In Search of Excellence

In 1982, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman co-authored the book, “In Search of Excellence.” It became an international bestseller because it identified eight different themes, such as a bias for action or being close to the customer, which Peters and Waterman found were common to the most successful companies of the day. As the story goes, Peters and Waterman were consultants at McKinsey & Company and were given unlimited time and budget to go talk with people at companies all over the world to find out what made these companies excellent.

Although we do not have the unlimited time and budget that Peters and Waterman reportedly received to conduct research, we do have the same curiosity and passion to explore what makes United Ways excellent. Our approach is similar to that used by Peters and Waterman – whenever we are traveling around the country to work with United Ways, we make the effort to stop and visit with other United Ways in the area. For example, this week we are working with United Ways in North and South Carolina, and we will be stopping by to visit the wonderful people of United Way of Anderson County, in Anderson, South Carolina.

There are three things we have learned in over 20 years of visits:

First, nearly every United Way we ask for a visit is gracious and accepting of our invitation. Rarely does a United Way fail to respond to our invitation, or say they are just too busy. We make it very clear in our request that our only purpose is to learn more about their United Way, to talk, and to share information. Most of the United Ways we reach out to are welcoming, friendly, and more than willing to share a little of their time to talk about their United Way and the excellent things they are doing.

Second, we learn something from every United Way we visit. The beauty of United Way is that each United Way is doing specific things to meet the needs of their community. You would not believe the variety of special events United Ways hold to raise money, from dinners to roof-sits, from zombie runs to auctions, from golf outings to car raffles. Community impact takes many forms as well, from creating and printing calendars and books to promote early childhood literacy, to operating a truancy prevention program in-house. The marketing ideas are endless as United Ways look for effective ways to communicate their message, such as on Kleenex boxes, elevator doors, or yellow doors set-up throughout the community.

Third, we have enjoyed every single visit. The people who work at United Ways are indeed a special breed. There is a passion for the work, no matter how challenging or difficult it may be at the time. There is no shortage of unique personalities working at United Ways. We have had presidents/CEOs who have explained how their former jobs as pastors or high school principals prepared them for working at United Way, played their guitar for us, and shared their favorite beverages. 

We want to thank all of the United Ways that have been so willing to share. If we haven’t visited your United Way yet, we hope we will be able to in our future travels! We are not quite ready to publish a book like “In Search of Excellence,” but you have our promise that we will freely share with you what we learn at conferences and in this blog, for the good of all United Ways.