Aug 7, 2022

Book Highlights: The Effective Executive


y highlights from the management classic - The Effective Executive

I apologize in advance for the lack of the feminine pronoun. :(

What can a person do uncommonly well?
To focus on weakness is not only foolish; it is irresponsible,”
The “secret” of people who do so many difficult things, writes Drucker, is that they do only one thing at a time;
dialogue, debate, and decision
inactivity can be very intelligent behavior
Stop what you would not start
we must not starve our biggest opportunities because we’re so busy throwing ourselves at our biggest problems and dwelling on past mistakes
The fewer people, the smaller, the less activity inside,” writes Drucker, “the more nearly perfect is the organization
How can we make society both more productive and more humane
They asked, “What needs to be done?” • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?” • They developed action plans. • They took responsibility for decisions. • They took responsibility for communicating. • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems. • They ran productive meetings. • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”
What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices:
Is this the right thing for the enterprise?
the action plan has to become the basis for the executive’s time management
Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events
And without check-ins to reexamine the plan as events unfold, the executive has no way of knowing which events really matter and which are only noise.
Take responsibility for decisions A decision has not been made until people know: • the name of the person accountable for carrying it out; • the deadline; • the names of the people who will be affected by the decision and therefore have to know about, understand, and approve it—or at least not be strongly opposed to it; and • the names of the people who have to be informed of the decision, even if they are not directly affected by it.
And one third are failures, pure and simple. Effective executives know this and check up (six to nine months later
that organizations are held together by information rather than by ownership or command
Good executives focus on opportunities rather than problems
Unless there is a true catastrophe, problems are not discussed in management meetings until opportunities have been analyzed and properly dealt with.
The greatest wisdom not applied to action and behavior is meaningless
Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an “executive” if, by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results.
Tags: blue
Asked by the reporter, “How in this confused situation can you retain command?” the young captain said: “Around here, I am only the guy who is responsible. If these men don’t know what to do when they run into an enemy in the jungle, I’m too far away to tell them. My job is to make sure they know. What they do depends on the situation which only they can judge. The responsibility is always mine, but the decision lies with whoever is on the spot.”
plan, organize, integrate, motivate, and measure.
Organization is a means of multiplying the strength of an individual.
The higher up in the organization he goes, the more will his attention be drawn to problems and challenges of the inside rather than to events on the outside.
The larger the animal becomes, the more resources have to be devoted to the mass and to the internal tasks, to circulation and information, to the nervous system, and so on.
Executives may become blind to everything that is perception (i.e., event) rather than fact (i.e., after the event). The tremendous amount of computer information may thus shut out access to reality.
These are essentially five such practices—five such habits of the mind that have to be acquired to be an effective executive:
1.    Effective executives know where their time goes. They work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control. 2.    Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start out with the question, “What results are expected of me?” rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools. 3.    Effective executives build on strengths—their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that is, on what they can do. They do not build on weakness. They do not start out with the things they cannot do. 4.    Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions. They know that they have no choice but to do first things first—and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done. 5.    Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions. They know that this is, above all, a matter of system—of the right steps in the right sequence. They know that an effective decision is always a judgment based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts.” And they know that to make many decisions fast means to make the wrong decisions. What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions. What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics.
Time is totally irreplaceable
But without exception, they make personnel decisions slowly and they make them several times before they really commit themselves.
Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., former head of General Motors, the world’s largest manufacturing company, was reported never to make a personnel decision the first time it came up. He made a tentative judgment, and even that took several hours as a rule. Then, a few days or weeks later, he tackled the question again, as if he had never worked on it before. Only when he came up with the same name two or three times in a row was he willing to go ahead. Sloan had a deserved reputation for the “winners” he picked. But when asked about his secret, he is reported to have said: “No secret—I have simply accepted that the first name I come up with is likely to be the wrong name—and I therefore retrace the whole process of thought and analysis a few times before I act.” Yet Sloan was far from a patient man.
What one does not have in one’s feet, one’s got to have in one’s head
One is paid for doing one’s own work. And if it implies, as the usual sermon does, that the laziest manager is the best manager, it is not only nonsense; it is immoral.
We usually tend to overrate rather than underrate our importance and to conclude that far too many things can only be done by ourselves.
A well-managed factory is boring. Nothing exciting happens in it because the crises have been anticipated and have been converted into routine.
Time-wastes often result from overstaffing.
■ My first-grade arithmetic primer asked: “If it takes two ditch-diggers two days to dig a ditch, how long would it take four ditch-diggers?” In first grade, the correct answer is, of course, “one day.” In the kind of work, however, with which executives are concerned, the right answer is probably “four days” if not “forever.”
Time-wasting management defects such as overstaffing, malorganization, or malfunctioning information can sometimes be remedied fast. At other times, it takes long, patient work to correct them. The results of such work are, however, great—and especially in terms of time gained.
To ask, “What can I contribute?” is to look for the unused potential in the job. And what is considered excellent performance in a good many positions is often but a pale shadow of the job’s full potential of contribution.
Tags: blue
Executives who do not ask themselves, “What can I contribute?” are not only likely to aim too low, they are likely to aim at the wrong things. Above all, they may define their contribution too narrowly.
Tags: blue
For every organization needs performance in three major areas: It needs direct results; building of values and their reaffirmation; and building and developing people for tomorrow. If deprived of performance in any one of these areas, it will decay and die. All three therefore have to be built into the contribution of every executive. But their relative importance varies greatly with the personality and the position of the executive as well as with the needs of the organization.
But any organization also needs a commitment to values and their constant reaffirmation, as a human body needs vitamins and minerals.
There has to be something “this organization stands for,
What can I and no one else do which, if done really well, would make a real difference to this company?”
What contribution from me do you require to make your contribution to the organization? When do you need this, how do you need it, and in what form?”
The focus on contribution by itself supplies the four basic requirements of effective human relations:
• communications; • teamwork; • self-development; and • development of others.
People in general, and knowledge workers in particular, grow according to the demands they make on themselves.
But the cardinal rule is to focus it from the start on contribution.
The focus on contribution counteracts one of the basic problems of the executive: the confusion and chaos of events and their failure to indicate by themselves which is meaningful and which is merely “noise.”
Its task is to use the strength of each man as a building block for joint performance.
Whoever tries to place a man or staff an organization to avoid weakness will end up at best with mediocrity
The idea that there are “well-rounded” people is a prescription for mediocrity if not for incompetence.
is a prescription for mediocrity if not for incompetence.
Strong people always have strong weaknesses too.
Where there are peaks, there are valleys.
The executive who is concerned with what a man cannot do rather than with what he can do, and who therefore tries to avoid weakness rather than make strength effective is a weak man himself.
He probably sees strength in others as a threat to himself
Here lies a man who knew how to bring into his service men better than he was himself.
Effective executives know that their subordinates are paid to perform and not to please their superiors
To try to build against weakness frustrates the purpose of organization. Organization is the specific instrument to make human strengths redound to performance while human weakness is neutralized and largely rendered harmless.
The very strong neither need nor desire organization.
They are much better off working on their own.
One cannot hire a hand—the whole man always comes with it
Jobs have to be objective; that is, determined by task rather than by personality.
One reason for this is that every change in the definition, structure, and position of a job within an organization sets off a chain reaction of changes throughout the entire institution
The rule is simple: Any job that has defeated two or three men in succession, even though each had performed well in his previous assignments, must be assumed unfit for human beings. It must be redesigned.
The effective executive therefore first makes sure that the job is well designed. And if experience tells him otherwise, he does not hunt for genius to do the impossible. He redesigns the job
the test of organization is not genius. It is its capacity to make common people achieve uncommon performance.
make each job demanding and big
Japanese participants—all top men in large organizations—used appraisals. When I asked why not, one of them said: “Your appraisals are concerned only with bringing out a man’s faults and weaknesses. Since we can neither fire a man nor deny him advancement and promotion, this is of no interest to us. On the contrary, the less we know about his weaknesses, the better. What we do need to know are the strengths of a man and what he can do. Your appraisals are not even interested in this
The answer is that their system forces the Japanese to play down weaknesses. Precisely because they cannot move people, Japanese executives always look for the man in the group who can do the job. They always look for strength.
Then it asks four questions:
a. “What has he [or she] done well?” b. “What, therefore, is he likely to be able to do well?” c. “What does he have to learn or to acquire to be able to get the full benefit from his strength?” d. “If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?” i.          “If yes, why?” ii.        “If no, why?”
Conversely, it is the duty of the executive to remove ruthlessly anyone—and especially any manager—who consistently fails to perform with high distinction.
let such a man stay on corrupts the others. It is grossly unfair to the whole organization. It is grossly unfair to his subordinates who are deprived by their superior’s inadequacy of opportunities for achievement and recognition. Above all, it is senseless cruelty to the man himself. He knows that he is inadequate whether he admits it to himself or not. Indeed, I have never seen anyone in a job for which he was inadequate who was not slowly being destroyed by the pressure and the strains, and who did not secretly pray for deliverance. That neither the Japanese “lifetime employment” nor the various civil service systems of the West consider proven incompetence ground for removal is a serious weakness—and an unnecessary one.
All that matters,” he pointed out, “is that you know that this man is not equal to the task. Where his replacement comes from is the next question.”
But Marshall also insisted that to relieve a man from command was less a judgment on the man than on the commander who had appointed him
The only thing we know is that this spot was the wrong one for the man,” he argued. “This does not mean that he is not the ideal man for some other job. Appointing him was my mistake, now it’s up to me to find what he can do.”
What can this man do?” was his constant question. And if a man could do something, his lacks became secondary.
Finally Marshall knew—and everyone can learn it from him—that every people-decision is a gamble. By basing it on what a man can do, it becomes at least a rational gamble.
To focus on weakness is not only foolish; it is irresponsible
The assertion that “somebody else will not let me do anything” should always be suspected as a cover-up for inertia.
But even where the situation does set limitations—and everyone lives and works within rather stringent limitations—there are usually important, meaningful, pertinent things that can be done. The effective executive looks for them
What can I do?” he is almost certain to find that he can actually do much more than he has time and resources for.
All in all, the effective executive tries to be himself; he does not pretend to be someone else
The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity. He knows that only strength produces results. Weakness only produces headaches—and the absence of weakness produces nothing.
that the standard of any human group is set by the performance of the leaders.
never allows leadership performance to be based on anything but true strength.
In human affairs, the distance between the leaders and the average is a constant. If leadership performance is high, the average will go up.
The effective executive knows that it is easier to raise the performance of one leader than it is to raise the performance of a whole mass. He therefore makes sure that he puts into the leadership position, into the standard-setting, the performance-making position, the man who has the strength to do the outstanding, the pace-setting job.
the task is to multiply performance capacity of the whole by putting to use whatever strength, whatever health, whatever aspiration there is in individuals.
Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.
This is the “secret” of those people who “do so many things” and apparently so many difficult things. They do only one at a time. As a result, they need much less time in the end than the rest of us.
Effective executives therefore allow a fair margin of time beyond what is actually needed.
But one can at least try to limit one’s servitude to the past by cutting out those inherited activities and tasks that have ceased to promise results.
The executive who wants to be effective and who wants his organization to be effective polices all programs, all activities, all tasks. He always asks: “Is this still worth doing?” And if it isn’t, he gets rid of it so as to be able to concentrate on the few tasks that, if done with excellence, will really make a difference in the results of his own job and in the performance of his organization.
Courage rather than analysis dictates the truly important rules for identifying priorities:
• Pick the future as against the past; • Focus on opportunity rather than on problem; • Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon; and • Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do.
Concentration—that is, the courage to impose on time and events his own decision as to what really matters and comes first—is the executive’s only hope of becoming the master of time and events instead of their whipping boy.
But it was the first industrial research institution that was deliberately designed to make the present obsolete, no matter how profitable and efficient
The operating managers have to have the freedom to do things their own way. They have to have responsibility and the authority that goes with it.
Vail had actually been fired earlier by the board of the Bell System when he first was president. His concept of service as the business of the company seemed almost insane to people who “knew” that the only purpose of a business is to make a profit
The thinking through what is “right,” that is, the solution which will fully satisfy the specifications before attention is given to the compromises, adaptations, and concessions needed to make the decision acceptable;
He always assumes that the event that clamors for his attention is in reality a symptom. He looks for the true problem. He is not content with doctoring the symptom alone.
If I had to live with this for a long time, would I be willing to?” And if the answer is “No,” he keeps on working to find a more general, a more conceptual, a more comprehensive solution—one which establishes the right principle.
a decision that has to satisfy two different and at bottom incompatible specifications is not a decision but a prayer for a miracle
is fruitless and a waste of time to worry about what is acceptable and what one had better not say so as not to evoke resistance. The things one worries about never happen. And objections and difficulties no one thought about suddenly turn out to be almost insurmountable obstacles. One gains nothing in other words by starting out with the question: “What is acceptable?” And in the process of answering it, one gives away the important things, as a rule, and loses any chance to come up with an effective, let alone with the right, answer
With the coming of the computer this will become even more important, for the decision-maker will, in all likelihood, be even further removed from the scene of action. Unless he accepts, as a matter of course, that he had better go out and look at the scene of action, he will be increasingly divorced from reality. All a computer can handle are abstractions. And abstractions can be relied on only if they are constantly checked against the concrete. Otherwise, they are certain to mislead
Failure to go out and look is the typical reason for persisting in a course of action long after it has ceased to be appropriate or even rational.
The effective decision-maker assumes that the traditional measurement is not the right measurement. Otherwise, there would generally be no need for a decision; a simple adjustment would do. The traditional measurement reflects yesterday’s decision. That there is need for a new one normally indicates that the measurement is no longer relevant.
The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.
I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.” Everyone around the table nodded assent. “Then,” continued Mr. Sloan, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”
a decision without an alternative is a desperate gambler’s throw, no matter how carefully thought through it might be.
disagreement is needed to stimulate the imagination.
Disagreement converts the plausible into the right and the right into the good decision.
• Act if on balance the benefits greatly outweigh cost and risk; and • Act or do not act; but do not “hedge” or compromise
The surgeon who only takes out half the tonsils or half the appendix risks as much infection or shock as if he did the whole job. And he has not cured the condition, has indeed made it worse. He either operates or he doesn’t. Similarly, the effective decision-maker either acts or he doesn’t act. He does not take half-action. This is the one thing that is always wrong, and the one sure way not to satisfy the minimum specifications, the minimum boundary conditions.
Just because something is difficult, disagreeable, or frightening is no reason for not doing it if it is right. But one holds back—if only for a moment—if one finds oneself uneasy, perturbed, bothered without quite knowing why. “I always stop when things seem out of focus,” is the way one of the best decision-makers of my acquaintance puts it.
The needs of large-scale organization have to be satisfied by common people achieving uncommon performance
Organizations are not more effective because they have better people. They have better people because they motivate to self-development through their standards, through their habits, through their climate. And these, in turn, result from systematic, focused, purposeful self-training of the individuals in becoming effective executives
They need to learn to feed their opportunities and to starve their problems
They need to work on making strength productive. They need to concentrate and to set priorities instead of trying to do a little bit of everything.
The executive who works at making strengths productive—his own as well as those of others—works at making organizational performance compatible with personal achievement
The great majority of executives,” Drucker writes, “are occupied with efforts rather than with results
They worry over what the organization and their superiors ‘owe’ them and should do for them. And they are conscious above all of the authority they ‘should have.’ As a result, they render themselves ineffectual
Pick the future as against the past. Focus on opportunity rather than on problem. Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon. And aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is ‘safe’ and easy to do.
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