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Continuous Improvement, Viewpoint!

“In Search of Excellence” – still relevant after 35 years

In_Search_of_ExcellenceIn Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman was one of the books that influenced my early management thinking. It was first published in 1982, just as I was moving into a Management Development role.  Tom Peters’ and Nancy Austin’s follow-up “A Passion for Excellence” was essential reading for me when I was a member of the senior team in a business that decided to adopt the principles and practices of Total Quality Management to transform our performance.

So, it was interesting to read this article at Forbes.com arguing that In Search of Excellence is an essential book for Founders and CEOs.

Peters and Waterman found eight common themes which they argued were responsible for the success of the American corporations they researched. The book devoted one chapter to each theme.

  1. A bias for action, active decision making – ‘getting on with it’. Facilitate quick decision making & problem solving tends to avoid bureaucratic control
  2. Close to the customer – learning from the people served by the business.
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – fostering innovation and nurturing ‘champions’.
  4. Productivity through people- treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.
  5. Hands-on, value-driven – management philosophy that guides everyday practice – management showing its commitment.
  6. Stick to the knitting – stay with the business that you know.
  7. Simple form, lean staff – some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff.
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties – autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralized values.

It’s hard to argue that any of those themes are no longer success factors, although some of the labels may have been “updated” to include today’s hot topics such as Agile, Lean, Employee Engagement, Values-driven and Innovation.

ISoE is still on my bookshelf alongside the even more thumbed PfE.  The latter was, for me, much more useful as it really got to the heart of tools, techniques and tips for creating a culture of Continuous Improvement.  I really don’t like writing on a book, as it some how seems destructive, but I underlined so many insights in PfE and kept coming back to it.

The Forbes article ends by saying “This is a fantastic book and I hope you enjoy reading one of the all-time classics of business management.”  There is also a link to an article on the subsequent performance of the ISoE companies which says that Excellence won out.

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