AND THE WINNER IS . . .
A handful of key ideas are transforming business. Here's my Top Six list:
No. 6. Total quality management. Superior quality is a must for competitive success these days. Problem is, everybody's doin' it (the Indonesians, Thais, Argentines, et al.). Though imperative, top-notch quality is no more than a player's pass to the ball field. Those who raise the TQM banner above all others are making a big mistake. TQM is about stuff that works unerringly. A big deal? Yes. The whole deal? Hardly.
No. 5. Re-engineering. Today's re-engineering proponents match the religious zeal of yesterday's quality fanatics. And the idea is damned important. Decimating hierarchies via slash-and-burn strategies is one (big) thing.
Linking up activities horizontally and reinventing key business processes -- i.e., re-engineering -- is quite another. Even revolutionary, as the gurus claim.
But it ain't the main game, at least as the game is usually played. Like TQM, re-engineering is mostly internally focused -- i.e., streamlining.
It's another necessary, but far from sufficient, weapon in themanagement arsenal for the '90s.
No. 4. Leveraging knowledge. Brains are in; heavy lifting is out. Thence the development of knowledge is close to job one for corporations.
Maybe one in 10 (and I'm being generous) companies gets it. Of those, only one in 10 is doing it right. The issue of the use of ## technology is 5 percent bits and bytes (a spiffy e-mail system that spans continents), 95 percent psychology and sociology (an organization that dotes on sharing information rather than hoarding it).
No. 3. The curious, cannibalistic corporation. In an increasingly crowded global marketplace, innovation is the sine qua non of success. Corporations desperately need an appetite for adventure, a passion for bold leaps into the unknown.
That means hiring the adventurous and the bold, even when they break a lot of china, and shoving an exciting new product onto the market, even if it gores your current cash cow. It means cherishing your failures. And it may mean chopping your company into firewood before the competition does: To keep his Taiwan-based computer company fresh, Acer boss Stan Shih will break it into 21 bits, then sell off majority shares of each piece to local nationals. Bravo!
No. 2. The virtual organization. It's the real thing, the umbrella that captures entirely new ways for people to work together across time and space.
The virtual corporation is the successful executive who brags about having not visited his own headquarters in the last five years. It's "big" companies, booking billions of bucks in revenue, with, literally, a handful of full-time employees. Mostly, it's the idea that to own resources is a mistake -- to succeed you need, instead, instant access to the best resources from wherever, whenever, to get the job, any job, done.
No. 1. Trust. My latest book ("The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times Call for Crazy Organizations") included, heaven forbid, pictures -- e.g., Virginia Azuelo, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel housekeeper. My use of photos prompted one of re-engineering's most visible advocates to ask a friend of mine, "Why in the world did he do that?"
I did it because all this highfalutin management "stuff" boils downto -- surprise! -- the folks who actually do the work. Ad copywriters, movie cameramen, nurses, technicians, teachers. And hotel housekeepers.
"People," "they," "them" always have been "our most important asset" (as so many annual reports mindlessly proclaim). But now they are more than "most important," if that's possible.
Hierarchies are collapsing. We are asking the average Mary or Mike to take on extraordinary responsibilities. He or she may be on the payroll or, at least as likely, an independent contractor. In any event, the hyperfast-moving, hyperwired-up "organization" will rise or fall on the trust the remaining cadre of managers places in those on the front line.
In short, trust is the key to the other five transforming ideas. We get so caught up in TQM, re-engineering, knowledge-management programs, virtual organizations and innovation schemes that, as always, we end up shortchanging that one person who actually makes it all happen.
Back to Virginia Azuelo. The Ritz-Carlton, 1992 winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality award, has given Azuelo enormous autonomy to serve her guests as she sees fit. (For example, she can spend up to $2,000, on her own, to solve a customer problem.) While Ritz-Carlton may be a star practitioner of everything enumerated in this column, its success still comes down to Virginia Azuelo. Why did I put her picture in my book? Because, for crying out loud, she's the star of the new economy!
Tom Peters' column is a syndicated columnist. Write to him at Tribune Media Services Inc., 720 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, Fla. 32801; (407) 420-8200.