Written in 1967, Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive” has to be the best management book ever written. All other ones are simply a footnote to his book. His recognition that firms which employ knowledge-workers require fundamentally different management techniques to those that employ manual workers was far ahead of his time. His recommendations on how to be an effective executive is still as relevant to any organisation today as it was then. Best to read the book, but here’s my summary (part 1 below, part 2 later):
Executives who do not manage themselves for effectiveness cannot possibly expect to manage their associates and subordinates. Management is largely by example. Executives who do not know how to make themselves effective in their own job set the wrong example.
The executive is, first of all, expected to get the right things done. There seems to be little correlation between a man’s effectiveness and his intelligence, imagination and knowledge. Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual.
While others rush around in the frenzy and busyness which very bright people so often confuse with ‘creativity’, the plodder puts one foot in front of the other and gets there first, like the tortoise in the old fable.
Intelligence, imagination and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.
There are many managers who are not executives. Many people, in other words, are superiors of other people – and often of fairly large numbers of people – and still do not seriously affect the ability of the firm to perform. Conversely, whether a knowledge worker is an executive does not depend on whether they manage people or not, but whether they deliver results.
Executive Realities That Push You To Ineffectiveness
- Your time tends to belong to everyone else.
- Unless you change it [the reality around you] by deliberate action, the flow of events will determine what you focus on and what you do.
- You are within a firm. A firm is a means of multiplying the strength of an individual. The people who are most important to the effectiveness of executive are not people who you have direct control over.
- You see the outside only through thick and distorted lenses, if at all. All the results are on the outside. Unless you make special efforts to gain direct access to outside reality, you will become increasingly inside-focused. The higher up in the organization you go, the more your attention will be drawn to challenges of the inside rather to events on the outside.
Effectiveness Can Be Learned.
It is a habit – a complex of practices. There are essentially five practices:
- Know where your time goes.
- Focus on outward contribution.
- Build on strengths, not weaknesses.
- Concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.
- Make effective decisions. This is like a system – of the right steps in the right sequence.
1) Know Thy Time
Do not start with tasks, start with time. Time is THE limiting factor more than money. So record time, manage it, and consolidate it.
7 steps to manage time:
- Record actual time use. Look at it regularly to avoid “drift” into old habits.
- Identify and eliminate things that need not be done at all. Ask yourself “What would happen if this was not done at all?” Learn to say ‘no’ if an activity contributes nothing to your firm.
- Which activity can be done by somebody else just as well, if not better? Don’t be scared to delegate even if you think you should be doing that part of your job.
- Don’t waste time of others. Ask others “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?”
- Identify time-wasters that stem from lack of system or foresight. The symptom to look for is the recurrent ‘crisis’, the crisis that comes back year after year. A crisis that recurs a second time is a crisis that must not occur again. The annual end-year review process belongs here. It should be foreseen and turned into a routine. The recurrent crisis takes up senior management time, and cascades down the firm. A well-managed firm is a quiet place. One that is ‘dramatic’ is poorly managed. A well-managed firm is boring.
- Overstaffing leads to time wasting. A too big work-force spends an increasing time ‘interacting’ rather than working. A reliable symptom of this is if senior people spend more than a fraction of their time on dealing with feuds and frictions. In a lean firm people have room to move without colliding into one another.
- A common time waster is mal-organisation. Its symptoms are an excess of meetings. In an ideal structure, there would be no meetings; everybody would know what he needs to know to do his job. Every meeting generates a host of little follow-up meetings. An undirected meeting is not just a nuisance but a danger. Meetings have to be an exception, not the rule. It should never be the main demand on the executive’s time.
2) What Can I Contribute?
Many worry about what the firm or their boss owes them. Above all, they care about the authority they should have. But if you focus your effort on imposing your rank you become ineffective. Instead if you focus on contribution and take responsibility for results no matter how junior you are, you are ‘top management’.
The most common cause of executive failure is the inability or unwillingness to change with the demands of a new position. If you keep doing what you did successfully before you moved, then you are almost bound to fail.
Ask yourself: “What can I do that no one else can do which, if done really well, would make a real difference to the company?”
The objective of a firm is not to breed all-rounders, but to enable specialists to be effective. In relation to others, ask “What contribution from me do you require to make your contribution to the organization? When do you need this? And how do you need it, and in what form?”On meetings, ask “Why are we having this meeting? Do we want a decision, do we want to inform, or do we want to make clear to ourselves what we should be doing?” State at the outset of the meeting the specific purpose and contribution it is to achieve. Run it to challenge and stimulate everybody in the room. Either direct and listen to the meeting or participate, not both.