Over the years I’ve discovered that the primary purpose of business is to produce results. Furthermore, it’s a very unusual person who would settle for just any old results. Every business owner wants the best possible outcomes.
I have discovered that in general simple techniques and methods often produce the best outcomes. Nonetheless, I do like to read and reread all the business books in can find, explore new management ideas and techniques and discuss concepts with business and consulting gurus. Frankly, few really stand up to the test of time. Solid basic concepts seem to last, but the new ideas tend to live short lives.
One of my favorite business experts, Tom Peters, together with his collaborator Bob Waterman, wrote their famous landmark book “In Search of Excellence” in 1982. This is one of the books I like to go back and read from time to time.
Like most of these types of books, not everything in it is valuable. However, I find one or two tidbits are all I really need to make a book worthwhile.
Let’s take a moment and review part of their work within this discussion.
They identified eight attributes of management excellence in their original work.
- A Bias for Action
- Close to the Customer
- Autonomy and Entrepreneurship
- Productivity through People
- Hands-on, Value-driven
- Stick to the Knitting
- Simple Form, Lean Staff
- Simultaneous loose-tight Properties
Much later, in 2001, Peters remarked that another attribute should be added to the original eight.
9. Capabilities concerning ideas, liberation, and speed.
What exactly does these all mean? This type of language was and still is used among academics, but not very many business people genuinely understand them. After a university professor has spoken you need to find an MBA to interpret the actual meaning.
So, let’s go through each of these nine and I’ll give my interpretation of what they’re saying. Hopefully it will give you some ideas of what you should be doing in your business to produce excellence.
A Bias for Action
This is a really great concept. Many business owners and managers are content with planning, thinking, discussing, research and the like. However, none of that is directly producing cash or any other meaningful business result.
A much more meaningful approach is to engage in a cycle of execute/correct/execute/correct/execute. Specifically, take action and if it works keep doing it. If that action isn’t working then immediately correct and proceed on the new path. Keep that cycle going. That is how one of the most important business results—cash, the fuel of your business, gets generated.
Close to the Customer
Here is another concept that still is front and center. Don’t fall in love with your product or service. Discover often what the customer wants, find it, and give it to them. When the customers’ wants change, change your product or service along with the change in wants.
Note that I used the term “want”. It is vital you focus on what your customers actually want and not what you think they “need”. You will avoid a great deal of heartache doing so.
Autonomy and Entrepreneurship
You want to have a guiding set of values and principles while allowing the flexibility to experiment with new ground. Think of the entire idea as encouragement for experimentation and exploration. Core values and mission statements form the guidelines for entrepreneurship, but should not limit it.
Productivity through People
People are an asset and probably your most important asset. However, not every single person produces at the level you’d hope for. Invest in the best of the best and leverage their skill and competence. Don’t try to do it all yourself—that is a spectacular productivity retardant.
While you should not be doing all the work personally, you have to directly control the value produced by the work. This is the value requested by your customer. This is how you connect between what it is the customers want and your product or service.
Stick to the Knitting
We all have some product/service/area of our business that generates the most cash. We should think of this as our “cash cow”. Focus on the most vital one within your company. Avoid getting distracted with the next hot deal or the next cool idea or the next management trend.
Simple Form, Lean Staff
First K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid). Review your core processes and systems frequently and keep the steps to a minimum. You’ll find that it’s speed not size that will win the day.
If you do that and focus on having the best folks around. You will not need many of them. You’ll just need a few of the best people.
Simultaneous loose-tight Properties
Probably you find this attribute a bit perplexing. To me this is having a culture of accountability while promoting innovation, risk-taking and imagination from everyone.
Capabilities concerning ideas, liberation and speed
We do want tight control, but we don’t want to smother people.
So, let’s rewrite this list so it’s more applicable and meaningful for most of us.
- Take goal directed action
- Take your clues from your customers
- Allow for experimentation and mistakes
- Get high productivity from the best people
- Delegate and focus on value creation
- Do a few things well
- Focus on speed
- Install a culture of accountability
- Trust but verify
So, there you go. The same nine attributes identified by Peters simplified for optimal utility.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this great guide to excellence to help you do exactly that. Plus found a few actionable items to take in the near future.