys to Success at Work and in Life. He lives in Denver.

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Read an Excerpt


Be Fast

While ordering lunch at a fast-food place (on this particular day, it was a Wendy’s), I noticed a digital clock on the wall where they were handling drive-through customers. In big red numbers, it would start at zero, tick up in time by seconds, and then suddenly reset back to zero and start counting up again. I asked the woman taking my money what the clock was for, and she said, “That shows us how quickly we’re handling the customers outside.” Interesting, I thought. So I continued, “And what do you do with the information? Do you look at your average serve time daily?” And right then, her supervisor, listening to our conversation, jumped in enthusiastically and answered my question: “Oh, no, we check our score every three hours. We need to be fast, you know!” And I thought, Don’t we all.

How fast is your organization?

Outstanding organizations have a tremendous sense of urgency. People get things done—quickly. There is little waiting around for approval, there are few meetings, and even fewer “committee decisions.” They resist creating burdensome policies, and where policies do become roadblocks, managers carry a sharp pair of scissors, constantly clearing the way for their people by cutting the red tape.

An executive at H. B. Fuller, an esteemed organization founded in 1887 in St. Paul, Minnesota, once shared with me this colorful metaphor: “John, it’s a bad day for us when a snake slithers into the lobby and we all encircle the reptile to assess the situation, discuss where it came from, who let it in, and what species it is. It’s a good day when someone just grabs a shovel and cuts its head off.” Apologies to snake lovers—of which I’m one—but what he was saying is true. When the bullets are flying, don’t call a meeting. Don’t stand around and contemplate. Do something!

The fact is, some decisions simply do not need to be a big deal. If there’s a snake in the lobby, take care of it. If you’re looking for a vendor to help on a project, find some candidates, check them out, and pick one. Way too often the many hoops organizations make their people jump through, plus the number of people invited into the decision-making process, cause decisions that should realistically take a day or a week to drag on for months, sometimes years.

What ineffective organizations don’t understand is how much money is pouring out the back door due to these sorts of things. Not only does it cost the time and energy—and compensation—of everyone involved, but every minute spent on one thing is a minute not available to work on something else. I have honestly seen “buying committees” spend, say, $250,000 in collective salary cost to make a $50,000 decision. I bet you’ve seen this happen, too. It’s math that just doesn’t add up. One manager at a Fortune 500 firm shared candidly, “I do not work for an outstanding organization. We are a good organization with a good reputation, but decisions take too long. Our market moves at lightning speed, and it seems we’re always a step or two behind while some unknown, unnamed committee meets to plan their next meeting. We’ve lost multimillion-dollar contracts while waiting and waiting and waiting for decisions to be reached.”

To be fast does not mean we should be foolish and be in such a rush that we make mistakes. Taking the time to make good decisions is critical—but outstanding organizations make good decisions faster. And they do it by creating a culture that sends the message: Let’s get it done... yesterday!

In a way, we’re all like the staff at Wendy’s, with a clock on the wall, ticking away precious time. Let’s make the best use of every second.

Be fast


When I left the training firm I sold for after a decade of calling on senior managers, I really wanted to author a book titled The Arrogance of Management. But, alas, I didn’t think executives would buy it.

Ben Franklin said this about pride: “Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I would probably be proud of my humility.” That tongue-in-cheek humor really states a truth: After making the big sale, delivering the project on time, launching a winning product, or landing a promotion, it can be seriously hard to show humility. Yet that’s what we find in outstanding organizations.

Sheryll, a project coordinator in information services with a major healthcare organization, told me, “Our CIO sent an amazing message to all the employees in our department. It makes me want to give him a big hug! But since it’s probably not appropriate to do that, I am just going to stop by his office to thank him for being a marvelous role model, and let him know how much I appreciate his accountable actions!”

She went on to tell me about an incident that seemed minor initially, but snowballed into a problem for this executive. To save money, he had decided to change cake vendors. Yes, you read that right: cake. His technology team has a long-standing and highly valued “Cake Day” tradition in which they recognize service anniversaries, birthdays, and other such milestones by getting cake for everyone to share, and the CIO had made the decision to switch to a cheaper cake supplier. Naturally, these celebrations are important to the hundreds of people in the department, but the CIO didn’t understand how important they were—and that’s fair. Often in life one person doesn’t know what something means to another. However, on top of making the change to a possibly less tasty product, his email to everyone announcing the switch also facetiously described the change as a “drastic cost-cutting measure.” Though there was absolutely no bad intent on his part, the proverbial molehill grew into the mountain, and in came feedback indicating that he now had a minicrisis on his hands.

So he handled it with grace and aplomb, taking a rare action by those “at the top”: He apologized. In a broadcast email, he wrote contritely that he shouldn’t have made light of this change and that he owed them a sincere apology. He accepted responsibility for the mess and even claimed poor judgment. He went on to confess that he doesn’t always choose the right words, but assured everyone that his colleagues mean the world to him and are his highest priority.

Rarely have I come across such a powerful example of being humble. I believe that humility is the cornerstone of leadership. Others do, too. Russ Gasdia, vice president of sales and marketing for Purdue Pharma, sums it up well. When asked to list three characteristics of an “effective leader,” he said, “Humility, humility, and humility. They know they make mistakes, accept feedback from others in order to learn, admit they don’t always know what’s right, and recognize it’s not ‘all about them.’ When they succeed, they are humble. When they fail, they are humble. And lastly, they never think they are more important than the customer!”

Humility is a key trait of outstanding organizations—and of individuals. Humility helps people be more likable and approachable, work better with others, and give better service to customers. It enables departments and teams to collaborate with other departments and teams. Perhaps most important, it allows people to communicate more freely, creating a culture of authenticity and accountability that every outstanding organization requires. Beyond all this, it might even win us a hug or two—and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that!

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 1, 2010

    Inpiration For Each Day

    I lead an organization of 2400 employees and contractors. I read this book, because I am always looking for books on self-development, leadership or for material that will help me motivate my team members to develop themselves and their teams. This is quite a find. I sent this book to all of the leaders on my team and had each of them provide us all with a view of what 'gems' they found in the book for their teams and what one area of the book could help their teams get better. This book and exercise turned out to receive GREAT reviews from the team members and there were many stories and examples shared by the team members about many of the '47 ways'. It is now a workplace 'reference guide' that is used when it's time for a little inspiration or consideration. Since our team exercise, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't hear someone over a wall or in a meeting reference something in this book. I have recommended this book to many in my company and recommend it to you!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Personalized account of 47 best practices that will make your organization outstanding

    John G. Miller always kept his eyes and ears open as he consulted with many "Fortune 500" companies over the years. In the process, he became a perceptive student of business. Now Miller has assembled (and sometimes perhaps slightly oversimplified) 47 of the best approaches, practices and techniques he saw as a consumer or as a consultant when he observed superior organizations. getAbstract finds that this engaging book does a good job of explicating each of these valuable concepts.

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