Drucker on Concentration, Performance, Results – The Effective Executive – 6

“It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem – which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.”

In earlier posts in this series on Peter Drucker’s book The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done, we reviewed his list of basic practices:

Effective managers:

  1. “….know where their time goes.” 
  2. “….focus on outward contribution”
  3. “….build on strengths….” 
  4. “….concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.”
  5. “…. make effective decisions.”

Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive

This posting is devoted to the fourth practice, concentrate where it counts.((1)) 

If there is any one “secret” of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.((2)) Continue reading

Footnotes:
  1. All quotes in this posting come from pages 100-112 in Peter Drucker The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. Revised. Collins Business, 2006. []
  2. Note that decades before the controversies over so-called “multi-tasking” Drucker notes the singular importance that people can only effectively do one task at a time. I have written about this earlier in “Multitasking, Too Much Information, Interruptions, and High Performance”  []

Podcast – Delegation (Outsourcing) and Keeping a Focus on Strategy and Results

Delegation and Outsourcing Share a Common Management Focus on What Needs To be Done, What Are the Results Required, and When?

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Book Review – 12 The Elements of Great Managing and Making These Actionable

12ElementsGreatMng-book-cvrThe Gallup Organization has been publishing books on management and high performance organizations regularly for quite some time. The encouraging elements in all of them are that they are  based on real data from real people about real work.  I have recommended two earlier books from Gallup, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, 1st ed. (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths, 1st ed. (Free Press, 2001). 

I recently read 12 The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter (Gallup Press, New York 2006) another in this series. Don’t be deceived by the title, this book is really speaking from the perspective of how employees experience high-performance management. So a little translation is required to uncover the implied principles and practices of the 12 elements. Here are the twelve elements as presented in the introduction to the book((1)) .

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to quality work.
  10. I have a best friend at work.
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

A footnote at the end of this listing states that “Each of the Q12© statements above represent millions of dollars of investment by Gallup researchers…..”. This is one of the reasons these Gallup books are interesting. There is lots of data embedded in them. It is well worth the time to read through and absorb the anecdotes that flow from the data.

The questions I have about this list are not about the validity of these statements. They seem to jive very well both with anecdotal observation and the findings of many other studies about the attitudes and feelings of people in high performance organizations. The questions facing a manager is how to create the business culture, infrastructure and processes that produces these results in the human resources of the organization?

Without attempting anything exhaustive here, let’s take a look at several of these 12 elements and see how one might convert them into actionable tasks for a manager.

Looking at the first two elements,  applying Lean principles and practices creates an environment in which every person knows what is expected of them, how they are to accomplish the tasks, when the results are required, and what success looks like in terms of detailed deliverables of a product or service.  And, they receive immediate feedback concerning all of these characteristics from those around them in the work flow.

Since good Lean work design involves visual, simple feedback mechanisms, quality is a result of the process and failures are dealt with immediately. Apply Lean principles and practices develops processes that directly connect the work at hand to elements eight and nine. Central to Lean practices is the principle that quality is a outcome of the process and failures are identified in the flow and quality issues are resolved down to the root level.

Lean principles and practices include a focus on the development of every individual in the organization to be fully cross-functional in their skills. Typically this is implemented through specific cross-training requirements so that, over time, every individual learns to be a fully qualified practitioner of multiple skills required by the company’s processes and long-term goals. or

Element seven, “At work, my opinions seem to count.” requires some further comment. High performance organizations require the involvement of every associate’s mind and energies to solve problems and carry out the work at hand. It is not optional in a high performance environment. So, by definition, every person’s engagement counts. The word “seem” needs to be replaced by “does”.  A little further quibble here. Opinions are not very useful without the supporting facts and thought processes behind them. This is the reason that high performance organizations, whether they identify themselves under the banner of Lean((2)) , Baldrige((3)) , EFQM((4)) , or ISO9001-2008((5)) , use disciplined problem solving techniques that everyone learns to use. This assures that everyone’s engagement in the problem is represented, but the problem solving is fact-based, gets to the root, and is actionable.

Element 10, “I have a best friend at work.” is clearly beyond the control of management. It is understandably nice, but definitely not a controllable element of any work place.

Some elements are particularly subject to influence by the behaviors of senior management. Elements 3, 4, 5, 6, and 11 are typically elements to be found in high performance human resources management processes. But, making those processes come to life can readily be driven by the example of senior management in how they manage the selection, development and pruning of the people who report to them. If they practice sound high performance human resource practices, those practices will cascade down to everyone in the organization. It goes without saying that a component of that is direct involvement by senior management in oversight and monitoring of the health of the human resources management processes in the organization. A simple example of this is to impose a rule that no manager, even to the CEO level, can receive a pay grade review if they have any outstanding performance reviews for their subordinates. This drives timeliness quite nicely.

To conclude, this list of 12 elements is an interesting starting point to venture into high performance management. The list is really a slice of the results that flow from high performance management practices. The trick here then is to reverse engineer the list to uncover high performance practices from the world of Lean, Baldrige, and other high performance models that can be applied in your particular business environment. Building a high-performance organization is one sure approach to developing an organization that produces great results and solid answers to the 12 elements of great managing as described in 12 The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter.

Footnotes:
  1. pages xi and xii []
  2. Lean is the American name for the Toyota Production System, also more broadly the Toyota Business System. There is no standards organization for lean principles and practices. A good starting point is Womack, James P., and Daniel T. Jones. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation, Revised and Updated. 2nd ed. Free Press, 2003 and The Lean Enterprise Institute []
  3. Baldrige National Quality Program Criteria []
  4. European Foundation for Quality Management []
  5. International Organization for Standardization ISO9001-2008 Quality management systems — Requirements []

Delegation (Outsourcing) and Keeping a Focus on Strategy and Results

Yesterday I was scanning through the Tweets from my friend Bruce Peters and came across a reference to a blog posting by Bernadette Doyle, “Discern Your Strengths – Delegate The Rest“. Its always good to return to these complementary concepts – strengths and delegation (outsourcing), so I read on.

Ms. Doyle’s concatenation of “delegation” and “outsourcing” is a very productive idea. Delegation is normally seen to be a personal act by a manager. A manager delegates certain tasks or responsibilities to someone else in the organization. Outsourcing is most frequently the retention of a third party, external to the company, to perform a function or tasks. Setting these two side by side provides an interesting example of the overlap between the personal skills and attributes of the manager and the larger practice and processes of the organization.

Delegation and outsourcing share many management requirements

Delegation and outsourcing share many management requirements. And they illustrate the overlap between the personal and organization spheres. Both benefit from a more nuanced use of the general management maxim, “Build on Your Strengths”. Both require a substantial understanding of what needs to be done, how it should be done, the results required, and the needed timelines. And, finally, both require ongoing management involvement to assure that those responsible for the tasks or functions, whether individuals or vendors, succeed.

Discern Your Strengths

Ms. Doyle argues that we should examine ourselves to determine our strengths as an initial step. She even provides a link to a tool to help in this adventure. I have talked about this earlier in my posting “Managing for Weakness – a mis-management myth

“What are my strengths?”

The simplest way to answer this question is to look at the activities where you have had the most and best results. These are your strengths. You might enrich this line of thinking by asking which activities make you happy, put you into a state of flow where you really concentrate and loose track of time? An external, third party assessment can be helpful. I have used StrengthsFinder 2.0. It is good, adequate detail without overreaching. There are others.

Then ask this question:

“Am I spending most of my time working on my areas of strength?”

If we turn to the classical argument for outsourcing, companies are encouraged to define their core competencies (strengths) and strategic must do functions and outsource everything else. This quickly became reduced to a simple examination of the relative cost of doing a function in-house versus via a third party.

At this point delegation (here Ms. Doyle uses the term “outsourcing”) becomes an obvious solution to increasing the amount of time and energy spent doing work that fits into your strengths by offloading tasks.

Focusing on Strength Is Not Always a Good Idea

Although in general it makes eminent sense to focus on your strengths, this is not a rule that should be followed without some thought.

In my practice I can think of numerous examples where the business owner is doing a good job of obeying the “follow your strengths” rule, but, in fact, not achieving the results that the market opportunities are providing. For example, some business owners who are highly detail and control oriented find it easy and fulfilling to remain intimately involved in all sorts of processes that fit into their strengths profile like bookkeeping, inventory control, purchasing management, human resources administration, etc. They are happy doing this work because it feeds into their need for work that is detail and control oriented. Here is a case where I argue that even though they are comfortable following their strengths, they need to drop many of these tasks and devote their time to driving the marketing and sales efforts. For these particular owners, this is uncomfortable territory. This is work that focuses on some of their weaknesses. But, in small firms, even medium size firms, there is no replacing the impact of the owner/CEO in the mind of the customer. So, even though the owner may not be the best possible person to do this marketing and sales work, they are the resource available. And, the impact on the marketing and sales results will show the wisdom of this refocusing on weakness.

I would also note that managers do learn new skills, even in areas of weakness. though your natural bent may not be the world of sales and marketing, for instance, the approaches and skills required are not particle physics. There are plenty of learning tools and business coaches who can help you become more than competent even in fields that you might describe as weaknesses.

In an example of strength misdirecting, I recall a large size electronics firm, a Fortune 500 company, in the 1980s and 1990s. The great strength of this company was manufacturing. Almost all of the managers in the top ranks came from manufacturing functions. Manufacturing widgets was what they did really well. As the world of electronics evolved, they kept doing what they were good at and let product and market development work, activities critical to the future of the company,  take a back seat. Soon market share fell from 45% to 20% and the game was over. There were certainly managers at this firm who intellectually understood that they needed to make product development work and marketing a strength, knew that they needed to make these core competencies, but the inertia of the past strengths was too difficult to overcome.

So, one can not follow strengths blindly.

Three Questions for Success in Delegation and Outsourcing

What Needs to be Done, When, and What are the Results Required?

Once you have made decisions about what to delegate or outsource, a key to success is developing a clear statement of what needs to be done, when, and what are the results you want to achieve. The answers to these three questions arm you to select the best person or organization to perform the work and the basis for useful discussions of progress. Nothing like having a clear statement of the results expected to focus the collective minds. With a clear definition of what needs to be done and the results expected you can make the best choice for whom to delegate a task to. Has this person had success in achieving results in the task area defined, do they have the functional expertise required to produce the results? If you are looking at outsourcing, the same information arm you to ask questions about the track record of the various vendors. Do they have the capacity to deliver the results on time? And so on.

Taking Responsibility for the Results – Delegation and Outsourcing Do Not Get You Off The Hook

I wrote recently in a posting, “Outsourcing – not a strategy that is as simple as a make or buy decision“,

However, people may think that outsourcing gets you off the hook and solves all of the problems involved in the outsourced functions. The truth is that whether as a one armed paper hanger or a global giant like Boeing, outsourcing must be managed.   You can not manage functions that you do not understand. So, the executive level of any organization (back to the single entrepreneur to global giant span) must understand all of the basic functions of a business (strategy, sales, marketing, product/service development, personnel, operations, finance, information systems, and legal (these are the most important ones)) in order to decide which must be internal and which can be outsourced. Then, you have to have enough knowledge of the outsourced functions to decide on the desired results required, choose vendors, and manage for the results. This may seem to be daunting for the low end of the size scale, but most of this stuff isn’t rocket science at the basic concepts level and one can always draw on people in your network and consultants (like me obviously) to help out.

The same line of thinking applies to delegation. it is simply not acceptable to delegate a task and then not come back to the person tasked for six months to ask, “How are things going?”. Just as with new hires or promotions attentive, timely, and responsive supervision is required. The same rules of responsibility apply to delegated tasks. You made the choice of the person, defined the task and the results required and established a timeline for the results. It is your responsibility to assure that the person succeeds. You have the power and resources to assure that. Although I doubt that delegation is as fraught with failure as hiring new personnel, the failure rate is still high and you can not afford to simply through up your hand six months into the mission and say, “Why did you screw this up?” More here about this management issue, “It’s Always Your Fault – taking responsibility for personnel“.

Podcast – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Be a More Effective Manager – stop answering those questions, seize your time, and it’s your fault

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Three Counter-Intuitive Steps to Becoming a More Effective Manager

Become a More Effective Manager – Three Counter-Intuitive Steps

In the world of planning and strategy, there is a truism that too much planning, too much detail, too much analysis, leads to inaction, to a loss of opportunity. Along the same line of observation, in the world of learning to becoming a more effective manager, there can be too much study, too much thinking, too much integration of the many many skills and aptitudes required to become more effective. In both strategy and management skills action is almost always preferable to another round of study. Action bumps you up against the real world and provides the real basis for improving skills and results.

But, that still leaves us with the nagging question as a manager, especially for rookie managers and supervisors, how do I get started?

Based on many years of personal work as a manager and many years coaching managers, here are three steps you can take that will get you into action and guarantee striking results. These results will come in your personal effectiveness and in of the results of the organization you manage.  Remember,  by results, I am referring to the three meanings Drucker defined: (1) direct business results (usually measured in $s); (2) improved organizational culture (values); and (3) development of people.((1))

1. Stop Answering Questions

If most managers could listen to themselves, the proverbial fly on the wall, for just a few hours, they would discover that they are chronically enabling dependency all around them and undermining whatever formal delegation systems are in place. How is this happening? Just listen and you will hear a stream of questions coming at them followed by answers in response. You are enabling the following the reflexive pattern: ask the expert and be rewarded with answers. Ask the boss, get an answer, and be safe from responsibility for the answers.

If you want to get people to take responsibility and be involved in the business, you can’t go on answering all these questions. They will just go on asking whether they need to or not. And, you are spending an enormous amount of your time, your most valuable resource, to answering all of these questions.

What should a manager do to break this pattern? Continue reading

Footnotes:
  1. see Chapter 2 – What Can I Contribute? in his book The Effective Executive []