SAN DIEGO-Any business that wants to succeed-including credit unions-must develop its workforce to drive growth and profitability.

That was the message from Tom Peters, co-author of "In Search of Excellence," one of the most popular business books of all time. Peters said these days he spends his time rethinking the role of management in productivity.

"I come as a friend," he told attendees of CUNA's recent America's Credit Union Conference here, noting he obtained his first home loan from Navy Federal decades ago. Because he knows credit unions and how they operate, Peters offered an example he wants CUs to live up to: "mittlestand," a German word for middle-sized companies that own the market in which they compete.

"They are agile creatures darting between the legs of multinational monsters," he said. "There are great businesses all over America that should be at an infinite disadvantage to Costco and Home Depot, but they are thriving. As George Whalin said, 'Be the best. It is the only market that is not crowded.'"

Peters said he simply does not understand people who get up in the morning and do not pursue excellence. "What is the option? Have a mediocre day?" he asked.


No Working For A Living

According to Peters, everyone in the cavernous ACUC conference hall shared one thing in common: they do not work for a living any more. He said there were tens of thousands of people who were not in San Diego because they were back home working, giving the credit union executives and directors the opportunity to come to a conference. Peters said he used to say the customer comes first, but after considerable thought he is changing his mind.

"The CEO works for the employees," he said. "Ari Weinzweig said, 'If you want the staff to give great service, then you must first give great service to the staff.' To wow the customers, first wow those who serve the customers."

Peters offered quotes from two more famous CEOs to drive home the point. Entrepreneur Richard Branson: "Business has to give people enriching, rewarding lives or it's simply not worth doing." Then there is this from Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, "You have to treat your employees like customers."

"The people issue has subpoints," Peters continued. "The immediate supervisor is most important to any company's employees. An army depends on sergeants; a navy on chief petty officers. Credit unions need to pay attention to their first line managers, because productivity and retention depend on relationship between managers and workers."


Leaders Need To Listen, Praise

More and more, what formerly was referred to as "manual labor" in factories is being handled by robots. Peters said human beings remain in charge of creative functions, making interpersonal communication and building relationships all the more important. Again quoting another source, he credited Dave Wheeler with the saying, "The four most important words in any organization are, 'What do you think?'"

"People need a thank you every day," said Peters. "Mark Sanborn said, 'Employees who don't feel significant rarely make significant contributions.' People crave being appreciated."

Peters asked for a show of hands of all the audience members who spend time in meetings every day. After acknowledging most people dislike meetings, he shot back some rather direct advice: "Get over it!"

"Leaders need to listen, and meetings are what leaders do," he asserted. "Meetings are where leaders exhibit leadership. Make the meeting into a stellar event. Listening is the ultimate mark of respect, engagement, kindness, thoughtfulness and partnership."


The CEO's Enemy

In keeping with the concept of listening to others in the organization, Peters recommended the concept of MBWA, or managing by wandering around. He said he first heard the term at Hewlett-Packard back in 1977 while doing research for his first book.

"The enemy of the CEO is the desk," he said. "CEOs must deal with the problems that are thrown on their desks, but that means they aren't out looking at the customer interaction. The CEO of Starbucks insists on visiting 25 stores per week."

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