Theatre & Films Productions

In Search of Excellence

Peters and Waterman:

In search of excellence


  1. David Guest, Right Enough to be dangerously wrong , an analysis of the In Search of Excellence Phenomenon

The In Search of excellence argument:

“In Search of Excellence” was written by Peters and Waterman who were employed by McKinsey, the leading firm of management consultants. This publication seek to define the characteristics of excellent organizations using the McKinsey 7-S framework; Structure, Systems, Style, Staff, Skills, Strategy, and Shared Values.It describes the business practice of a number of leading American companies and in particular identifies eight attributes common to most of the excellent companies. Briefly summarised, these attributes are:

1. A Bias for Action -A preference for getting on with it and doing something rather than engaging in excessive analysis of a problem ofr allowing committees to cause delays.

2. Close to the Customer -The emphasis is on Customer Service.

3. Autonomy and Entrepreneurship -The company is broken down into small units and each of which initiative is encourage. Innovative behaviour is highly valued.

4. Productivity Through People -Employees are seen as the key resources of the organisation.

5. Hands-On, Value-Driven -Senior executives promote a strong corporate culture

6. Stick to the Knitting -Successful companies stay close to the business they know best and avoid the temptation to become conglomerates

7. Simple Form, Lean Staff -These companies maintain a simple organisation structure, avoiding the complexities of matrix organisation and employ relatively few senior head office staff.

8. Simultaneous Loose-Tight Properties – Core company values are strongly emphasized but those who adhere to them are given considerable freedom and errors are tolerated

Explaining the success of In Search of Excellence

1. The message is valid

Those organisations that  manifest the eight attributes, irrespective of what else they do, will be conspicuously successful. They give weight to the importance of informal qualitative factors such as leadership and culture in shaping the performance of organisations.

2. The message is perceived as valid

In Search of Excellence is essentially about the ‘soft’s s’s. It is telling managers that their intuitive judgements and more especially their judgements about people are crucially important for organisational success. In making this claim the authors appear to be distilling the wisdom and experience of successful managers rather than deriving their conclusions from the more academic perspective of the business schools with their emplasis on management techniques.

3. It is an easy read

It is possible to distil the essence of the book in no more than ten minutes in the introductory chapter.. Another appeal of the book to managers is that it is easy for busy managers to read while it avoids being patronising or unduly simplistic.

4. Good timing

Another factor in the success of In Search of Exellence was undoubtedly its timing. The book appeared in the early years of the Reagan area when the United States was beginning to rebuild its self-confidence after several years of introspective self-doubt. The success of Japan had kindled an interest in Japanese management, and several bestselling business books had appeared either extolling the virtues of Japanese compared with American management. The most successful illustration of this was Ouchi’s (1981) Theory Z. The message from In Search of Excellence was rather different and fitted in well with Reaganite America. It was that to find the lessons for success in American Industy, you need to look no further than in your own back yard. The lessons were to be found by exploring the practices of the best American companies and not by looking overseas.

5. Its marketing and practicality

The success of In Search of Excellence has been attributed by some writers to its perceived practicality and common sense. It promises a new approach and points to the dimensions on which managers ought to focus their attention. The book has also been a careful marketing of McKinsey, the consulting firm by whom both Peters and Waterman were employed when they wrote the book.

The more limited success of management books in the UK can be attributed, at least in part, to the lower level of education among managers and their failure to develop habits of reading and keeping up to date with new ideas about management. (NEDO, 1987).

Pretty cool stuffs are available on Tom Peters website: including:

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