Friday, August 13, 2010
Book review: In Search of Excellence
Today the author attempts to write the review of one of his best book ever. A book that escalated his
interest in the world of management like anything.
In Search of Excellence (here after referred as ISOE) written by two management consultants Tom Peters and Thomas Waterman is among some of the best written management books ever. The book has been among the best bestsellers in the world with more than 3 million copies sold worldwide. It was written by surveying 43 best companies in America. The fundamental idea of the book was to find out what drives excellence in a company. What is that common factor which is common in all the top notch and top performing company? The story of writing the book is also very interesting. In 1977 McKinsey director Ron Daniel launched two projects; the first and major one, the Business Strategy project, was allocated to top consultants at McKinsey's New York corporate HQ and was given star billing. Nothing came of it. The second 'weak-sister' project (as Peters called it) concerned Organization - structure and people. The Organization project was seen as less important, and was allocated to Peters and Waterman at San Francisco. Peters traveled the world on an infinite budget, with license to talk to as many interesting business people he could find about teams and organizations in business. He had no particular aim or theory in mind. But after the conduction of the in depth analysis Tom tried to prove that it is not systemized philosophies, high level of no. crunching and bureaucratic systems that make a company great, it’s the so called soft sides such as culture and people that makes a company great. In a way ISOE was an attempt by Tom to refute the ducker’s principles of management that heavily relied on systematic frameworks. The essential message of In Search of Excellence is very simple:-
Main ideas of the books:
The book is based on the 7s framework of “Mckinsey”:-
• Shared values
The book is fundamentally divided into eight chapters. After their conclusive study the authors found that there are eight parameters that are always very important for a company’s success.
1. A bias for action, active decision making - 'getting on with it'. Facilitate quick decision making & problem solving tends to avoid bureaucratic control
2. Close to the customer - learning from the people served by the business.
3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship - fostering innovation and nurturing 'champions'.
4. Productivity through people- treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.
5. Hands-on, value-driven - management philosophy that guides everyday practice - management showing its commitment.
6. Stick to the knitting - stay with the business that you know.
7. Simple form, lean staff - some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff.
8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties - autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralized values.
The best part of the book is that the top 43 American companies are from various backgrounds. These companies include IBM, McDonalds, Caterpillars, 3M, and Walt Disney etc.
The common theme of the book is that it is the kind of culture and shared values that are built in a company are actually responsible for its success and profitability. The book puts huge emphasis on building a culture of innovation. It strictly says that the world is changing (the world here means the business world) and to survive and constantly deliver in this chaotic world it is very important that modern companies should innovate and evolve constantly. Until unless the innovation factor is not there it is very hard to grow continuously, but innovation in itself is not very easy. It is such a dimension that needs to have a very strong culture to support. A culture that isn’t dependent on any particular but on a set of factors. It talks about giving more and more freedom to people, who are in line jobs, who are more close to customers. Because it is these people who are at the front, a CEO dressed up in a resplendent suit may not know what is happening in the field very soon, but the field worker who remains at the market for most of his time can get the glimpse of changes very soon and so it is very essential that authority and freedom must be given to him. Because until unless he will not have this he cannot deliver the message to the upper echelons. The book also has a great message to the top executives of the firm. The book suggests them that they should also try to be visit the field and rather than always getting restricted to their glass chamber they must assign some days of the year where they can directly visit the field and can have a firsthand experience of what actually happens in the field. For this the book gives the example of Walt Disney where the bosses are supposed to visit the field at least once in a year, they are supposed to be dressed as cartoon characters and they greet various customers. These kinds of experiences always make top management close to their customers and help them understand the general psychology of their customers. It also states that the most successful companies are those companies that promote their employees to innovate. Even in the entire process if the firm loses some money they really don’t care much. Additionally when it comes to innovation it’s not essential that innovation will be driven by the top team of scientists only, it can even be driven by normal workmen working in the floor. To strengthen this point the book has given example of companies like 3m which known for coming up with a very high no. of innovative products every year. The book takes a critical view on the “Bean Counters”(Bean Counter is the term used for top B-school graduates in the time of 60’s and 70’s in America, they were highly systematic in approach and used a wide range of numerical tools .) The book is not very supportive of the stands taken by the bean counters. Bean counters were known for doing a return of investment analysis for everything that was done. According to the book such an approach might look sophisticated in the beginning but hampers the qualitative aspect of a company in the long run.
The book is wonderful read that has its own unique flow. The best part of the book is the maverick approach followed by the authors, anyone who has a penchant to do something unique and to think of a situation with a non stereotypical approach, this book is a must read. The book is highly inspiring and very systematic in approach. It’s among the very few books of its time that had tried to consider the “people factor “and “Culture factor” in the success of a company. Another important strength of the book is that it is based on the fundamentals of solid research rather than assumptions.
Though like any other good piece of work it has its regular flaws too. The book primarily focuses on companies that have American origin. The time when the book was written lot of Japanese firms were also rising but hardly any focus is given upon them. Secondly many of the things that the book talks about are in general vague in nature and cannot be described very easily. The book also does not have any analytical tools as such.
But all in all the book is a great read and can be read by all sorts of people such as corporate, Entrepreneurs, Managers, students and general readers etc.