Is Civility a Sin?

HP boss Mark Hurd gets his moment in the sun as cover boy for the 16 March FortuneMark Hurd’s Moment.” He’s a numbers maniac and tops in a recession, it’s said, though Fortune wonders whether or not he’s a “CEO for the ages.”

I think he’s done a fine job on following through with the utterly amazing corporate culture revolution that Carly Fiorina launched. She transformed HP from hyper-nerdy-nerds-making-stuff-for-nerds to super-cool and consumer friendly, too, then iced the change with the successful Compaq merger—about the only one of those big suckers in recent (or not so recent) memory that has worked out more or less as intended.

But the above is not the point of the post. The point is an off-to-the-side remark by P&G CEO A.G. Lafley concerning Mr. Hurd: “When we meet there’s no chitchat or warm-up. It’s right to business.”

So my question du jour: Is numbers-obsessed-no-chitchat the guaranteed way to run a business successfully?

I am well aware of the problems with a numbers obsession—I’ve devoted the last 30 years of my life to questioning obsessive numbers-come-first-and-last management. But this adds a new dimension: Is civility, too, a sin, comparable to focusing on more than the numbers?

(Related query, does Mr Hurd ask his kids about grades first, then, and only after getting the numeric answer to the grades query, ask how their day went? Just wondering.)

(NB: I had the privilege of “wandering around” with Sam Walton on a few occasions. When talking to a store manager, he invariably began with queries about wife and kids—and to my amazement he usually remembered something or other about a spouse or a child.)

Tom Peters posted this on March 16, 2009, in Brand You.
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