Archives: February 2008

Cool Friend: C. Michael Hiam

When Michael Hiam was growing up, he had a family friend named Sam Adams, who had a fascinating story to tell. Sam never got the story told, but Michael did it for him in his first book, Who the Hell Are We Fighting? The Story of Sam Adams and the Vietnam Intelligence Wars. The subject captured Tom's attention; he grabbed the book and read it. Then he called from New Zealand on his break, asked Erik to read it, find the author, and do an interview. That's how Michael Hiam became our newest Cool Friend. Read the interview for quite a history lesson, and, as I said, a fascinating story.

Snide Advertising

An article in the February 18th newsletter, titled "Snide Advertising is Bad for Business and Society," decries the trend toward "sarcastic" and "malicious" advertising.

With examples such as the FedEx "Dean, I need you to continue not living up to your résumé" ad, which you might have seen, author Richard Rapaport shows how pervasive this trend is. "Take the culture's most facile minds, challenge them to pry cash from an increasingly tapped-out audience, and what do you get?" Rapaport asks. "Commercials built on sadism, on derision, on one-upsmanship—in a word, 'snide.'"

Rapaport is right. This trend is bad for business. So why does it happen?

First of all, let's not credit ad agency creatives with being "the culture's most facile minds." The advertising that major agencies practice is still based on the flawed notion that "brute force" wins the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers. Snide is used because agency creatives (and their complicit clients) mistakenly believe that their goal is to "cut through the clutter." No, the goal is to create ads that blend with all other contacts the customer has with the company doing the advertising, in order to create a connection that encourages the customer to be more involved with that company and its products.

If these minds were so facile, they wouldn't miss, so completely, the point of what they are doing. Or, in a more cynical vein, we could say they know what they are doing, but are more interested in creating clever advertising than in helping their clients' businesses.

Advertising is a sick business. And it isn't just for the oft-mentioned reason that "consumers are using so many more media outlets—the Internet, hundreds of TV stations, thousands of publications."

It is because people just don't buy this way anymore. Customers—your customers—are scrutinizing, savvy, discerning, and self-reliant. They look beyond your promises, and consider every interaction with your company as a chance to evaluate you.

Snide advertising isn't only snide. It is anachronistic.

Future Shape of Quality

Tom Peters believes that the term "excellence" requires wholesale redefinition, if the word is to be applicable to businesses in the future. "Perhaps, excellent firms don't believe in excellence—only in constant improvement and constant change," says Tom. "That is, excellent firms of tomorrow will cherish impermanence—and thrive on chaos." This is a long way from the "7S" model set out in Tom's seminal book, In Search of Excellence.

To my mind, the words excellence and quality have always had similar connotations. So, one might reasonably assume that what's true for future excellence might also be true for future quality, and vice versa? Apparently not, it would seem! I have been working recently with one of the UK's most prestigious authorities on Quality. I suspect their "body of knowledge" on the subject of quality would rival that of most similar bodies around the world. However, when you get past all the contemporary language, their principal focus is still the application of retrospective static models of quality, which are supervised and certified by third-party process-conformance checking. It seems that a quality company can still market concrete life jackets providing they are all made the same way, all carry a stern danger-to-health warning, and the company has a clear complaints procedure!

Reading again through the string of interesting comments on Mike Neiss's recent "Hard Work Matters" blog and the debate about how Future Shape of the Winner compares with the Malcolm Baldrige quality award system has made we wonder if there are any quality assessment methodologies out there that can calibrate the impermanence requirement of future excellent companies. Is there a quality assessment tool that can accommodate hot words like "cherish" and "thrive"?

Where's the WOW?

Remember that television commercial that asked "Where's the Beef?" Last week, I read a great article from the Gallup Management Journal about Toyota Financial Services and their transformation. One question that came to me was "Where's the WOW?"

In the midst of change, at the very core, is a little thing called "talent." Leaders can have great ideas and great visions, but the only way that change is effected is through people. Toyota Financial Services had a grand idea of moving beyond car loans for its Lexus and Toyota dealerships. Why not offer branded credit cards, and other loans? Toyota was looking to increase their brand loyalty. They understood that it would require transformation in many areas of the organization.

When we think about change, we have to start with talent. But we must look at the architecture (systems and structures), and what's our goal (ambition). This is the area that Toyota had to reassess: What was the ambition of the company and how could they connect that to the talent.

Toyota had to discover how to get energy and momentum going in this transformation and, most importantly, how to engage the talent. They asked the question that I have asked many of my clients, "Where is the WOW?" What was going to get the attention of the talent, and what was in it for them? How was this initiative for Toyota going to be different from others, and how would their financial services be unique and special amidst the services from others?

WOW happens when you ask the question, put "fresh eyes" on the project, get closer to your stakeholders, and do not accept excuses that lead to mediocrity. How many times have organizations missed this important question, "Where is the WOW?" In other words, why should anyone, the talent, the customer, and other key stakeholders care about this initiative?

New Cool Friend: Ron Crossland

Our new Cool Friend, Ron Crossland, is a very trusted old friend. In his new book, The Leadership Experience: From Individual Success to Organization Significance, coauthored with Gregg Thompson, Ron shares the fruits of his intense research into leadership through the ages. He argues that since the tenets are timeless, it's time for us to stop trying to define leadership and start developing leaders in a more robust way. Read his interview with Erik Hansen to learn more. Or, visit his website,

Tom Peters Company Wows! You With Two Events

There are two upcoming events presented by the associates at Tom Peters Company, in the UK and in the U.S. You've got to know them through their posts on, now you can hear them virtually and in person.

First, you can learn more about Future Shape of the Winner™ and how you can apply its principles in your own situation at a free Webinar, on Thursday, 6 March 2008, once at 12.00 midday GMT and once at 12 midday EST. During this one-hour web presentation, the team at TPC!UK will explain how FSW can help you deal with some typical dilemmas facing business today, tell you how to begin applying the basic FSW principles in your business, and outline next steps for those who want to go further. For information and registration, go to

Second, the Brand You road trip is back in progress! The next stop on the tour is Dallas, where Tom Peters Company, U.S., will team with Southern Methodist University to bring you the Brand You™: Inspired Performance workshop, on Monday, 31 March 2008. Sign up to learn why all your employees should be Brand Yous. That is, talented people dedicated to achieving excellence, who improve your brand while enhancing their own. For information and registration, go to

Ambition and Productivity

Last week the Associated Press reported that "Worker productivity, the key factor in rising living standards, slowed sharply in the final three months of the year while wage pressures increased." This drop in productivity coupled with the news that the service sector shrank for the first time in five years has many economists talking about how big the impending recession will be rather than debating whether one will occur.

At tpc we have long advocated enabling IT efforts and structures to increase organizational productivity. Many of you are familiar with Tom's rants on the white collar revolution and the advent of white collar robots. We also believe there is another, powerful mechanism for improving productivity. People will become more productive when they want to become more productive! And they want to when their output is moving the organization closer to a compelling shared purpose, vision, or what we call "Ambition" in our Future Shape of the Winner model.

Many of us have probably known someone in the workforce who was going through the motions, fulfilling their job duties with no particular zeal, and sometimes even beginning their retirement while they were still on the payroll. And yet this same person may be a hardworking volunteer for a charitable organization they believe in. The difference is having a purpose that has real meaning. Being part of something that really matters! And improving the return for investors (although the lifeblood of a successful business) is not compelling enough to pull out that voluntary discretionary effort we all have available. It has to be a statement of the common cause for the common good.

That is why we advise our clients to start with ambition. Who do we intend to be and what part might the individual members play? Why does it matter? When it is important, it becomes a "want to" driver, rather than the "have to" necessities of my job. And the work we perform when we want to is always more productive than the work we do because we have to.

What do you think? Agree or disagree that it's the place to start in your strategic plan? Can that raise productivity? Do you have any ideas for building passion through purpose?

Event: Flexirent

Though he has not been blogging for a month while he is on a break, Tom got an event into his schedule while traveling. Yesterday he spoke to Flexirent, a rental company that "gives you the flexibility to keep pace with technology." Tom focused on two subjects: leadership and talent.

If you were there, let us know your reaction in the comments under this blog entry. If you would like to get the slides presentations, you can use these links:
Flexirent, Leadership, Sydney
Flexirent, Talent, Sydney

A Focus on Talent

Is your company adequately prepared to meet your company goals and objectives this year? In a recent article in Training magazine, this issue was discussed. Many senior leaders are concerned that they aren't hiring the right people and that the existing talent may not be ready to perform as needed.

I found it interesting that the majority of senior leaders (92%) rank hiring the right talent as important. I totally agree that hiring the right people is critical to the essence of business, but I also believe that there is a gap when it comes to retaining the people that are hired. Equal attention must be given to existing staff.

Can you recall how excited you were your first day on the job and how exhilarating you thought things would be? Do you still feel that way now? Are you doing work that truly engages you, are you sufficiently challenged to tap into all your talents, and do you feel that your opinions and ideas are valued?

The culture that organizations create has everything to do with how people feel in the organization. Time, money, and effort can be spent hiring the right person, but if the same amount of energy is not put into creating and sustain the right culture, it is like playing a slot machine—you waste a lot of money trying to get a few wins. I agree with this statement in the article: "To successfully address senior management's concerns, human resources leadership needs to embrace its strategic role as an executive partner, and define and execute a holistic human capital management strategy that builds a superior corporate culture based on performance and accountability." I would add that not only must HR be strategic and holistic, but senior and mid-level managers must be, as well.

We know that at the heart of any organization, regardless of its size or type of business, is the talent within it. I have been in many organizations and talked with people at all levels, and I can see the untapped potential that so many organizations are missing. Taking talent for granted and not providing tools and opportunities are a recipe for disaster. Most talented people just have to be given challenges that stretch their potential, a support net that helps them to bounce back from adversity, and a leader who cares. Hiring the best is step one, retaining the best is step two.

I am curious—how does your organization retain the right people? Do you think that your organization is as focused on retention as they are on hiring? Let me know!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Vermont winter scene with snow and stream

Not from Vermont!
From New Zealand!

Back on 20 February.

[VT pic above, NZ below]

New Zealand sunset over the Tasman Sea