How to Build an Outstanding Company

“Do people fire companies? Yes, they do!”

That was the beginning of an email sent by Steve Chamberlin, an executive with Husqvarna, a global equipment manufacturer, to his team of hundreds. When the email was forwarded to me, those seven words made such an impression that I had to read on.

“I just fired an airline I’ve flown for years,” Steve continued. “Not just because they left me stranded again in Phoenix for the second time in a month but because of the attitude and actions of the employees. Not only did the people on the ground just say, ‘Sorry, that’s the best we can do’ while appearing not to care at all, but the attendants on the plane stood in the galley complaining about their own company and other flight attendants. So I fired them and won’t be flying them anymore.”

Can any of us afford to be fired by our customers? No, we can’t.

Customers do fire organizations, but they don’t fire the outstanding ones.

When asked if they’d ever fired an organization, a group of senior managers in a training session readily shared these examples of suppliers terminated and why:

  • Car dealer: Pushy salesperson using strong-arm closing tactics.
  • Hair salon: Stylist left chemicals in client’s hair so long while on cell the customer’s hair had to be cut off!
  • Wireless carrier: Billed customer three times after payment made.
  • Fast food: Manager and assistant manager used foul language.
  • Cable provider: Apathetic and condescending phone rep who refused to “escalate” the call.
  • Auto body shop: Overcharged; didn’t stay within the estimate.
  • Gas station: Cheap gas advertised outside but the price could only be obtained by paying inside.
  • Health club: Dirty building interior with a bad locker room odor.
  • Tailor: Cold personality. Never greeted customer.

Very few customers have no choices or options–most can “vote with their dollars” and simply go someplace else. If our goals as businesses or organizations are retaining customers, building brand loyalty, and increasing market share, then becoming outstanding is a worthy goal.

Outstanding Defined

Outstanding means being superior, striking, exceptional, clearly noticeable—essentially, to stand out. Outstanding organizations make a lasting difference for their customers, associates, and investors, enriching the lives of everyone involved.

Five signs an organization is outstanding:

Outstanding Organizations Never Forget Who Pays the Bills

During a heated exchange with my aging dachshund’s veterinarian over the cost of the procedures she was insisting on performing, the doc proclaimed, “Your dog is my customer!” I responded. “My dog does not have a credit card.” We then found a new vet—one who never forgets who pays the bills.

Making it a priority to stay focused on the truth that the customer pays our bills is the only way an organization can be known for its stellar customer service. Reputations matter.

Outstanding Organizations Get Actions in Line with Stated Values

The concept of “alignment” is often talked about, but what does it look like—and mean? Alignment comes from believing in the espoused values of the organization and then practicing those values—even when not convenient. Any organization can speak of great-sounding values, but if they aren’t translated into action they are nothing more than slogans. Management must ask, “Have we communicated our guiding principles well, and do our actions as individuals match our stated values?” Customers notice when alignment is lacking.

Outstanding Organizations Value Ideas Over Politics

Organizational politics: When who said something is more important than what was said. That is, the source of an idea ranks higher than the merit of the idea itself. Political thinking does nothing but harm to an organization. The question should never be “Who said it?” but only “Will it help us succeed?” Let’s leave politics to politicians. Inside our organizations, it’s better to create cultures that encourage input and sharing, where we benefit from the experience and wisdom of all people.

Outstanding Organizations Compete with Competitors, Not Each Other from Within

When people inside an organization act as if colleagues and departments are adversaries, it hurts us in every way imaginable. As one executive said, gesturing toward the large window in his corner office, “We work hard to remember that the enemy is out there.” In our complex, competitive, and ever-changing world, there is simply no room for competing with one another on the inside. Only when we drive the “we/they” syndrome out of our organizations can we be outstanding.

Outstanding Organizations Make No Excuses

The reality is, people do make mistakes and the ball does get dropped. On any given day we could go on and on with “reasons.” But when we attempt to exonerate ourselves with explanations, they sound like excuses—and, of course, that’s all they really are. Never forget: The customer does not care to hear our reasons and excuses. They just want their problems solved and needs met.

Remember, any organization can become an outstanding one, if we’re willing to commit to that end. Only then can we make a difference in this world and prosper in the marketplace.

Be outstanding today!


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 new companion title THE QBQ! WORKBOOK, the bestselling QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, as well as Flipping the Switch, Outstanding!, and Raising Accountable Kids.