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E223 | How Human Connection Can Help A Business Achieve Excellence With Tom Peters

The success of a company is measured by the happiness of its employees. And that applies to any industry. Improving employee happiness in the workplace is an essential change a company can make to be successful, yet it is often overlooked.

Often, even simple gestures like a handshake or saying hello at the beginning of the day can truly impact an employee’s level of engagement and create a positive workplace culture.

Today, on Mind Your F**king Business Podcast, we learned from Tom Peters, a business management pioneer and co-author of In Search Of Excellence –recognised as one of the most influential books about business practices. Through this work, Tom’s ultimate goal was to motivate business owners and entrepreneurs to focus more on their employees and how their happiness directly affects productivity and to discover their products through the eyes of their customers.

Twenty books and forty years later, Tom is still one of the leading management thinkers, preaching about the importance of human connection and creating business excellence through work culture.

In this fascinating episode, Tom shares the story behind his well-known bestseller, the legacy that leaders should focus on leaving behind, and his views on women as business leaders, remote leadership and building excellent culture in this WFH era. Listen and download today.

In today’s episode:

  • 40 years of In Search Of Excellence– the book that changed the way the world does business
  • Why businesses need more women leaders
  • A leader’s job is to grow people 
  • Remote leadership and building excellent culture and business in the WFH era
  • Tom’s latest book, The Compact Guide To Excellence


How Human Connection Can Lead A Business To Excellence With Tom Peters

Tom Peters is a renowned business management pioneer and co-author of In Search of Excellence, a book that even 40 years after its first publication, is still considered to be the book that changed the business world. But as he declares, this is just one of the numerous ventures in his life and career.

Tom attended Cornell University, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a Master’s degree and later did an MBA and a PhD in Organisational Behaviour from the Stanford Graduate School of business. During the war in Vietnam, he served in the US Navy, making two deployments as a Navy Seabee and also participated in an exchange program between the US Navy and the Royal Navy (UK), which led to him serving as a midshipman on the HMS Tiger (a battlecruiser built for the Royal Navy during the 1910s).

While working for McKinsey & Company, he was inspired to develop different practices for business management that support the idea that productivity can be achieved through people that work for the company, and that businesses should not focus only on financial data.

“I’ve spent my life trying to tell leaders to stand in the door in the morning and smile and say: ‘glad to see you’, but the notion that the outcome in your organisation would be more affected by saying “good morning” than by having a business plan that only Nobel laureates in mathematics could understand, just doesn’t feel right to them.” 

“My little one-pager is ‘business is people serving people, serving people. Leaders serving frontline employees, serving customers. It’s all about that simple chain. That’s the beginning, the middle, and the end.”

40 years of  In search of excellence

Almost 40 years after its original publication, Tom’s book remains a widely read classic and influential for leaders and managers.

When Tom Peters and Robert Waterman were asked to do some research on culture (or, as Tom translates it: “the way we do things around here”), they had the opportunity to meet John Young, the President of Hewlett Packard, one of the young companies that at the time was transforming the world. There, he got introduced to MBWA (management by wandering around) a style of business that offers managers the opportunity to connect directly with employees and collect information, deal with suggestions or complaints, and generally keep track of the organisation and increase productivity.

“That hour in Hewlett Packard changed my life more than anything. What I learned from MBWA is that leadership is an intimate act. It is about human interaction, whether it’s between the founder of the company or whomever and the 26-year-old engineer. Today, we call it culture, but it’s actually the organisation’s humanity.”

But, four decades later, Tom thinks that companies still struggle to realise the importance of employees and how their happiness unequivocally affects productivity.

“I find it as hard to sell today as it was years and years ago. People still want to work on that hard stuff. They still want to get the plan right. My favourite quote is from general Omar Bradley: “Amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics”. You can have the world’s greatest strategy, but when you land on Omaha Beach on D-Day, unless the bullets are there to meet the guns, all that other crap is immaterial.”

 A leader’s legacy is to develop people

Today, Tom Peters is still focused on putting people first and believes that training leaders to stay in intimate touch with the front-liners who do the real work is the best thing anyone can do for their company.

“The role of a leader is to develop people. The leader is not supposed to be the best engineer. The leader is supposed to be the person who takes that group of 15 engineers and allows them to flourish and learn.”

And most importantly, as Tom says, “the true measure of a leader’s legacy is not the amount of money he collected in his career but the number of people whose lives he transformed and improved while under his command.”

“I did a lot of running around and speaking and I used PowerPoint slides. And my favourite one of all the millions had a tombstone on it, and on the tombstone said “$26,423,892 and 8 cents. Joe’s net worth was at the market’s close on the day he died”. And my comment is nobody’s ever had a tombstone with their net worth on it.”

Why businesses need more women leaders

The stereotype that the business world is a male-dominated industry still exists. Companies need to renounce these old gender bias practices and realise that a woman’s perspective can breed creativity and innovative ideas that can push that organisation forward. 

Everything, from the way they evolved over time to the basic human characteristics that they possess, makes women better candidates to create and develop communities.

There are even numerous studies that claim women are significantly “better-measured leaders than men”, says Tom, and the reticence regarding women’s leadership is just another consequence of the fact that “we’re still living in a ‘boys’ world.”

Remote leadership and building excellent culture and business in the WFH era

Despite his former beliefs, after these two years of Covid restrictions, Tom is convinced that there is as much humanity and interaction in a remote environment as in normal in-office attendance.

“I still believe in the value of getting together, it’s not a matter of one or the other, but I believe that you can have an intimate, caring, people-centric organisation where 98% of what you do is done remotely.”

It was also during that Covid period that Tom developed the “Covid-19 Seven Leadership Commandments” which summarised, reveal “the only thing that matters in the end”, which is “helping people grow, thrive and have better lives” because ultimately “the right thing to do is also the profitable thing to do”.

The Compact Guide To Excellence

Of all the books he’s written, Tom admits that the latest always becomes his favourite. But he feels that The Compact Guide To Excellence, co-written with Nancy Green, is really the first one of his books he’s fallen in love with. 

“I’ve been writing about and talking about design and the power of design for 25 years, but the power of this book is its look, feel, taste, touch, and smell as much as it is the words that are inside.

Book recommendations

Stephen Trzeciak, Anthony Mazzarelli- Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference 

Nicole Perlroth- This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends

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