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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The eight essential basics of excellent companies
Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. were consultants with McKinsey & Co. when this book was published in 1982. This book shot both authors into management guru-dom and is still one of the greatest management bestsellers ever. Both authors have written other books, but none have come close to this one.
In this book, the authors report on the findings from the...
Published on 29 July 2003 by Gerard Kroese

versus
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellence revisited
In Search of Excellence has been credited to have started the so-called management guru business. Written in 1982 it is the first book that aims to explain company success in a popularized way. Subsequent books on the subject are, for instance, Competitive Advantage (Porter, 1985) and, more recently, Good to Great (Collins, 2001). I gave the book three stars, but in that...
Published on 19 July 2005 by Niklas Kari


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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The eight essential basics of excellent companies, 29 July 2003
By 
Gerard Kroese (The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. were consultants with McKinsey & Co. when this book was published in 1982. This book shot both authors into management guru-dom and is still one of the greatest management bestsellers ever. Both authors have written other books, but none have come close to this one.
In this book, the authors report on the findings from the excellent companies: "It will define what we mean by excellence. It is an attempt to generalize about what the excellent companies seem to be doing that the rest are not, and to buttress our observations on the excellent companies with sound social and economic theory." The authors' research started in 1977 when two internal task forces at McKinsey & Co. were set up to research a general concern with the problems of management effectiveness, and a particular concern with the nature of the relationship between strategy, structure, and management effectiveness. One of these task forces was to review thinking on strategy, the other was to review thinking on organizational effectiveness. Peters and Waterman were the leaders of the project on organizational effectiveness. Their research involved talking extensively with executives around the world and extensive literature reviews. Initially they worked mainly on the problem of expanding our diagnostic and remedial kit beyond the traditional tools for business problem solving, which then concentrated on strategy and structural approaches. This resulted in the now well-renowned 7-S framework (structure, strategy, systems, shared values, skills, style, and staff). "But there was still something missing. ... we were shore on practical design ideas, especially for the 'soft S's'." So the authors decided to look at management excellence itself. "We asserted that innovative companies not only are unusually good at producing commercially viable new widgets; innovative companies are especially adroit at continually responding to change of any sort in their environment." The authors labeled the companies that seemed to have achieved that kind of innovative performance as excellent companies.
The authors eventually chose 75 highly regarded companies, in which they conducted intense, structured interviews. Their project showed that the excellent companies were, above all, brilliant on the basics. The authors use eight chapters to discuss in detail the eight attributes that distinct excellent, innovative companies: 1. A bias for action, for getting on with it; 2. Close to the customer; 3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship; 4. Productivity through people; 5. Hands-on, value driven; 6. Stick to the knitting; 7. Simple form, lean staff; 8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties. None of these eight attributes are something special. In fact, they can even be called simple and predictable and the authors refer to them as "motherhoods". Most essential to each of these excellent companies is the intensity within them. This intensity is build on the strongly held beliefs of these companies.
Yes, I do like this book. I must admit that I had heard plenty about this book and had read several reviews before I actually started reading it. The biggest criticism I heard was that the example companies are not so excellent now. Perhaps true, but I do not think that this book is that much about the excellent companies themselves. I believe that it is much more about the attitude of the example companies, the positive culture. Highly recommended to business leaders, managers, and MBA-students. Read it sooner rather than later. The book is written in simple US-English, although it contains quite a heavy literature review.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellence revisited, 19 July 2005
By 
Niklas Kari (Helsinki) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
In Search of Excellence has been credited to have started the so-called management guru business. Written in 1982 it is the first book that aims to explain company success in a popularized way. Subsequent books on the subject are, for instance, Competitive Advantage (Porter, 1985) and, more recently, Good to Great (Collins, 2001). I gave the book three stars, but in that assessment I have tried to consider that the book is old and business knowledge has evolved ever since - yet the book is a seminal piece of work. If the book would have been written more recently, it probably would have given one or two stars to it.
Based on a major McKinsey study, In Search of Excellence identifies eight characteristics common for excellent companies: (1) a bias for action, (2) close to the customer, (3) autonomy and entrepreneurship, (4) productivity through people, (5) hands-on, value-driven, (6) stick to the knitting, (7) simple form, lean staff, and (8) simultaneous loose-tight properties. Personally, I don't find this set of characteristics very surprising or insightful - it would be difficult to imagine a financially excellently performing company that doesn't get things done, doesn't care about customers, is excessively bureaucratic and so forth. Moreover, some of these characteristics are at most directionally true such as "stick to the knitting" (consider e.g. GE - which btw. was part of the book's sample).
Nevertheless, In Search of Excellence provides interesting examples and a lot of good practical advice. I have to admit, though, that for me many of the examples were tedious reading as they represented often quite outdated issues. What I liked most in the book was the theory. Peters and Waterman have succeeded in picking up theory that mostly has stand the test of time. I would assume that for instance Henry Mintzberg and Karl Weick were much less known in 1982 as they are today. James March, Alfred Chandler and many others still are considered great management thinkers. My fancying for the theory is partly explained by that I in general agree with the author's that it is more often the soft issues that are important, not the hard issues.
The methodology used in the study is not particularly robust. An original convenience sample of 62 companies is analyzed on six different measures of financial excellence such as average return on equity between 1961 and 1980. In order to be "excellent", a company must be in the top half within its industry in four of the six measures. 43 companies met this criterion and the authors conducted interviews in them. Underperforming companies were not really included so the study doesn't tell are the identified characteristics unique to excellent companies (although the authors make a vague statement that underperforming companies were also analyzed, but they didn't focus on them). Also, for unclear reasons, companies that were perceived excellent but were not part of the initial sample, were included in the book's example, which is a little confusing (are those companies also excellent, and if yes, on what basis?).
Finally, a point I find very intriguing, is that in an article for FastCompany in 2001 ([...] Peters admitted that he and Waterman faked the data. This raises some interesting ethical questions: why does the new foreword of In Search of Excellence (written in 2003) not raise the issue? Why does McKinsey still embrace the book on its web page without mentioning that the data has been cooked? To me it seems to imply that an aspiration for truth is easily put aside in order to serve self-interested purposes.
So what is the "so what" of In Search of Excellence? Considering that the methodology is as weak as it is, it's hard to draw any far-fetched conclusions from the study. Neither does the book try to do that - it rather states that excellent companies seems to have these characteristics in common, and if you focus on them, maybe also your company will be excellent. Now considering that the data was cooked, the book doesn't really say even that, but rather provides a seemingly good narrative and dwells on some interesting ideas, while at the same time being short on intellectual rigor and ethics.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Give them credit for getting the ball rolling � that�s it!, 14 Aug. 2005
By 
Fraser (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This book was, for a significant period, regarded as the classic in its field, which is why it made gradual entrance in the business-books limelight rather than being an instantaneous hit when it was first published about 20 years ago; rather, it was an ice-breaker.
The research behind the book was never supposed to amount to much as it played 2nd-fiddle to another research project at the Management Consulting firm the authors worked for: Mckinsey & Co. However, it emerged into what many have proclaimed as a classic. Yet with the test of time, its quality of research became ever more questionable for a number of reasons, primarily, as several of its 'excellent' firms diverged from a status of what can be regarded as 'excellent' firms.
An article with Fast Company magazine brought into the light the author's initial research steps, which was to first start off by essentially asking McKinsey partners 'Who's cool?' and 'Who is doing cool work?'; rather than, to base their research population of firms upon those that passed more brutal metrics based questions about what firms should have made their list. This amounted to, as co-author Peters puts in his own words: 'faking the data.' The fact that their proceeding quantitative analysis then eliminated GE (a firm that is now considered as the world's leading conglomerate firm and was recently ranked 1st by the Financial Times global 500 Companies - June 2005) from their initial list showed the shortcomings of using their 'raw insight', which Peters admits can be 'stupid', as opposed to " 'smart' tough-minded metrics".
In the final analysis, the authors can certainly be credited with the inception of posing and having a respectable attempt at attacking that nebulous and vexing question: what makes a top-performing firm? But as the ultimate judge, time has shown that their theories are not anywhere near as robust as first proclaimed!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent first read for anyone interested in management, 26 Nov. 2000
By 
b.m.khan@lse.ac.uk (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE lays much of the groundwork for anyone interested in studying management. Tom Peters presents most of the concepts which have become almost by-laws of organizatonal behavior and managerial theory, and on which most of his subsequent work is based e.g. success through failure, innovation through entrepreneurship, management by walk about, customer and employee orientation. The best part of the book are the numerous fascinating anecdotes which Mr. Peters relates from his research into the practises of legendary companies and their leaders. At times, the book might seem outdated in its applicability to the current organizational structure, but it remains a seminal work in management excellence theory, and is a book for the ages.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The eight essential basics of excellent companies, 5 Feb. 2003
By 
Gerard Kroese (The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. were consultants with McKinsey & Co. when this book was published in 1982. This book shot both authors into management guru-dom and is still one of the greatest management bestsellers ever. Both authors have written other books, but none have come close to this one.
In this book, the authors report on the findings from the excellent companies: "It will define what we mean by excellence. It is an attempt to generalize about what the excellent companies seem to be doing that the rest are not, and to buttress our observations on the excellent companies with sound social and economic theory." The authors' research started in 1977 when two internal task forces at McKinsey & Co. were set up to research a general concern with the problems of management effectiveness, and a particular concern with the nature of the relationship between strategy, structure, and management effectiveness. One of these task forces was to review thinking on strategy, the other was to review thinking on organizational effectiveness. Peters and Waterman were the leaders of the project on organizational effectiveness. Their research involved talking extensively with executives around the world and extensive literature reviews. Initially they worked mainly on the problem of expanding our diagnostic and remedial kit beyond the traditional tools for business problem solving, which then concentrated on strategy and structural approaches. This resulted in the now well-renowned 7-S framework (structure, strategy, systems, shared values, skills, style, and staff). "But there was still something missing. ... we were shore on practical design ideas, especially for the 'soft S's'." So the authors decided to look at management excellence itself. "We asserted that innovative companies not only are unusually good at producing commercially viable new widgets; innovative companies are especially adroit at continually responding to change of any sort in their environment." The authors labeled the companies that seemed to have achieved that kind of innovative performance as excellent companies.
The authors eventually chose 75 highly regarded companies, in which they conducted intense, structured interviews. Their project showed that the excellent companies were, above all, brilliant on the basics. The authors use eight chapters to discuss in detail the eight attributes that distinct excellent, innovative companies: 1. A bias for action, for getting on with it; 2. Close to the customer; 3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship; 4. Productivity through people; 5. Hands-on, value driven; 6. Stick to the knitting; 7. Simple form, lean staff; 8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties. None of these eight attributes are something special. In fact, they can even be called simple and predictable and the authors refer to them as "motherhoods". Most essential to each of these excellent companies is the intensity within them. This intensity is build on the strongly held beliefs of these companies.
Yes, I do like this book. I must admit that I had heard plenty about this book and had read several reviews before I actually started reading it. The biggest criticism I heard was that the example companies are not so excellent now. Perhaps true, but I do not think that this book is that much about the excellent companies themselves. I believe that it is much more about the attitude of the example companies, the positive culture. Highly recommended to business leaders, managers, and MBA-students. Read it sooner rather than later. The book is written in simple US-English, although it contains quite a heavy literature review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nice, entertaining story. Lousy method, 20 Sept. 2009
By 
A. O. P. Akemu "Ona" (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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I became interested in organisational leadership when I changed jobs about two years ago. I started pondering the question, Why is one company 'better' at bringing out the best in its people than another company? It was clear that monetary incentives - while important - did not account for the difference in enthusiasm that I had witnessed in my short career; In Search of Excellence was a good place to start seeking answers.

Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, both former consultants at Mckinsey & Co, state that America's best companies, which were selected by the authors based on their financial performance up to 1982, achieve superior performance because they do eight things well. These are:

1. BIAS FOR ACTION. The excellent companies (authors' words) go out and do something in order to solve problems. They do not spend long hours doing desktop analysis and reports. Classic example: Procter & Gamble, who have a tradition of the one-page memo.

2. STAY CLOSE TO THE CUSTOMER. The excellent companies stay close - really close - to their customers. They involve the customers in production design and development and monitor the customers' needs incessantly.

3. AUTONOMY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP. In all the top performers, 'small' is good. They are ready to sacrifice costs and duplication in return for autonomy in the line.

4. PRODUCTIVITY THROUGH PEOPLE. How many companies say that people are their greatest asset, and yet in the same breath treat employees like children? Top performers, on the other hand, don't only pay lip service to the importance of their people, they match words with action.

5. HANDS-ON, VALUE DRIVEN. Top managers in the excellent companies are incentivised to keep in touch with the firm's essential business.

6. LEAN STAFFING. Typically, the number of corporate staff in the top performers is small compared to poorer performing companies.

7. STICK TO THE KNITTING. Excellent companies stay in the business that they know best. Even when they diversify, they typically do it tentatively and in bit-sized chunks that enable them to fail (or succeed) quickly.

8. SIMULTANEOUS LOOSE-TIGHT PROPERTIES. Top performing companies manage the paradoxes in the business well. These include, for example, fostering a climate where the organisation's values are respected but in which the values of the individual employee is tolerated. Personally, I thought that this point was the weakest of the eight, as it seemed to have been an afterthought.

The authors present a short history of the study of management. They present the shift in management thinking from the rational, closed model of Weber and Taylor (1900 - 1930), which deeply influenced Vietnam war planners like Robert McManamara, to the social, open model of Weick and March (1970- ?).

Peters and Waterman also provide a credible literature review of human psychology as it concerns organisational design. The ideas presented may seem obvious (for example, people want to be part of a group, yet want to stick out etc.) but the authors contend that many companies, especially 'rationalist' types a la Weber ignore human psychology resulting in loss of productivity and demotivation. The book is made immensely more readable because the authors pepper it with anecdotes based on their experience working with line managers and with CEOs of major corporations. So far, so good.

So far so good. Yet, the book has some serious problems. I will discuss three: (1) Choice of excellent companies; (2) Selection bias; and (2) causal model. Firstly, I am not sure, however, of the wisdom of the choice of some of the excellent companies. In the book, Wal-Mart is singled out as having people-friendly policies, which place employees - associates, as Wal-Mart calls them - at the centre of the company. Really? Is it the same Wal-Mart that prevents its employees from unionising while paying them minimum wage? How does preventing workers from unionising square with condescendingly calling them associates when they are on minimum wage? A major oil service company was also one of the excellent companies, who put their people first. Is this same oil service company that ruthlessly reduces employee numbers the minute the oil price drops below $50 a barrel? Admittedly, the book was written in 1982. Therefore, Peters and Waterman could not foresee Wal-Mart's current behaviour but then it seriously undermines the authors' judgment.

Secondly, it may indeed be true that the excellent firms possess all these desirable qualities. Yet, it is not clear whether this differentiates them from less excellent firms. Peters and Waterman did not sample the less excellent firms; therefore, we do not know that the desirable qualities are unique characteristics of the excellent firms.

Thirdly, what about the eight characteristics of top performing companies? Are they the cause of high performance or are they the correlative side effects of other qualities such as excellent management?

A NICE STORY FOR AN ERA?
The authors are right on one score: the importance of communication in any people-driven organisation. It is no surprise that management of the excellent companies trust their people enough to communicate the key performance and organisational issues with them. It's a message that more managers should take to heart especially in today's knowledge intensive economy. People are not automatons or just resources - to use the words of a manager I know.

Yet, my sense is that Peters and Waterman told an enchanting fairytale to an American business elite that was been buffeted by the winds of competition from Japan. The secrets of sustained superior performance are notoriously difficult to pin down - especially using the method in the book. Peters and Waterman may be forgiven for lack of rigour; afterall, they were not writing for an academic journal. Their inimitable gift is the ability to tell a racy tale about business success (to an importance audience, managers and the public) better than any management scholar ever did. I, perhaps grudgingly, admit that that effort deserve three stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little too 1980'ish, 29 Mar. 2004
By 
Great in its day but a little dated now - Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy wearing hi-waistband, parallel jeans and platform shoes but don't think many of the lessons in this book have aged as well. Still, Tom Peters is a living legend and its the kind of stuff you can read anywhere (Bath, Beach, Bed) - Just don't expect to get too excited with it. 'In Search Of Competence' is a similar type read but with an Irish Twist.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INSPIRING EXAMPLES OF EXCITING LEADERSHIP, 21 July 1999
By A Customer
Life (and business) are a lot more fun if we are excited and committed to what we are doing. This book reawakens our sense that organizations can be exciting and meaningful places to be, filled with the potential for great results and enormous impact. We all have been touched by an outstanding leader and inspired to do more. Most of us would have a hard time spelling out what those leaders do. This book is a very practical guide to being a good example and a source of daily inspiration. You can read other books to figure out what to inspire people to do specifically and so forth, but this one is unique. You may find that you do not "get" a particular recommendation. To deepen your understanding, I recommend that you read A PASSION FOR EXCELLENCE in those areas where you are unmoved or unclear. It is filled with examples on the same points as IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE. I also like the title. Finding excellence is a never-ending task for us all. If you want to read a terrific book on how successful companies differ from their less successful competitors, be sure to read BUILT TO LAST. It is also a great companion for IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE.
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4.0 out of 5 stars In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-run Companies, 9 May 2011
This review is from: In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-run Companies (Hardcover)
IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE - Lessons from America's Best-run Companies which challenges "rationalism" but did not reject orthodox model was written by two eminently qualified management scientists/consultants:
THOMAS J. PETERS, MBA, PhD Stanford, former US Marine, Consultant at Mckinsey, Quality Guru award winner by British Dept of Trade'
ROBERT N. WATERMAN Jr MBA Stanford, former Consultant at Mckinsey
The book was written in three parts. Parts I is about The saving remnant. II discussed Rational model. Put together the authors dissected orthodox model. Their recommendation came in Part III thus:
1 Action consciousness - The authors emphasized the need for effective communication: horizontal, vertical and across the entire organization. Without communication management of people and resources would be impossible. The smaller the group the better for communication. Experiment is key to innovation. Informal and flexible format produces voluntary and efficient work team.
2 Customer service - The success of every business is essentially the response of customers' satisfaction of goods and services provided. To keep these customers you need to keep high quality, reliable and efficient goods and services. Direct relationship between customer service and company performance.
3 Enterprise and independent research - Ideas are like dreams. An organization that keeps its team constantly in communicative forum is very likely to reap bountifully in terms of inventions, innovation and excellent production of goods and services even if they failed many times in processing them.
4 People power - Human psychology suggests that the more they are treated as adults with dignity, the better and higher productivity that comes as reward. This is certainly going to be so if management keeps communication flexible and informal.
5 Hands-on, Value-Driven - Successful companies maintain certain universally accepted values. The belief to be the best in goods or services provided is one of such values. Excellent customer service is another. History of company's performance, documentaries and special features are some of the sources to transmit a company's value system.
6 Keeping the original scheme -Keeping the promises of your company's original scheme is a commendable endeavor but not blind eyes to diversification. Successful companies diversify along their original pattern. Large scale acquisitions without adequate in-house skills and capabilities would sap management energy and the scheme rather than sustaining the group would fail. Small-scale experimental acquisition is adviseable.
7 Slim and sizeable format - A large company may find management of its work force difficult unless it reduces the number of management layers to the barest minimum. Flexible communication would guide against incoherent and inefficient team incapable of facing competition.
8 Simultaneous loose-tight properties - A management device to retain its role of directiong the organization as well as allowing individual autonomy. Without rigid control of its staff the company is expected to create enabling environment for entrpreneurship and innovation across board. Such employees would be motivated to maintain and promote the core values of the company.

In Search Of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies
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4.0 out of 5 stars Small was beautiful in 1982, and it still is today!, 11 Jan. 2011
By 
Maarten de Vries (Barcelona) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I learnt a lot from this book, particularly about the age-old discussion of centralisation vs decentralisation, and I think it's as least as relevant now as it was in 1982, if not more so. In an era of massive centralisation (huge mergers and acquisitions, shared service centers etc), this book states that "excellent companies" decentralise everything down to relatively small operating units, and even keep them small, by splitting them up as soon as they get too big. These units have practically full autonomy over their own operations (including purchasing, finance etc) and therefore require very little in the way of a bureaucratic staff organisation. The only thing that is centralised, and very much so, is a set of core values, e.g. in quality, innovation, informality, customer service and/or people. These values have often been laid down by the legendary founder of the company and change very little over time. Taken together, the centralised values and decentralised everything else are what the authors call "simultaneous loose-tight properties".

This principle uses a clever combination of tight discipline and loose autonomy to resolve the apparent contradiction in human needs: for security on one hand, and a challenge on the other. The discipline of the core values makes employees feel they are a part of something big, that's worth belonging to, whereas the autonomy of the operating units also makes them feel they can stand out and make a difference. This explains why the employees of "excellent companies" love the company and its values, and are intrinsically motivated to live and work by those values, right down to the tiniest details of the most mundane tasks. In the long run, these "turned-on" employees help their "excellent companies" to manage many of the other apparent contradictions in business too, such as quality versus cost and efficiency versus effectiveness. Why choose, when you can have both?

Of course, the critics will say that decentralisation comes at the expense of economies of scale and leads to the duplication of effort, but the pro's easily outweigh the cons. The economies of scale are usually overestimated by the bean counters, and offset by all sorts of hidden costs, such as more labour disputes in larger factories. The duplication of effort is not as bad as it seems. In fact, it can even be a good thing, because the internal competition that results from it can be even more motivating than the "real" competition. Again, why be #1 or #2 in the market, when you can be both?

In summary, "small is beautiful" and I think that is a lesson many companies still need to learn in 2011!
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