Excellence and extreme humanization are needed more than ever – Interview with Tom Peters


Share on LinkedIn

Today’s interview is with Tom Peters, author of numerous business books (17 in total) and speaker. He is, perhaps, best known for his 1982 seminal book: In Search of Excellence (co-authored with Robert H. Waterman Jr). This is the second time that Tom has been on the podcast. The first time was in 2018 (Striving for excellence has never been more important) where we talked about his latest book: The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work That Wows and Jobs That Last. Today he joins me to talk about the need for Extreme Humanization given the situation we currently find ourselves in and a couple of pieces that he has recently penned: Excellence Manifesto 2020: The Twenty-Nine “Number Ones” and Excellence 2020 Observations Leading With Compassion And Care In Troubled Times.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – A lot of enterprise software is still eye-wateringly terrible and it’s acting like a handbrake on experience improvement efforts – Interview with Leon Gauhman of Elsewhen – and is number 348 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my chat with Tom:

  • My 2018 interview with Tom: Striving for excellence has never been more important – Interview with Tom Peters
  • Tom’s whole life can be summarized in six words. Hard is soft, soft is hard. The numbers are squishy and relationships are hard.
  • This is not coming from a philosophy major. It is coming from someone with four quant degrees.
  • Tom says that he has now published 17 books and has said the same thing 17 times in a row. People, people, people, relationships, relationships, relationships.
  • There are people who remember their roots, and there are people who think they deserve it. There is nothing more irritating than a very successful person who thinks they deserve it.
  • Tom recently penned two new pieces: Excellence Manifesto 2020: The Twenty-Nine “Number Ones” and Excellence 2020 Observations Leading With Compassion And Care In Troubled Times.
  • Tom believes that what you have done as a leader in the last two months and what you will do as a leader in the next two months will define you as an adult human being. “F*** this one up and you f***ed up your life’s reputation”.
  • There is a difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues.
  • If you treat people well, you end up making more money. Maybe it doesn’t meet the immediate next 90 day shareholder value maximization crap but McKinsey did this piece of research a few years ago, based on 800 companies. They looked at 167 that by some very analytic measures had invested regularly in people for the long term and the ones who invested for the long term in people had destroyed the others in terms of long term financial performance.
  • Look after your people and everything else will take care of itself.
  • Richard Branson: “Business has to give people enriching, rewarding lives, or it’s not worth doing”.
  • I do want to say I’m not completely deaf, dumb and blind and that I completely acknowledge the nightmare of the person who had, say, a 12 table restaurant in Boston or London and has a mortgage on the building that the restaurants is in and obviously has got to lay people off.
  • However, even the nastiest of things can be done with great humanity.
  • Little gestures go a long, long way.
  • Extreme humanization is exemplified by Tom’s story about a health care professional who put a mirror on an MRI machine so that a patient, while in the machine, could still make eye contact with the radiology technician and vice versa. A small thing but it made an enormous difference to the patient experience and helped them feel less alone while having a scan.
  • The power of design can contribute to the healing process, shape events and transform lives.
  • American statesman Henry Clay: “Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart”.
  • Never hire assholes.
  • As long as you live never promote anybody into any managerial position who is not loaded to the roof with empathy.
  • The essence of the economy is small and medium sized firms and the good news is that there is a lot of exceptionally positive behavior that goes on there but it doesn’t get reported in the FT or in Bloomberg or Business Week.
  • The reality is is that big companies suck, and some of them suck faster than others.
  • Story of a consultant who was talking to a CEO about the impact of lots of little experiential extreme humanization touches. He turned to the CEO and he said “All of this stuff is obvious. Why don’t other CEOs do it?” The answer the CEO gave is profound and not silly. The CEO said: “I think they’re embarrassed. You know unless you are looking at a spreadsheet, folks don’t feel they are doing honest work”.
  • Much more MBWA (managing by wandering around) is needed.
  • You have to do MBWA because it’s fun. If you don’t have fun doing MBWA then please go back to your office, get out a piece of paper and a pen and write down on that piece of paper: I quit. I resign.
  • If you don’t get off on people then get the bloody hell out of leadership.
  • There was a three star general in the US Army and he gave a speech to the Army War College once, and he said, there are three words that will give you an excellent career: You must care.
  • Therefore, don’t hire the ones that don’t have that instinct.
  • Don’t get conned by technical excellence.
  • A captain in the Navy told one of his officers…..as a matter of course, I expect you to do your job very well. But, that’s not what I’m going to evaluate you on. I am going to evaluate you on how you take care of your sailors. How many of your sailors are doing extra education in their own time? How many of your sailors got promoted to better jobs?
  • Dov Frohman (former Intel exec) in Leadership the Hard Way wrote that a leader should have about 50% of her or his time unscheduled.
  • Dov added in the book a story about a company he took over and he got rid of all of the personal assistants to the senior executives. He believed that executives should be control of scheduling their own time. They should understand the things that they are doing.
  • One of Tom’s laws: If you are ever 30 secs late to a meeting that you have called then you are a first class stupid jerk!
  • Every single person in the organization needs to be adding little extreme humanization touches here and little touches there regardless whether you are in HR or Finance or wherever.
  • We should measure TGRs: Things Gone Right.
  • Small things are infinitely better than big things.
  • If you are a boss that has a team of 15 people, how many communication strategies do you need?15! Every single human being is different and they need to be treated the way that need to be treated.
  • It’s extreme humanization inside the company that generates extreme humanization outside the company.
  • If you don’t embrace this then you are abrogating responsibility for caring about what happens.
  • Tom’s Punk CX words: Be kind.
  • Tom’s Punk CX brand/person: Recently retired Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario 


About Tom

TomPeters300Born in Baltimore in 1942 “with a lacrosse stick in one hand and oars over my shoulder,” Peters resided in California, mainly Silicon Valley [where he was on a list of “100 most powerful people in Silicon Valley”], from 1965–2000. Tom is a civil engineering graduate of Cornell [B.C.E., M.C.E.], where he was included in the book The 100 Most Notable Cornellians, and he earned an MBA and a Ph.D. in business at Stanford; he holds honorary doctorates from institutions that range from the University of San Francisco to the State University of Management in Moscow and has been honored by dozens of associations [and dozens of Web polls] in content areas such as management, leadership, quality, human resources, customer service, innovation, marketing, and design. In the U.S. Navy from 1966–1970, he made two deployments to Vietnam [as a combat engineer in the fabled Navy Seabees] and “survived a tour in the Pentagon.” He was a White House/OMB drug-abuse advisor in 1973–1974, and then he worked at McKinsey & Co. from 1974–1981, becoming a partner in 1979; he also co-founded McKinsey’s now gargantuan Organization Effectiveness practice. In 1981, Tom founded Skunkworks Inc. and The Tom Peters Company.

In 1982 Tom Peters co-authored In Search of Excellence with Robert H. Waterman Jr. The book changed the way the world does business and is often tagged as the best business book ever. Eighteen books and thirty-five years later, Tom is still at the forefront of the “management guru industry” he single-handedly invented. What’s new? A lot. As CNN said, “While most business gurus milk the same mantra for all it’s worth, the one-man brand called Tom Peters is still reinventing himself.”

Tom’s bedrock belief: “Execution is strategy—it’s all about the people and the doing, not the talking and the theory.” In November 2017, Tom received the Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Effectively, all of Tom’s written and speech material covering the last 15+ year is available—free to download—at tompeters.com and excellencenow.com.

Grab a copy of Tom’s latest book: The Excellence Dividend: Meeting the Tech Tide with Work That Wows and Jobs That Last, you will not be disappointed. Tom is an avid user of Twitter so do say Hi to him there @tom_peters and connect with him on Linkedin here.

Image: Excellence by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images


Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here