Still in Search of Excellence
Tuesday 1 September 2009
Still in Search of Excellence: Unique thinking and inspiration from the world's top business guru
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
Tom Peters admits that most of the advice he gives to audiences is common sense. So why is he the world's leading business speaker? Partly, it's the way he delivers information: bellowing one moment, almost whispering the next, and wrapping each point in a rich, amusing anecdote. But more importantly, it's because he can guarantee you at least one "epiphany" per event.
Maybe he'll reiterate something you already know in a new way. Maybe he'll synthesise the latest trend data on a particular issue with surprising results. But whatever happens you'll change your perspective on business fundamentally, and return to the office eager to change the way you work. In this three-hour presentation for the London Business Forum such moments came thick and fast.
Yet, for the most part, Peters felt obliged to restate the obvious. After 25 years of lecturing, he yelled, why was it still necessary for him to emphasise the importance of people to business leaders? Next time you draw up a budget, he advised the audience, "I want you to take the capital expenditures, cut them by 20% and put it into people. I don't care what the department is. I don't care what the industry is." If you decide a lower proportion is more advisable, he said, then "I bet you're wrong."
Instead of ROI, you should be concentrating on ROIR, or "return on investments in relationships." Most business leaders spend most of their time with only around 10 of their top people, he pointed out. What they should be doing is getting to know new people in the organisation continuously. The difference between success or failure is often your ability to seek out new "internal customers and vendors." In practical terms, this means going to lunch four days out of five with people you don't know, both internally and externally, who can help you to move projects forward.
Ultimately, what's most important is showing a genuine interest in your staff. As William James, America's "father of psychology", put it: "The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated." And you can show your appreciation for someone with a simple gesture such as asking them about their children. It's an attitude you should apply equally to your customers, he said, quoting the 19th Century US politician Henry Clay: "Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones that strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart."
Why does Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, circle the globe continuously, and visit at least 25 of his cafés every week? Because, ultimately, his business is about one barrista serving one cup of coffee to one client - just as yours may be about small interactions on the telephone, online or on a construction site. Unless you "eyeball" such interactions on a regular basis, Peters argued, "you really don't know what the hell is going on even if you get 30,000 pages worth of data a week."
Today's excellent organisations are the ones that are most humane, he concluded. They require "servant leaders" who nurture their staff, and thereby serve their customers with unrivalled care and creativity.