Creating Conditions that Allow for Consistency and Excellence

Last week I signed up to write this blog post, and I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write a book review on The Outstanding Organization by Karen Martin. Although I read the book several months ago, Karen’s work has really resonated with me and has made a lasting impression. It's not only a book about how to create an OUTSTANDING organization, the book itself is an OUTSTANDING and a passionate creation that reflects the heart and soul of the author. The book recently received the 2013 Shingo Research Award, which in no small way recognizes the brilliance of this work and the author.

I interviewed Karen about two months ago for 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success, but because of our busy schedules we had not finalized the edits yet. Enter serendipity. Instead of writing the book review I had planned to write at the beginning of this week, I was now busy getting the interview ready for posting. And as I always do when I publish a new interview, I explore the interview for nuggets of gold to tweet. Karen’s interview was filled with so many kernels of goodness and wisdom, it really reminded me what a great book it is, and that I’d only be able to scratch the surface of it here.

Are We Drowning in Chaos?

A key theme in the book is that we have become so accustomed to internally-produced organizational chaos we don’t even recognize it any longer. Chaos shows up in a number of ways including: “shifting priorities, unclear direction, unstable processes, unhappy customers, and disengaged employees.” What comes up for you when you think about these conditions in your own organization or life?

The Outstanding Organization explores these sources of chaos in depth and offers sound and proven ways to address it. It's probably worth repeating here again, Karen believes organizational chaos is so pervasive we don’t even see it or notice it. It’s like air. It’s everywhere and we really don’t see it. In fact, it’s so significant it frequently undermines all other improvement and transformation efforts we undertake.

In the book, Karen states:

“If you want to break this cycle and start getting consistently excellent results—to be an outstanding organization—you have to start not with methodologies or tools, but by creating the conditions that allow for consistency and excellence. You can’t start by attempting to build a skyscraper on a cracked foundation. You have to start by fixing the foundation.”

In my opinion, that’s exactly where most organizations go wrong. They start with a methodology or tool and most fail repeatedly. Then the next new thing shows up and there’s no shortage of people who are happy to jump into the abyss again. The pattern repeats itself. So how long has this been going on… twenty, thirty or more years? I’ve seen or heard of it enough times to cry out in despair.

Karen uses an ingenious way to make chaos in the form of lack of clarity more visible. She calls it Percent Complete and Accurate (%C&A).

Quoting Karen from my interview:

“When I work with clients, we use a metric: Percent complete and accurate (%C&A), to quantify the degree of clarification going on and add this rework time to the task’s process time. When you have the real process time, when you include all the clarification, it sometimes ends up being double, triple, or even quadruple the time it would take to do the work if the work came in “clean” to begin with. When you think about the great opening that an organization can have and the free capacity they could experience by just simply having clearer information being passed on in a chain, it’s significant. Even a two-minute clarification task done many, many times a day can add up to large performance-sapping numbers. It’s an expensive, yet common, problem.  Plus rework is frustrating, soul-sapping work. It’s not creative, it’s not moving product forward, it’s not serving the customer. And every worker doing it knows it.”  

The Outstanding Organization in Five Minutes

There is so much more greatness and awesomeness in this book that I can hardly do it justice here in this short post.  In fact while writing this blog post the wild idea occurred to me that wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could shift our focus away from bottom line numbers to what really counts and that’s creating an environment where greatness and awesomeness are encouraged and allowed to blossom. The numbers will take care of themselves and soar in a place where all are encouraged to be who they really are and express their greatness. You will find many great ideas to lead your organization in this way in this book.

I hope my words will motivate you to explore The Outstanding Organization further. If you’d like to get a five minute overview of the book in Karen’s words, I’d encourage you to explore my interview with Karen at the link below.

In closing, I’d like to thank Karen for writing such a great book and for leading us in how to create OUTSTANDING organizations!

Learn More

I highly recommend every leader pick up The Outstanding Organization and discover amazing ideas for reducing chaos and leading change.

  • I recently interviewed Karen at 5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success. She shares her best strategy for improving organizations and much more in: Create a Collective View of the Future that Everyone Can Relate to with Value Stream Mapping


  • How significant of a problem is internally-produced organizational chaos?
  • What are your ideas on how we can best address it?