Performance, Contribution, Results, Commitment – Drucker’s The Effective Executive – 4

“To Focus on Contribution is to Focus on Effectiveness”

Peter Drucker's The Effective ExecutiveThis is the fourth in a series discussing the 1968 book by Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done. In this part we will focus on the third chapter, “What Can I Contribute?”

“The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward towards goals. He asks, “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and results of the institution I serve?” His stress is on responsibility.”((1)) …..

“The man who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank. But the man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, in in the most literal sense of the phrase, “top management”. He holds himself accountable for the performance of the whole.”

What Is Contribution?

Contribution refers to three areas critical to organizational success:

  • results, most often measured in the form of dollars or sales and profits. Results are a sine qua non for every organization.((2))
  • building values and sustaining them. This covers the purpose of the organization; the vision and excellence required to fulfill this purpose, and the ethical framework for the organization.
  • building and developing people for tomorrow. The effective manager, in the very act of looking upward and outward towards goals to discover their contribution, raise the sights of others in the organization.((3))

The effective manager changes their performance by focusing on contribution. By turning attention to the performance of the whole (this is the upward and outward metaphor), they turn away from their narrow technical skills. This leads to thinking about customers, clients, partners, the real source of all results for an organization. When the effective manager focuses on their contribution they are paying attention to results, their results and the results required of others.

Contribution and People

Drucker argues that “the focus on contribution by itself supplies the four basic requirements of effective human relations: communications; teamwork; self-development; and development of others.”

The manager who takes responsibility for their own contribution can demand that their subordinates do likewise. This leads to conversations about what contributions subordinates should be held accountable for. How might their special skills best be utilized. This this focus on contribution((4)) makes the whole relationship about these outcomes not about peripheral matters like how well liked they may or may not be and other “political” variables. With this focus on contribution communication becomes easier because it is about contributions (results) for the whole organization, not personalities.

Another benefit of this focus on contribution is that it enables communication throughout the organization. “The question, ‘Who has to use my output for it to become effective?’ immediately shows up the importance of people who are not in line of authority, either upward or downward, from and to the individual executive.”

A focus on contribution helps the effective manager to understand and map the most useful path to self-development. And the manager who focuses on their own self-development stimulates others to develop themselves.

The Effective Manager in Transition

A promotion or change in company is an event celebrated at the outset but fraught with dangers. The effective manager knows that by focusing on the new contriutions demanded in their new position they can avoid simply continuing to do what they have done before. Focusing on the new situation from the perspective of what contributions they can make provides a platform to examine the personal development, skills and experience from a fresh perspective. This is the only perspective that assures future success, what are the contributions I need to make and what skills do I need to learn or accentuate to be successful.

The concluding four paragraphs of Drucker’s third chapter are worth quoting whole.

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”. The focus on contribution imposes an organizing principle. It imposes relevance on events.

Focusing on contribution turns one of the inherent weaknesses of the executive’s situation – his dependence on other people, his being within an organization – into a source of strength. It creates a team.

Finally, focusing on contribution fights the temptation to stay within the organization. It leads the executive – especially the top-level man – to lift his eyes from the inside of efforts, work, and relationships, to the outside; that is, to the results of the organization. It makes him try hard to have direct contact with the outside – whether markets and customers, patients in a community, or the various “publics” which are outside a government agency.

To focus on contribution is to focus on effectiveness.



  1. all quotes in this posting come from pages 52 – 70 in Peter Drucker The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. Revised. Collins Business, 2006. []
  2. It may be measured differently, for example, in a health care organization as patient outcomes. []
  3. in the last two decades, this insight has evolved into formal human development programs throughout high performance organizations. This takes the form of mentoring, multi-skilling the workforce, encouraging and supporting external education and more. []
  4. note that by using “contribution” we are not narrowing the range to only financial results but include the other two, values and people. []