Think 'your' people are 'ordinary?' You're doomed

ON EXCELLENCE

August 02, 1993|By TOM PETERS

Are you ordinary? Stupid question. Maybe you're not Einstein. Or Oscar winner Emma Thompson. Or baseball slugger Barry Bonds.

But ordinary? Of course not.

Me neither. Which is why I got so mad at a recent seminar in Newcastle, England. One fellow said the key to the local Nissan plant's success was "superb processes which enable ordinary people to be extraordinarily productive."

I'm foursquare behind superb processes.

Still, my Newcastle friend is all wet. And I said so, in public.

Nissan's real secret is unstinting respect for the out-of-the-ordinary talent of the individual employee. Workers in the United States -- and even more so in England -- have been treated like dog food for the past 150 years. Such treatment forms the bedrock logic of the Industrial Revolution: Forget craft. Specialize jobs to the point where any idiot can perform them. Then hire blokes willing (or forced) to put up with mindless tedium. Is it any wonder American product quality was doubtful by 1970?

Re-engineering reverses a lot of that misguided specialization by aligning tasks and jobs with customer needs. Mostly, it makes

jobs whole again -- e.g., one person shepherds an order from start to finish. But re-engineering is no panacea.

Most re-engineering efforts will fail because of the absence of trust -- meaning respect for the individual, his or her good will, intelligence and native curiosity.

I got angry all over again while reading a recent article by management consultant Tom Brown. It was about "hustle" -- which is good stuff. But my hackles were raised by the wording of several propositions. In particular, the repeated use of "your people" (as in, "Do your people know what they're supposed to do?").

I run a small business, yet I never think of the people who work there as "mine" -- that is, chattel.

Peter Drucker says the relationship between leaders and knowledge workers is a new phenomenon. He begs hierarchs to treat today's employees as "volunteers." Maybe the boss can force a person to show up for work, but one cannot force a person to contribute passion and imagination on a regular basis. Contributing passion and imagination is a voluntary act -- and all-important in an epoch when brain rather than brawn has become the cornerstone of success and added value.

But all of this may beg the first, bigger issue I addressed -- that

no one is ordinary. If you're a manager, you'll prosper to the extent you build on the distinct talents everyone brings to the party.

;/ Ordinary people? "Your" people? Get a life.

(Tom Peters' column is distributed by the Tribune Media Services Inc., 720 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, Fla. 32801; [407] 420-8200.)

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