What is it that separates great companies from the ones that are just okay? According to Bill Taylor–cofounder of Fast Company magazine, and author of book Simply Brilliant—the answer is that some companies have learned how to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways.
Take the example of Quicken Loans, a financial institution which has no physical branches, but is driven to provide a uniquely intense level of customer service found nowhere else in the industry. Says Quicken Loans founder, Dan Gilbert, about the drive to provide extraordinary levels of customer service, “We are zealots–we are on the lunatic fringe.”
Here are 8 questions that Bill Taylor suggests will help you–and your company–do ordinary things in extraordinary ways. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, ask yourself what you can do to change the answer to “yes”–and to move the needle from ordinary to extraordinary.
1. Can you develop a definition of success that allows you to stand apart from the competition and inspires others to stand with you?
In his book, Taylor explains that extraordinary companies have what Adam Morgan calls a “lighthouse identity”–that is, they have a very particular take on what they are trying to achieve, coupled with a compelling conviction that their goals are uniquely theirs and uniquely important.
2. Can you explain, clearly and compellingly, why what you do matters and how you expect to win?
Extraordinary leaders are able to explain–in language that is both unique to their field and compelling to the outside world–why what they do matters and how they expect to win. As Taylor’s Fast Company colleague Polly LaBarre explains, too many leaders communicate with what she calls “jargon monoxide”–mind-numbing acronyms and buzzwords. Don’t be that person.
3. Are you prepared to rethink the conventions of success in your field and the logic of your success as a leader?
According to Taylor, the “paradox of expertise” can make it difficult for leaders with the most experience and knowledge in a particular area to see new patterns in their markets and to rethink what’s possible within their businesses. Extraordinary leaders find ways to constantly disrupt themselves–and their industries.
4. Are you as determined to stay interested as to be interesting?
Extraordinary leaders are insatiable learners–always remaining interested in keeping up with changes in their business and markets, innovations by competitors, the latest technology and how it can impact their businesses, and big ideas and little surprises of all sorts. The minute you think you know everything you need to know is the moment you–and your business-stop growing.
5. Do you pay as much attention to psychology and emotion as you do to technology and efficiency?
There’s a reason why emotional intelligence is all the rage in business today–because, particularly for leaders, being emotionally intelligent is far more important than being intellectually intelligent. Your people will do things in extraordinary ways when you treat them like the valuable human beings that they are.
6. Do the values that define how your organization works reflect the values proposition around which it competes?
Says Bill Taylor, “The most successful companies I’ve studied don’t just think differently from everyone else, they care more than everyone else–about the people they serve and the messages they send, about how everyone conducts themselves in a world with so many temptations to cut corners, fall back on procedure, and reward efficiency over empathy.” If you want to be exceptional in the marketplace, you’ve first got to create an exceptional workplace.
7. Are you as humble as you are hungry?
While ambition is a great trait for anyone in business to have–it’s what drives them to be extraordinary–arrogance is most definitely not. Extraordinary leaders couple a drive to do great things with a sense of humility, knowing that they can’t accomplish great things all by themselves. It takes a team of similarly motivated, extraordinary people.
8. Are you prepared to share the rewards of success with all those who had a hand in achieving it?
Leaders often wonder how they can get their employees to act like owners–to treat the business as if it was their own. The only effective way to do that is to treat them like owners by giving them a fair share of the value they help create and a role in making decisions that affect them. When employees feel like owners, they will do extraordinary things.