Building a Culture of Excellence: Tom Peters

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a new book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business” due for release in August 2018.


It is safe to assume that every CEO would have priority building a culture of Excellence because ultimately excellence drives growth and makes a company memorable.

Today, we have a bunch of complex models to help organizations become excellent, but in the pursuit of implementing these complex capability models, organizations forget that excellence is as much about people as it is about the process. It is as much about the small things as it is about the big things.

In a world that is obsessed with complexity, Tom Peters advocates simple things to enable a culture of excellence. He says,

“Embracing new technology is incredibly important, but EXCELLENCE IS HUMAN.”

Excellence is all about being close to your customers, creating ecosystems where best people can do their best work, developing people, listening, caring, smiling and saying “Thank you” often enough. These are not complex things, yet for many leaders, these are the most difficult things to do. And these simple things are at the core of excellence.

Please listen to this episode of the podcast and I am pretty sure it will be thought provoking, as it always is with whatever Tom shares.

Here is my sketchnote summary of the key nuggets of wisdom Tom Peters shared in this podcast episode.

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Leadership and The Art of Effective Listening

There is no leadership, personal or organizational, without listening. In fact, ability to truly listen (and not just hear) is the foundation of having a conversation, building trust, influencing others, resolving conflicts, driving your vision, building relationships, implementing change and learning. Yet, many of us equate listening with absorption of what the other person is saying. There’s more to it!

In this respect, I loved reading a recent article on Harvard Business Review titled “What Great Listeners Actually Do” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article provides an excellent round up of how to truly listen.

I attempted to capture the essence of their post in a sketch note form and I loved the way they sum it up. Here is a snippet from an article that you must read:

“Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.”

Here is a sketch note summary along with some links to my own thoughts on listening well at QAspire.

 Related Posts at QAspire

Leading Well: Listening is Meditation

This post is inspired by a tweet from the legendary Tom Peters which deeply resonated with me.

I once had such a major disconnect with the Head of HR that I had to walk out of his room. And the disconnect was not that of ideas because I could not even start the discussion for which we were meeting. Every time I attempted to start, a text message on his cell phone or something on his computer screen distracted him. Not only that, he chose to respond to those distractions. I requested him to get through his preoccupations and then schedule a time to connect without any interruptions.

But this happens even when technology is not the culprit. You can feel the disconnect when someone pretends to hear you but not really listen.

The art of effective listening has a lot to do with the practice of meditation. Lets see how.

Meditation practice is known to make us calm by focusing all our attention and consciousness to a center within us. Meditation allows us to listen to our own thoughts, feelings and emotions resulting in clarity about the true nature of things. Meditation is about listening.

When communicating with the other, we need something similar – meditative listening if we can call it that way. Why can’t the other person in front of you be that center?

“Listening is Meditation. Clear your mind for the duration.”

Tom Peters (Tweet)

If we clear our mind of all other thoughts and distractions before we start the conversation, it becomes an engaging exchange. When the other person is your center, you are not just hearing what is said, you are also listening to the emotion behind the words, the unstated needs, what it really means and what the body language conveys. Hearing is the function of our mind and mind has a tendency to constantly rationalize. When mind is engaged in rationalization it cannot fully attend. Listening is the function of something more deeper – the heart or soul may be!

You can truly serve others when you know what others really need or value. And meditative listening is the only way to get to it.

It does not matter whether you are a leader or not. Next time someone (team member/peer/customer/your kid) walks up to you for a conversation, treat it is an opportunity. Turn off all your screens. Mute your gadgets. Silent your mind. Let go of the baggage of your preconceived  notions and assumptions. Make the other person your center. And then listen.

It helps you show your respect to the other person, encourage a meaningful exchange, become emotionally intelligent and aware.

Listening well is as much about meditation as meditation is about listening.

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Listening Enough is Caring Enough: 11 Gentle Reminders

We are living in a world of attention deficit where no one has the time to listen. From what I have observed, organizations suffer from a listening crisis. Everyone has the answers and everybody wants to tell their story. No one is patient enough to sit back, ask questions and then really listen.

This calls for some gentle reminders – they aren’t cool new ideas but this is what we need as leaders if we wish to be really effective in organizations and within our families.

  1. Not listening is one of the two biggest wastes. The second is not speaking up when it matters.
  2. Effective listening starts with an intention to understand. When you constantly listen with intent of answering or replying, you miss on a lot of non-verbal clues in communication process.
  3. We want others to really understand, validate and appreciate us. The act of listening starts with realization that others have the same basic need.
  4. Listening is a way to respect others. When you don’t listen effectively, don’t ask questions, don’t confirm your understanding and don’t acknowledge the messages, you are sending wrong signals.
  5. Effective listening entails putting the filters of your preconceived notions and beliefs aside. These filters will not allow you to get into their frame of reference.
  6. People think listening happens only through ears. You can also listen with your eyes and with your heart. In pursuit to be an effective listener, it is important to remember that only about 40% of communication happens through words and sounds. Rest is all non-verbal.
  7. Listening is also about receiving the feeling behind what is being said. When you listen, listen the words, the tone, the words being used and the feeling behind it. What is being said and the meaning behind may be very different.
  8. Technology can be an impediment to effective listening. That message on your phone, the popping sound of email and unending stream of social media updates are not more important than a human being in front of you who wants to express. Listening enough is caring enough.
  9. Listening is not practiced only when we are with others. You can (and you should) spend time listening to your inner self. It raises self-awareness!
  10. I remember words of that wise consultant who said, “The more you tell, the less you sell.” All great sales people and negotiators are first and foremost, great listeners.
  11. Effective listening is a leader’s primary responsibility – an obligation towards the followers. Great leadership starts with effective and empathetic listening – an important element of any conversation.

A leader needs to ENLIST others on their vision for which they need to LISTEN for which they need to be SILENT. Three words made up from the same letters.

Does that tell us something or is it a plain co-incidence?

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In 100 Words: The More You Tell

I used to get angry and preachy when my kid threw tantrums till I heard this wonderful statement from a leadership expert, “The more you tell, the less you sell.”

Leadership starts with listening. In face of a conflict, reacting is our natural instinct. We want to tell/justify immediately without an attempt to completely understand the problem.

The better alternative is to step back and ask open ended questions. Then sit back and listen before you respond. Listening enough is caring enough.

This works with kids and works even better in teams. There is a difference between responding and reacting.

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Wish you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful 2013!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Posts