I am struck by the commonality of responses of this issue’s Lab Leaders and went to the internet to do some research. Whatever search term I used, I ended up with blogs, articles and books that generally referenced the famous Tom Peters/Tom Waterman book, In Search of Excellence, published in 1982 that remains one of the biggest selling business books ever. Peters and Waterman examined 43 of Fortune 500’s top performing companies.
Interestingly, General Electric was one of the casualties that failed to make the cut. Peters said that part of his research was to prove that certain established methods such as those used by GE and Xerox, were wrong. He “passionately” wanted to prove how crucial people are to business success and to release business from the “tyranny of the bean counters.” (Interestingly, GE is currently undergoing dramatic restructuring, and Xerox is but a reorganized shell of what it was.)
They found eight common themes that they argued were responsible for the success of the chosen corporations: A bias for action, active decision making, getting on with it; Being close to the customer, learning from the people served by the business; Autonomy and entrepreneurship, fostering innovation and nurturing champions; Productivity through people, treating rank-and-file employees as a source of quality; Being hands-on, value-driven, management showing its commitment; Sticking to the knitting, focusing on the business that you know; Simplifying staff, some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff; Having simultaneously loose/tight properties, autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralized values.
This can all be distilled to three words – people, customers, action.
Way back in 2005 OLP identified what factors led to a successful lab. From open-ended interviews with seven successful labs (most now owned by manufacturers), the commonality of their responses led us to the following core values to success. We titled the article, In Search of Excellence (with apologies to Peters/Waterman). Our conclusions were less ‘businessspeak’ but essentially identical: A recognition that their customers are why they are in business; A commitment to technology; A recognition that their employees are their most important asset; An involvement in the industry beyond their own business; A strong central leader(s) with a “vision” for their business that is communicated and understood by every member of the company.
The individuals chosen as this year’s Lab Leaders are large and small, wholesale and retail, relatively new or well established, and all verbalized several or all of the values noted above. Collectively, they represent the best of our industry, and I personally wish to congratulate each and every one.