THE EXCELLENCE DIVIDEND
Penguin Random House
Tom Peters’s work has been an inspiration since the 1980s when he co-authored In Search of Excellence with Robert Waterman.
A CEO of a floundering company with a household name was about to throw in the towel, but after reading In Search of Excellence was inspired to turn the company around and accomplished just that.
Now, nearly 40 years later, Peters has published another book, The Excellence Dividend, which is every bit as inspiring.
He explains that as overwhelming change and the technological revolution arrives a simple and timeless proposition remains — commitment to excellence in all that we do. It is “the best defence and offence”, irrespective of what happens.
Nothing beats or replaces a high-quality product or service designed and delivered by people who are committed to excellence in their products and relationships, Peters emphasises.
Business, he explains, is about human beings working with human beings to get things done. In a business or organisation, watch who is getting things done, how and when are they getting them done and, most importantly, what they are getting done. These are key concepts in the new book, which puts hi-tech wings on Peters’s bedrock belief: “Execution is strategy. It’s all about the people and the doing, not the talking and the theory.”
In a podcast about The Excellence Dividend with business strategy firm the 2112 Group, Peters talks about one of his favourite books, The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy. That author says that when he interviews people he looks at one thing more than others: “do they talk about strategies or do they talk about the things they got done”?
Peters gives wonderful examples about getting things done; for instance how during the Second World War Liberty ships were produced in the US at an incredible rate because they had to be; yet how everything in the 21st century high-tech world seems to take so long to get done, and how everyone seems to be so hung up on analysis and justification that execution is floundering.
Analytic bias has swamped organisational effectiveness, he explains, to the extent that 98% of most presentations is about market analysis, while 2% is about what is being done, what is being achieved. Peters says his approach is to flip this.
He says it does not matter if some of the things that are achieved don’t work out or need to be adapted; many other things will work out well. Things are being done, instead of everyone being so hung up on analysis that most of the time the eventual outcome is little more than mediocre success.
He quotes Australian businessman Phil Daniels, who says his success is based on a simple, six-word philosophy: reward excellent failures, punish mediocre successes. American Mike Bloomberg reiterates this, saying that if employees create a really good failure, promote them.
The emphasis is on excellence; these are people who give 100% of themselves to “doing”. Peters says commitment to excellence is a self-liberating concept that gives purpose to every day, irrespective of the kind of job performed or rank.
He gives sage advice about how excellence in everything that is done can be achieved, with a key emphasis on “active listening”. He urges business, political and all other leaders to start listening to what is going on in their countries, organisations or companies. Leadership is all about active listening, which is far more important than talking.
He writes about the 18-second syndrome: where a patient is explaining his symptoms to a doctor, but after 18 seconds the doctor interrupts him, writes a prescription and sends him on his way. The doctor fails to address the patient’s problem because he fails to listen to what the patient is telling him.
Peters says we are all a function of the 18-second syndrome; we all need to start listening.
To achieve a culture of excellence, people in SA need to start listening and doing. Then the excellence dividends will begin to emerge.
First published in Business Day on Monday, 30 April 2018.