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​Excellence: A Moving Target

An Interview with 2013 International Conference Speaker Tom Peters

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon — or a computer programmer — to know that technology is changing the way the world does business. It’s accelerating communications, igniting partnerships around the globe, heightening cyber security risks, and in some cases putting people out of work. A job that once took dozens of workers months to complete now can be done almost instantly by a single employee using targeted software.

Recognizing the technology trend is easy. Doing something about it — well, that’s a different story. “We’re living in a high-speed world where organizations are challenged with the incredibly difficult — if not impossible — task of doing business 10 times faster and 10 times better,” says Tom Peters, business management guru and author of more than a dozen best-sellers, including the famed In Search of Excellence. “It’s an age of science fiction and wild artificial intelligence accelerating at an incredible speed.”

A 35-year resident of California’s Silicon Valley, eight-year partner at management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and former Big 6 consultant, Peters has spent a lifetime picking apart successful organizations and trying to figure out what makes them tick. He has been described as one of the most influential business thinkers of all time and is credited with single-handedly inventing the “management guru” industry.

Though he modestly stops short of claiming to possess any magical secrets to organizational success, Peters unequivocally knows the meaning of high-quality professional services and understands what many of today’s successful companies are doing right. He offers a few tips and thought-provoking observations:

  • Get serious about hiring. “Most organizations are mediocre at hiring,” says Peters. “Hiring is as hard as learning to play the cello, and not many people take it quite that seriously.” He recommends diversity — and not the typical gender- and race-based diversity. Seek employees with incredibly different points of view, he says, and recruit young talent. “If you have an 11-person internal audit department, four people must be under the age of 30,” he asserts, adding that today’s kindergarteners have the technological know-how that their 35-year-old parents lack. “New times call for new types of talent, and curious young people must be at the front edge of the technology transformation.”
  • Take care of your employees. Once you’ve assembled a dream team of talent, you’ve got to keep them happy, because your organization is only as good as its talent. “If you want to serve your customers incredibly well, first you must serve your employees well,” says Peters, who likens grooming an organization’s employees to investing in the personal growth of a professional football player for the sake of the team.
  • Be helpful. It seems simple enough, but Peters observes that internal audit has a reputation for being the “gotcha gang,” finding errors and reporting them. “Every internal audit department has an equally important role to be helpful to its internal clients,” he argues. “Be a business partner and consultant.”      
  • Make ethics a priority. Of course it’s easy to say when you’re speaking theoretically, but do you really have the courage to stay true to your morals if it means losing your job or not being able to work in the industry again? “Integrity comes first,” says Peters, adding that he’s well aware of the consequences of whistle-blowing, “way before holding onto your job, even if you have three kids that you’re trying to put through college.”

Peters will share additional pearls of wisdom during his upcoming general session presentation at The IIA’s 2013 International Conference July 14‒17 in Orlando, Florida, USA. His provocative and engaging presentation, “Re-imagine: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age,” is sure to challenge the status quo and infuse you with a fresh perspective on what it takes to achieve excellence in today’s high-speed business world.

IIA Today