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In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (Collins Business Essentials) Kindle Edition
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* Bias to action
* Stay close to the customer
* Promote autonomy and entrepreneurship
* Productivity through people
* Executives need to be hands-on and values driven
* Focus on the business the company knows best
* Keep a simple form and few layers of management
* Foster tight adherence to values and high tolerance for employees accepting the values
These 8 principles are tough to argue - yet the majority of the companies Peters profiled in the book subsequently failed or went through extremely tumultuous times (IBM, TI, Delta Airlines, Dow, Exxon, Dana, Blue Bell, DEC, Amdhal, NCR, Wang and Xerox to name a few). Perhaps they didn't stick to their knitting - or perhaps there are other factors besides the 8. The bottom line is that the book is now nearly 30 years old, and much has changed in that time. Peters has newer books that are more on point for this century. This is a good foundational read, and an exceptional author. It is just 25 years past a 5 star review.
It is interesting to note that many of the great companies of the time of the first publication for this book in the mid eighties - HP, IBM, Digital, TI, etc - are either struggling to remain relevant or are not to be found anywhere anymore. This is not to say that the recommendations in the book are not meaningful but it does point out the complexity and the unpredictability of the world in which organizations operate. It does, however, is indicative of the book's failure at noting and addressing the requisites for sustaining a culture of excellence through the market demands, changing leadership, large expanse of time, and disappearing founders, which often leads to value corrosion - the root of all cultural sickness.
One of the most critical aspects of good leadership is the passing of the baton, developing other leaders who can take the torch forward while deeply understanding and upholding the values on which an organization succeeds. Both HP and IBM have severely suffered since the loss of their founding fathers. In spite of having good leaders come and go they no longer carry the glean with which they once used to shine.
One other area where I found this work lacking was that it never touched upon in detail on what it considers as "excellence". One could construe from the writings that to the authors excellence is about a work culture where people naturally feel empowered and motivated, organization's output is innovative and ever fresh, and financial results are strong. To me these are results of excellence but not excellence itself.
I have often asked myself about excellence, it's presence and its absence, and how do we know when we are in presence of excellence and how to tell when we are witness to sloppiness. Excellence shines of its own accord. It is hard to put a definition around excellence. It is almost a spiritual quality, which is hard to confine in a definition but easier to express in what it is not or how it expresses itself. To me excellence is beauty, it is the bringer of delight, desirable yet unexpected, it exudes a pride of craftsmanship, it is skill in action, it is the WoW! factor, it makes the ordinary seem extraordinary, it is love, passion, pride, quality, and competence manifested. Excellence above all is an expression of genuine care.
The authors selected eight key factors that they reasoned to be drivers of success. They then identified a number of companies that they considered to be "excellent" performers, and used examples of their respective organizational structures to highlight the eight factors. The key factors include:
* Bias for Action: getting things done, open communication between employees and the management, experimentation;
* Close to the Customer: obsession with reliability, service, and quality to gain and retain customers;
* Autonomy of Entrepreneurship: in-house competition, encourage creativity, ability to tolerate failure;
* Productivity through People: treating employees with respect, make them feel important, management by wandering around the office and communicating;
* Hands-on, Value Driven: emphasizing the importance of corporate history and tradition using stories and myths, rather than bureaucratic policies;
* Stick to the Knitting: understanding what the company's primary business is, and not diversify into ventures where experience is not currently present;
* Simple Form, Lean Staff: avoiding complex management structures, increasing the ability to implement changes to the processes quickly and easily in accordance with the dynamic environment;
* Simultaneous Loose-tight Properties: balance of central direction and individual autonomy, combination of control and innovative entrepreneurship.
Many ideas developed by Peters and Waterman do appear to have a universal truth quality to them. Most successful companies today do in fact possess the aforementioned characteristics.
Interestingly, nearly two-thirds of all "excellent" companies discussed in the book, have gone bankrupt or were acquired by other firms. It appears that excellence cannot be sustainable over a long-term period, and eventually meritocracy sets in. This issue was not discussed by the authors, but one could explain it by attributing it to changes in management, which in turn led to the disappearance of the key factors.
For example, consider the recent competition faced by General Motors. With increasing prices on non-renewable resources and rising environmental awareness, American consumers began demanding more fuel efficient automobiles. Japanese competitors, such as Toyota and Honda, were able seize this marketing opportunity by delivering vehicles that outperformed those of GM. GM was too late with becoming "close to the consumer," leading to a massive loss in a market share, in turn leading to an overall fall in sales.
Another example can be provided by a once excellent mass-market electronics retailer, Circuit City. The company was praised for its level of superior service. The company spent significant amount of time on staff development, which differentiated it from other retailers. The change in management in the early 2000s also brought cost cutting measures which replaced well-trained service employees with minimum wage personnel. Forgetting its history and unique selling proposition drove consumers away from Circuit City, ultimately leading to bankruptcy of the organization in late 2008.
Some could mistakenly conclude from this that excellence is simply a temporary state, and cannot be sustained over a long-term period. Looking at the decline of some of the once great companies clearly shows which one of the eight factors had gone awry, and if addressed in time could have kept the company at its excellent condition. The authors of the book could not have perceived the fall of some of the great companies mentioned in the book, yet they did clearly say that excellent companies must not lose sight of the key factors, as doing so will lead to disappearance of overall excellence and could even escalate to complete failure, as it has been shown in the examples above.
Most recent customer reviews
I will be returning this one as well
Barnes & Noble----a sure bet