'I believe in the enormity of the opportunity'

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EXECUTIVE DECISIONS with Tom Peters

Q.You have spoken before hundreds, perhaps thousands, of trade groups. Yet you said this is the second most important presentation you have had to give (after an earlier presentation for elementary school principals). Why?
A.Because the work that providers do is so important. Providers are responsible for the most extraordinary set of human beings in this country -- our aging and our elderly.
I believe in the sanctity of the providers' mission. I believe in the enormity of the opportunity, and that's also a double-edged sword. Because it means I'll be mad as hell if providers don't live up to it, regardless of the silly rules and silly regulations [that exist]. If silly rules and silly regulations are what kept us from doing stuff, we'd all have to pack it in tomorrow morning. I'm not arguing that we shouldn't work like the dickens to get the silly things out of the way and simplify the process, but you and I also know that the odds of that happening sometime between now and the next Ice Age are not terribly high.
I will accept nothing less from providers in the almost literally holy mission [than to be] a part of something that goes beyond standard definitions of excellence.

Q.You mentioned something that many providers might take issue with: that staffing woes are a state of mind. Would you care to elaborate?
A. Staffing woes are not a function of what the minimum or maximum wage is. It's not just a function of whether you can open the wallets wide or have the money available. Look at Costco. They have about one-quarter the turnover of Wal-Mart, even though they pay similar wages. What's critical is the nature of the workplace you create.

Q.You spoke about the importance of standing out. That can be tough. Why the push?
A.To survive in today's labor market, or tomorrow's labor market, some form of energy, vitality, and entrepreneurial spirit is going to be a must. You've got to have a package that stands out.

Tom Peters has been both hailed as a visionary and dismissed as a quack. The author of several books on business excellence, he recently spoke at the American Health Care Association's annual meeting. He covered topics including the importance of long-term care, why staffing shortages are a myth and why it's important to stand out.

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