Why Successful Organizations Are Really Good at Doing Boring Things

Much is written about organizational performance, and what it takes to consistently beat expectations and stand out from the crowd of hungry competitors; I’ve certainly been among those pundits who have offered proven and practical tactics based on my experience leading teams in various market environments.

A sample of these tactics in no particular order include:

  • adopt a serving leadership culture.
  • focus on execution rather than the efficacy of the plan.
  • cast off traditional planning tools and build your strategic game plan by asking three simple questions.
  • pay attention to the few critical ‘must do’ things that matter in moving your plan forward. Multitasking is deadly.
  • target your efforts at the select group of customers (who have the potential to generate the revenue you need to meet your growth goals, and avoid spraying your solutions to the mass markets.
  • get your strategy ‘just about right’ and don’t spend the time to try and get it perfect because you’ll never achieve it (a perfect anything is a myth).
  • the key to successful implementation is the number of tries you make. The more tries, the more successful you’ll be.
  • develop a ‘recovery strategy’ as part of your customer service vision. What you do when mistakes are made is critical to building customer loyalty.
  • recruit people who ‘love’ humans and who enjoy serving and taking care of others. It’s the secret to building long lasting customer and employee relationships.
  • kill the playbook in your organization that customers don’t want to abide by. It may serve your internal thirst for control but will only drive your customers who don’t want the hassle away.
  • if you’re not different you’re dead (or soon will be). Sustainable performance can only be achieved if your organization creates relevant and compelling value for people in a way that no one else does. You need an ONLY statement to get you there.

All of the above approaches work. I’ve used them in startup businesses (internet), in growth businesses (data communications) and mature businesses (home and long distance telecommunications).

They represent my personal generic toolset to create long term value for an organization; one that I try to get others to use as well.

But there is another tool or tactic that I’ve used that does not automatically command the front page of the book on success.

I think it’s because most people looking for ‘how to’ ideas seem to be interested in learning about and trying complicated and theoretically-laden approaches promulgated by academicians and consultants who have never run a $1 BILLION a year business— I have —rather than simple approaches that may not be sexy but they work.

I’m a very simple person. And I have discovered that other people like simplicity.

Simple concepts are easily understood. Simple instructions are easily carried out. Simple rules are followed. Simple procedures produce few errors.

Simple— ‘boring’ —things create epic success.

Here are 5 boring things that incredibly successful organizations do.

1. They keep their promises

Their word is their bond whether it’s an employee committing to a customer or a colleague.

It’s boring. They do what they say they’ll do. Every time. All the time.

Nothing comes between a promise and delivery. Nothing.

It’s a cultural thing— a value —which drives the recruitment process: they look for people who have a demonstrated past of keeping promises to others.

“When’s the last time you broke a promise?” and “Why?” are top questions that are asked of every potential candidate.

2. They admit their mistakes and fix them fast

Regardless of where the fault lies, they take responsibility for things that go awry. They don’t admit fault when it’s not theirs to admit but they take responsibility to remediate whatever bad stuff has happened to one of their customers.

And it starts with saying sorry: “I’m really sorry this has happened but I’m going to take care of it for you (I promise).”

And it ends with the mishap being remedied FAST and with a little surprise added to delight the victim and bond them to the organization forever.

Mediocre organizations avoid embracing opportunities that mistakes present to them; amazing (boring) ones run toward them.

3. They talk to their customers

They are old school in the sense that they love talking to their customers; it’s in their DNA. Live conversations using the telephone!

And they align every part of their operations to this value. Every customer contact and service delivery function is architected to facilitate real time customer engagement.

Call centers are ‘care centers’, managed on how well they create memorable moments for people as opposed to how well they can maximize call throughput while minimizing cost.

It’s boring to be sure, but it carries a message that says we want to talk to you; to listen to you; to understand what you need and to serve you. Technology may be efficient but it can’t do that.

4. They invite their customers in to ‘shape’ how they operate

It’s not a very complicated concept to want to architect the inside of an organization to reflect the outside. It’s simple: vector the way you operate on the way customers want to be served.

It means designing systems and processes around how the customer wants to be engaged as opposed to forcing them to participate in a way they abhor.

And it also means defining the rule system of the organization around the whole concept of enablement: making it easy for people to do business with you as opposed to controlling their behaviour.

Boring organizations start out with a clean sheet of paper with no preconceived notions of how they should deliver their solutions to the market. Customer input determines what the operations topology looks like.

5. They are polite and respectful

Mindfulness of others is a key value that shapes how people behave both with customers and employees. Basic human skills like empathy, politeness and being respectful are ingrained into every employee. These skills are recruited, reinforced by leadership, recognized and rewarded to ensure they are present and accounted for in every person engagement that occurs every moment of every day.

And these skills are stressed among employees with the conviction that if they aren’t practised internally, they won’t be practised with customers, strategic partners, suppliers, investors and the media.

’Being nice’ is powerful in a world where it’s too easy to not be. It’s noticeable. It’s different. It’s your advantage if you want to be boring.

Being boring is a competitive advantage because everyone else seems to want to do cool and esoteric things the ‘experts’ say they should.

Success is a function of staying close to the ground and that’s a simple boring approach that breeds tremendous performance.

Related: Why the Frontline Leader Should Be More Important Than the CEO