The quest for organizational excellence

Tom Peters wrote In Search of Excellence, and it was published in 1982. Not everyone in high office has read it. Consider this statement:

While on the subject of airline mergers, my nominee for worst major airline, hands down, is United. It was bad before its merger with Continental five years ago. Now it’s simply awful. Seats are smaller. Upgrades are harder to book. “Change fees” are higher. Baggage fees have escalated. Tickets cost more. Cross-country flights are on old planes. But it’s not only you and I and other travelers who have been screwed.—Robert Reich in a Facebook post

In 2015 there isn’t much we don’t know about how to guide an organization to achieving excellence. People just don’t want to do it.

I think the readers of this blog are more likely than the average bear to care about excellence. I say that because I write this blog to attract thoughtful people.

Having made a study of this subject I want to offer you a fortune-cookie sized recommendation that fits into a blog post.


It’s your move.

The best way to move toward excellence is to support, encourage, and reward learning experiences. By this I mean all kinds of learning experiences. Let people choose their own. You might see the accounting department learning about manufacturing, or HR learning about research and development.

Does this kind of activity sound like a distraction? It worked for Apple.

Senior management has to adjust priorities to accommodate this emphasis. If these individuals are faking (see my blog post What are you hiding?) you will have to deal with that or the learning will not occur.

The tradition with organizational coaches is to invite them in to assess the organization’s condition, and then to recommend ways to fix the problems that have been identified. That can work, but it is old fashioned, and people feel actions are being imposed on them.

Your employees already know where the opportunities for improvement are. The culture in your organization tells them what they should do with what they know. Most organizations demand silence and complacency.

As Chris Argyris told us in his remarkable book Knowledge for Action, the way to assure employees that they are allowed to take risks is for the senior managers to take risks and to do it in view of everyone.

One of the most powerful cues that individuals at lower levels can receive about the depth of the commitment by those at the top comes from watching them struggle to act differently and then reflecting on their actions and respecting the time and energy required to produce lasting changes.—Chris Argyris

An outside consultant can provide valuable guidance on the implementation, and the employees will retain their sense of ownership over their own contributions to the effort. Let me mention that Maysa and I can provide this kind of guidance.


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