in Books/Reviews, Improvement & Development, Leadership, Process Improvement, Quality Improvement

In Review: The Outstanding Organization by Karen Martin

In quest of excellence, an organization that grows has to deal with chaos. I recently read Karen Martin’s new book “The Outstanding Organization” that offers a simple yet effective model to create organizational conditions to combat this chaos and ensure better results out of improvement efforts.

What Problem Does This Book Address?

The book starts with a simple premise: Self-inflicted chaos (internal chaos) sabotages an organization’s ability to provide value to your customers, satisfy stakeholders, and offer a work environment that doesn’t break employees’ spirit. Self-inflicted chaos comes from constantly shifting (and often conflicting) priorities, excessive focus on hierarchy, unclear direction, unstable processes, unhappy customers and disengaged employees. To deal with this chaos that cracks the very foundation on which business results are based, Karen suggests essential strategies in four broad areas: Clarity, Focus, Discipline and Engagement.

What I liked the most

I loved the simplicity with which this book is written. It is a fine balance of narrative explanation, real life examples from the world of business and specific actionable ideas.

In the very beginning, Karen emphasizes that all improvement strategies are based on “respect for people.” Karen says,

“I have never seen an outstanding organization that believes that people are interchangeable, that they are simply parts in a machine to be used when needed and discarded when they are no longer convenient. I have never seen an outstanding organization that views people as a variable cost. Organizations are not machines – they are fundamentally and irreducibly made up of people.”

This book also touches upon applicability of essential lean concepts including Gemba and Kaizen in building a high performance organization. Not only that, the book has impressive research behind it and the research sources are very generously shared.

Selected Quotes from the Book

On Engagement and Creativity: “When the need to express their creativity is consistently thwarted – whether because it’s not safe, not encouraged, or not allowed – human beings stop giving of themselves – they know they will get nothing back. Organizational performance suffers as a result.”

On Priorities: “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority”

The bottom line

No single book can cover everything that is required to build a great organization. However, this book is a very good starting point for senior leaders within the organization to assess the current state and decide their way forward based on essential strategies outlined in the book. Every leader who is committed to excellence will find this book useful.

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Find out more about the book at Karen Martin’s website:

  1. Nice blog. Especially I liked the quote on people engagement you have extracted form the book…Thanks for sharing !

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