Road to the great beyond: Tom Peters On Excellence

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE new conventional wisdom (flattening hierarchies, etc), though far from conventional practice, is almost passe. Such is the pace of the global economy.

Consider, then, these seven 'beyonds':

1) Beyond decentralisation. Most big companies decentralised years ago - on paper. Yet the market's demand for speed, innovation and responsiveness mocks yesterday's timid 'divisionalisation'.

There is 'a surplus of everything', according to Percy Barnevik, chief of Asea Brown Boveri. The answer? Create spirited units obsessed with innovation.

Barnevik, for example, atomised his heavy-industrial combine into 5,000 autonomous profit centres, averaging 40 people each.

Harry Quadracci, chief executive of Quad Graphics, the printing company, says that a company president must be 'the main disorganiser'.

Near anarchy? Yes, but what's the alternative when a dizzying variety of competitors are showering your market with new products?

2) Beyond empowerment. Although empowerment is still a dream at most outfits, giving workers a strong voice is insufficient. We need to turn every employee into a 'business person', as one executive puts it, or a '90 per cent entrepreneur' in the words of another.

You will be best served if employees forget traditional loyalty and act like Mom or Pop of Mom & Pop Inc - that is, assume the role of the corner store owner and take any and all initiatives to excite customers.

3) Beyond disintegration. Blowing up the headquarters (maybe literally) and excising middle management are musts. But so is hooking up to create a new form of organisation that routinely changes shape. Marketplace muscle is still important, but these days it rarely comes from owning all (or even many of) the bits yourself. To the contrary, it is increasingly the product of strategic competence at creating and nurturing alliances of all kinds.

4) Beyond re-engineering. Re-engineering means linking formerly separate functions, then stripping most steps from old cumbersome business processes. But I worry that 'engineering' in any guise implies one best way to do things. And that's decidedly not the answer for tomorrow's organisations.

Forbes magazine recently profiled VeriFone, the US market leader in credit card authorisation systems. Everybody there is part of an ever-shifting electronic network. 'Tap in . . . or die,' says one manager, only half in jest. New-look organisations will be like VeriFone - self-designing and constantly evolving. Who knows whom, from who knows where, will be required at who knows when tomorrow, to do whatever to solve a problem that can't even be imagined today.

5) Beyond learning. 'Learning organisations' are a hot topic these days. But even organisations that keep getting smarter fall short. Enter the 'curious corporation'. The average firm is dull as doornails, which simply will not do in a decidedly non-dull marketplace.

Inc magazine recently featured a fictional letter from 'Determinedly Seeking the Perfect Job'. It began: 'I don't want to screw around anymore in a place that's badly managed, poorly run and so stupid I'm just wasting my time. Or a place where you have to be a vice president to get a window.

I want to take my dog to work, at least on Saturdays. And if, at 4pm, I break into a chorus of Oklahoma, I want two people to harmonise with me, not look at me sideways.' It makes sense to me.

6) Beyond total quality management. TQM is about reducing TGWs (things gone wrong - an important quality measure in the motor industry). That's essential. But in a crowded market, increasing TGRs, or things gone right, is the real trick. Cutting TGWs is mechanical, but increasing TGRs requires artistry.

Is your insurance agency or computer company 'neat'? How about your hospital? A Toronto seminar participant, Marilyn Brune, president of Markham Stouffville Hospital, heard me quote the health-care futurist Leland Kaiser, who believes you should 'have a good time' during a hospital stay. She and her colleagues recently issued a statement affirming their 'commitment that every patient's visit . . . will be a great experience'. Brilliant]

These days, quality as measured by the numbers is merely a pass to the playing field. You score by making your customers (or your patients) glow.

7) Beyond change. The previous six 'beyonds' add up to revolution.

The Financial Times recently reported on a speech to world car makers by Volkswagen's controversial Ignacio Lopez: 'Kaizen is yesterday's text . . . Today's is quantum leap . . . from 5 or 6 per cent to 40 or 50 per cent (improvement).'

The time for plodding forward is past. The moment for revolution and revolutionaries is at hand. For you and me. And for our corporations. We thought the last 10 years were wild and woolly. Ha] Wait until you see what's coming.

TPG Communications