Soft skills

Excellence according to Tom Peters

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Through his career, legendary American management guru Tom Peters has examined the leading issues in business such as organization, leadership, innovation, technology, marketing, strategy, and human resources. Time and time again, he has proven to be an absolute visionary in the field.

Peters is a major advocate for business excellence, consequently making this his hallmark. It has indeed become the central theme of all his work, as the titles of his most celebrated books can attest: In Search of Excellence – Lessons From America’s Best Run Companies (1985), The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence (2010), and The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide With Work That Wows and Jobs That Last (2018).

Breaking away from the reference models of the era, Tom Peters strives to demonstrate that excellence in business largely depends on a flexible and adaptable organization that’s focused on the client and relies on employee contribution. He encourages companies and managers to consider the functions that rule over an organization and he holds the strong conviction that the key to success is action rather than theory (“Execution is strategy—it’s all about the people and the doing, not the talking and the theory.”).

In true pioneer fashion, Peters accurately describes the operations of post-modern business as he introduces 8 principles prevalent amongst the best-run companies.

Focus: In Search of Excellence – Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies, the go-to reference in business books

Published in 1982, this work quickly became one of the best-selling business books ever. However, its authors were far from imagining such success. With their academic background and consulting training, Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman did not necessarily match the general profile of renowned authors in the field. The two were working for McKinsey & Company in San Francisco when they were tasked with a project study on the organization of America’s best performing companies.

Ironically enough, management considered this project to simply be the offshoot of another strategy-focused endeavor, assigned to consultants at the New York headquarters.

The study nevertheless allowed Peters and Waterman to conduct in-depth interviews with the executives of 42 companies and reveal the 8 common principles of the most successful companies:

  1. Action is the main priority
  2. Listen to the customer
  3. Promote autonomy and innovation
  4. Productivity relies on team motivation
  5. Central values are highly important
  6. Focus on the business the company knows best
  7. Keep a simple form and few layers of management
  8. Blend flexibility and discipline

In the early 90s, new concepts developed by Tom Peters were introduced in the revolutionary work Liberation Management, which advocates for the dismantling of company hierarchy and encourages a more horizontal approach. A veritable model of the liberated company, these ideas have been copied by many and are today implemented all over Europe.

His article The Brand Called You is to this day a go-to reference for human resources. Peters declares for the first time in this 1993 article that people must follow suit of companies and promote their personal brand in order to succeed. This approach has since reached and continues to influence generations upon generations.

In 2017, Tom Peters received the prestigious Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement award, which recognizes exceptional authors. Over the past 30 years, he has published dozens of works and has presented at over 3,000 conferences around the world. We’ve nicknamed him “Red Bull” for his candor and directness, which has become something of a trademark.