Is your midmarket company doing amazing things or is there something holding it back from being extraordinary? If IT leaders want to be viewed as more than just techies they need to help their organizations do ordinary things in extraordinary ways. That is the takeaway from “Simply Brilliant,” a book recently published by William Taylor. Chuck Leddy, a blogger for the National Center for the Middle Market posted a great interview with Taylor which you can read below. We edited the blog but you can read the full interview An in-depth interivew with William Taylor

 William C. Taylor is the co-founder of Fast Company Magazine and a bestselling business author. Taylor’s latest book is called Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways. In it, Taylor profiles several largely unknown companies, many of them in the middle market, doing amazing things in places and in industries that many might deem “unglamorous

Chuck Leddy:  How might the many successful business models and lessons that you describe in “Simply Brilliant” apply to middle market companies in particular?

William C. Taylor: Middle market companies are uniquely positioned to put these ideas to work. Middle market companies are really in the sweet spot -- they’re big enough to genuinely make a difference, to cast a shadow in their field, but they’re not tiny start-ups struggling to scale up. Middle Market companies are nimble and agile enough to outthink, outmaneuver, and out-innovate some of the lumbering giants in whatever industry they’re competing in.

Leddy: Let’s focus on one of those companies, “Pal's Sudden Service.” How has it become an award-winning, much emulated model for creating amazing customer experiences?

Taylor: Pal’s truly has a cult-like fast food brand and following in Tennessee and southwest Virginia. It aims to serve really great food so quickly and so flawlessly that they’ve gone beyond fast food to, as their name suggests, sudden service. They make promises to their customers that nobody else can: when you pull up to the window and place your order, and it’s a drive-through only experience, they’ll take your order in 18 seconds or less. They’ve got a high-performing workforce. They think carefully and creatively about who they’re trying to hire, and how. They also have a meticulous approach to training, retraining, and measurement. When you talk to leaders at Pal’s they say “our most important job as leaders is to be teachers.”

Leddy: How have the leaders at Pal’s and at Quicken Loans, which you also profile, built these employee-engaging company cultures?

Taylor: Quicken Loan’s CEO Dan Gilbert is this very opinionated, brash kind of billionaire, and he’s very different from the CEO of Pal’s, but they share several things. First, they’re great at communicating both to the outside world, customers and the market, as well as to their internal colleagues. They say clearly, “these are the ideas our organization stands for. This is what makes us distinctive, what makes us compelling in the world.”

They’re also great at explaining and teaching what it means to be a member of their organization. They constantly ask, “What are the promises and commitments we’re making to one another, how are we going to share information, solve problems, and exchange ideas?” They work harder and smarter than other leaders to create the conditions where great people get to do their best work every single day.
Leddy: Let’s look at two more companies you profile: one is KI in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the other is Lincoln Electric in Euclid, Ohio. How might middle market leaders incentivize their employees in ways those companies do?

Taylor: One of the clichés among businesses leaders is, “I wish more people around here acted like owners,” meaning they want workers to have a sense of personal investment. These two companies have concluded that if you want people to act like owners, how about making them actual owners? So most of KI is owned by its employees.

In the case of Lincoln Electric, they have this very elaborate and incredibly robust profit-sharing system where factory employees wind up sharing in hundreds of millions of dollars of company profit. Now if you’re going to do that, then employees need the same access to information as owners have.

Leddy: “Simply Brilliant” says that leaders need to be engaged, curious, and humble to transmit core values to their organizations. How can middle market leaders do this?
Taylor: The only way to remain relevant and effective is to step back every once in a while and ask yourself basic questions: Am I making sure that what I know is not limiting what I can imagine? Think about this as the paradox of expertise. The longer you’ve done something, the better at it you’ve gotten, the harder it becomes to open your eyes to radical new developments in your marketplace, to think seriously about different ways of solving familiar problems.

The greatest leaders are the most insatiable learners.

You can read more of Leddy’s amazing interviews by Interviews with authors and notable business leaders

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is highly collaborative, versatile communications professional with a proven track record as both a journalist and business communications trainer for Fortune 500 companies. As a reporter and freelance writer for the Harvard Gazette and Boston Globe, he's published hundreds of stories, features, profiles, and interviews. As a business communications trainer in Boston, he's worked with C-level executive from around the globe, helping them improve their business English skills in writing, presentations, negotiations, and other forms of communication. Leddy graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, then graduated from Boston College Law School in 1991, after which he practiced law in Greater Boston for three years. He's been a journalist and teacher since 1995.