In my last post, I summarised half of Peter Drucker’s amazing “The Effective Executive“. The post introduced the context, and discussed two of five essential practises of effectiveness: knowing where your time goes and focusing on outward contribution. In this post, I complete the summary with the remaining practises. Here goes:
3) Making Strengths Productive
The effective executive makes strength productive. You cannot build on weakness. You have to use all available strengths – the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths.
When hiring if you’re concerned with what someone can’t do, rather than what they can do, then you’ll end up weak. You probably see strength in others as a threat to yourself. Andrew Carnegie, the father of the US steel industry, chose for his own tombstone: “Here lies a man who knew how to bring into his service men better than he was himself”.
Effective executives know their subordinates are paid to perform and not please their superiors. They never ask “How does he get along with me”. Rather “What does he contribute? He never asks “What can a man not do? But “What can he do uncommonly well?”
To tolerate diversity, relationships must be task-focused rather than personality focused. Achievement must be measured against objective criteria of contribution and performance. Otherwise the focus will be on “Who is right?” rather than “What is right?”
Structuring jobs to fit personality is almost certain to lead to favoritism and conformity. One implication is that the men who build first-class executive teams are not usually close to their immediate colleagues and subordinates.
Any job that has defeated two or three people in succession, even though each had performed well in his previous assignments, must be assumed unfit for human beings. It must be re-designed. Staffing from strength means making each job demanding and big.
One needs some form of appraisal procedure. It starts with a statement of the major contributions expected from a man in his past and present positions and a record of his performance against these goals. Then it asks four questions:
- ‘What has he (or she) done well?’
- ‘What, therefore, is he likely to be able to do well?’
- ‘What does he have to learn or to acquire to be able to get the full benefit from his strength?’
- If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?’
- ‘If yes, why?’
- ‘If no, why?’
This appraisal actually takes a much more critical look at a man than the usual procedure. But it focuses on strengths. Weaknesses are seen as limitations to the full use of his strengths and to his own achievement, effectiveness and accomplishment.
The last question is the only one not primarily concerned with strength. Subordinates tend to mould themselves after a forceful boss. There is nothing more corrupting and more destructive in a firm than a forceful but basically corrupt executive. Such a person might operate effectively on their own and be tolerable if denied all powers over others. But in a position of power within a firm, they destroy. This is the one area where a weakness is a disqualification.
The effective executive knows that to get strength one has to put up with weaknesses.
The assertion that ‘somebody else will not let me do anything’ should always be suspected as a cover-up for inertia. One feeds the opportunities and starves the problem. If leadership performance is high, the average will go up.
4) First Things First
If there is one secret of effectiveness, it is concentration. Do first things first and only one thing at a time. The more you focus on big contributions, the more you will require fairly big continuous chunks of time. The more you switch from being busy to achieving results, the more you will shift to sustained efforts. This requires self-discipline and an iron determination to say ‘No’.
The people who get nothing done often work a great deal harder. They under-estimate the time of any task. They expect everything will go right, yet everyone knows nothing ever goes right. The unexpected always happens. And almost never is it a pleasant surprise. Therefore allow a fair margin time beyond what is actually needed. It is not race. Set an easy pace and keep going steady.
Rules of concentration:
- Get rid of the past that has ceased to be productive. Periodically review work programmes and ask ‘If we did not already do this, would we go into it now?’ Unless the answer is an unconditional ‘Yes’ drop it or cut back sharply. Scarce resources engaged in tasks of yesterday are pulled out of opportunities for tomorrow. People are forever bailing out the past. Even more dangerous are the activities which should do well and but do not produce. These tend to become investments in managerial ego.
- A decision has to be made which tasks deserve priority and which are of less importance. The only question is which will make the decision – you or circumstances. Circumstances always favour the yesterday and what goes on inside the firm, the crisis over the opportunity, the immediate over the real. Setting priorities is easy, but the difficulty is deciding what tasks not to tackle and sticking to the decision. It is much easier to draw up a nice list of top priorities and then to hedge by trying to do ‘just a little bit’ of everything else as well. This makes everybody happy. The only drawback is, of course, that nothing gets done.
Courage rather than analysis dictates the truly important rule for indentifying priorities:
- Pick the future as against the past
- Focus on opportunity rather than on the problem
- Choose your own direction – rather than climb on the bandwagon
- Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference rather something that is safe and easy to do.
5a) The Elements of Decision-making
Concentrate on the important decisions. Don’t get impressed by speed in decision making. Rather see juggling lots of ideas at once as a symptom of sloppy thinking. You want to know what the decision is all about and what the underlying realities are which it has to satisfy. The elements of effective decision making are:
- ‘Is this a generic situation or an exception?’ The generic always has to be answered through a rule or principle. The exception can be handled as such. Assume initially the problem is generic. Put the solution on the highest conceptual level.
- Make clear specifications as to what the decision has to accomplish. What are the objectives the decision has to reach? What are the minimum goals it has to attain?
- One has to start out with what is right rather than what is acceptable.
- Converting the decision to action is the fourth major element. Ask yourself: ‘Who has to know this decision? What action has to be taken? Who is to take it? And what does the action have to be so that the people who have to do it can do it? The first and last of these are too often overlooked – with dire results.
- A feedback has to be built into the decision to provide a continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decisions.
5b) Effective Decisions
A decision is a judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between right and wrong.
When making effective decisions you know that you do not start with facts, you start with opinions. These are nothing but untested hypotheses and as such worthless, unless tested against reality. To determine what is a fact requires first a decision on the criteria of relevance, especially on the appropriate measurement. The effective decision does not flow from the consensus on facts. The understanding that underlies the right decision grows out of the clash and conflict of divergent opinions and out of the serious consideration of competing alternatives. Unless one has considered alternatives one has a closed mind.
The first rule in decision making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement. The 3 reasons for this are:
- It is the only safeguard against the decision-maker becoming the prisoner of the organization. Everybody always wants something from the decision-maker. Everybody is a special pleader to obtain the decision he favours.
- Disagreement alone can provide alternatives to a decision. A decision without an alternative is a desperate gamblers throw, no matter how carefully thought through it might be.
- Above all, disagreement is needed to stimulate the imagination.
Do not start out the assumption that one proposed course of action is right and that all others must be wrong. Nor start out with the assumption ‘I am right and he is wrong’. Start out with the commitment to find out why people disagree. Dissenter have to be assumed to be reasonably intelligent and reasonably fair-minded, so you are first concerned with understanding their point of view.
Every decision is like surgery. It is an intervention into a system and therefore carries with it the risk of shock. When everything is known, it is clear what course of action must be taken. It is at this point that the most decisions are lost. It becomes suddenly quite obvious that the decision is not going to be pleasant, is not going to be popular, and is not going to be easy. It becomes clear that the decision requires courage as much as it requires judgment. One thing the effective executive will not do at this point is give in to the request of ‘Let’s make another study’. This is the cowards way – and all the coward ever achieves is to die a thousand deaths when the brave dies one.
You are not paid for doing things you like to do. You are being paid for getting things done – most of all in your specific task, and making effective decisions.