Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism

by Tom Peters  

Nearly 40 years after the publication of the über-bestseller In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters has written his 19th book. His insights on organizational effectiveness (and dysfunction) are as relevant as ever. ‎

“In In Search of Excellence, we defined Excellence in terms of long-term performance. But that begs a/the question. How do you achieve that long-term super-effectiveness? … Excellence is not an ‘aspiration.’ Excellence is not a ‘hill to climb.’ Excellence is the next five minutes.”

Given that Peters has two engineering degrees, an MBA, and a PhD in business, you might be surprised by his findings. “Enterprise excellence is about just two things: People. Service. Excellence = Service. Service to one’s teammates, service to one’s customers and vendors, service to our communities.”

“An organization is not a sterilized org chart… An organization is a full-fledged living, breathing community unto itself. An organization is a community embedded in communities—the hearts and homes of its employees, its customers, and its vendors’ workers, too.” High turnover is a sign of weak community. It’s also worth noting, “Extreme Humanism applies equally to 6- and 6,000-person firms.”

Bosses. “The frontline bosses are the principal determinants of damn near everything that’s important. Hence, automatically, Enterprise Strength #1.”

“Polls from all around the world are astonishingly consistent: 75 percent to 85 percent of people (workers) are unhappy with or disconnected from their job… Creating a positive and engaging work environment, regardless of circumstances and especially in crappy circumstances, is how managers earn their pay.”

“In COVID-19 time… be, Ms. Boss, a good and caring human being. Do not ‘cut people slack.’ That’s defense. Instead, realize there are stresses and strains on every attendee that are beyond your imagination. Act accordingly, with ‘kindness,’ not ‘tolerance.’”

Part-timers. Peters points out that putting people first includes part-timers. I would expand that to include independent contractors. Only twelve companies have made it to Fortune’s “100 best companies to work for in the United States” list for 16 consecutive years. Notably, these twelve companies have “only one thing in common. They take generous care of their part-timers.”

“People really first: The client that had to be fired.” I have followed Tom Peters on Twitter for years, occasionally interacting with him. I was thrilled to see that something I tweeted made it into the book: “I’ve come to resign your business… because your Executive Vice President is a shit… He’s treating your people atrociously and he’s treating my people atrociously…I’m not going to allow this man to go on demoralizing the people of Ogilvy & Mather.” – David Ogilvy

“Your Customers will never be any happier than your employees.” – John DiJulius

H.R. “I am not a human resource. Banish the term ‘H.R.’” As an alternative, Peters somewhat facetiously proposes “DSCPHOSCPFGPMWLBB – Department of Seriously Cool People Helping Other Seriously Cool People Flourish and Grow and Prosper and Make the World a Little Bit Better.” A bit long, but he’s on to something. The term reflects a new and improved attitude more aligned with organizational excellence.

Give-a-shit-ism = You must care = Sine qua non… You want give-a-shit-ism? Hire for it. You want give-a-shit-ism? Promote for it.”

Feedback. “Negative feedback backfires ‘big time’; it is research-proven Demotivator #1… Positive attention is 30 times more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance on a team,” according to Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.

“It’s not the ‘Thank you’ for making the million-dollar sale that matters. Praise for that’s going to happen regardless! It’s, to use Ken Blanchard’s term, ‘catching someone doing something [some little thing] right.”

“Effective evaluations emerge from a series of loosely structured continuing conversations, not from filling out a form once every six months or year.”

Hard is soft. Soft is hard. “I talk a lot about EQ/empathy, about Extreme Humanism, Extreme Employee Engagement. Organizations are traditionally built on logic. B-schools preach logic. Well, AI is going to more or less usurp all that. What’s left for us is us. To be more human, to gravitate to the ‘soft stuff.’”

Case in point, according to a Washington Post article by Valerie Strauss: “The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

“To presume what cannot be measured is not very important. This is blindness.” Deming agreed.

Training. “I remain staggered that in business, which occupies most of us, regular ‘fireman-like’ training, growth, and development are rare. A course here and there, a meeting now and then, but not a constant professional preoccupation.”

Things Gone Right (TGR). “Research demonstrated fact: The memories of the ‘trivial’ ‘courtesies’ (TGRs) can readily last a lifetime! … An ‘obsession-with-small’ is a culture issue—i.e. an ‘all hands’ environment where one and all are attuned to and obsessed with the little things that are collectively the most significant points of differentiation.”

Whoever Tries The Most Stuff (And Screws The Most Stuff Up The Fastest) Wins. “WTTMSW is about an inclusive ‘try it / try something / try anything / try it now’ attitude… And a way of life that is messy and non-linear.”

Or, in the words of IDEO founder David Kelley: “Fail faster. Succeed sooner.”

“You can’t be a serious innovator unless and until you are ready, willing and able to seriously play. ‘Serious Play’ is not an oxymoron; it is the essence of innovation.” – Michael Schrage

Design. “Only one company can be the cheapest. All others must use design.”

“Design by my lights is ‘humanism,’ pure and simple… I believe Extreme Humanism applies to purchasing departments and sales departments and accounting departments as much as to the product development team. You may not buy it, but I think a financial report can be as well designed as an item of designer clothing. A report that is understandable to someone whose math topped out in the fifth grade. Compelling. Straightforward. 100-percent jargon-free. Attractive (yes). Draws you in rather than sending you running. Et cetera.”

Breakfast Club. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Ed Schein. “I believe that emotion eats reason for breakfast” – Tim Leberecht.

Managing by Wandering Around. “MBWA is the centerpiece of a true ‘people first’ culture, and was, effectively, the centerpiece of In Search of Excellence.”

Peters adopted this term from HP president John Young during a meeting in 1979. “The deeper meaning: You can’t lead from your office / cubicle or via messaging or emailing or Powerpoint-ing or spreadsheet-ing. You lead by fully humanized interaction.” Colin Powell also wrote about wandering around having serendipitous conversations with front-line workers. The term also reminds me of Genchi Genbutsu (“go and see for yourself firsthand”) from the Toyota Way.

“You learn important ‘stuff’ certainly. But that’s just five percent of the whole. The rest is about camaraderie in a human organization / community. I’m tough-minded about this ultra-‘soft’ activity: If in fact you don’t deeply enjoy being around and intimately engaging with your folks; if you don’t deeply enjoy chatting up the Distribution Center team at 1:00 a.m., I sincerely suggest that you find something else to do with your life.”

“Sucking up is for bureaucrats. Sucking down is for winners/doers… Winners… make battalions of friends/allies where the work is actually done.”

Listening. “A good listener gives the other person time to… stumble toward clarity… without interruption. (A 10- or 20-second awkward pause, a 45-second pause, when someone is… thinking-before-talking… is not an invitation to interrupt. Damn it.)”

“The best way to persuade people is with your ears, by listening to them.” – Former U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk

“Effective leadership is thoughtful leadership. And thoughtfulness, thinking in general, goes to hell amidst an overcrowded schedule.” See also Slack.

Allies. “Commit 80 percent (yes, 80 percent!) of your time to enlisting and developing and nurturing allies. Fighting is a waste of time and mental energy, and in more than nine out of 10 cases, it backfires. Develop a Committed and Spirited and Tireless and Action-Obsessed Band of Sisters and Brothers… and surround the dissidents.”

Execution—“the all-important last 95%.” In 1977, McKinsey managing director Ron Daniel asked Peters to focus on execution. “‘Tom,’ he said, ‘we design these extraordinary strategies, yet the client can’t implement. What’s the disconnect?’” The ensuing research was the genesis of In Search of Excellence.

In the words of Peter Drucker: “Strategy is a commodity. Execution is an art.” And Tom Peters makes it clear that the key to execution is putting people first. “Take care of people, really-really listen to customers, aim for no less than excellence in even the tiniest acts.”

See also my companion post: Tom Peters Reads A LOT – Part 2.

Peters, Thomas J. Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism. Networlding Publishing, 2021. Buy from Amazon.com

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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