During this academic year (2014-2015) I had the opportunity to work with a team of 2nd year MBA students at UAlbany on a project for one of my start up clients. Working with another of the company’s consultants with the students turned into a productive addition to the company’s resources and fun to boot. Now these students are all employed, about to graduate, and be off to mostly big cities and big companies to start their careers.
Without invitation I began to think about what I might say to them that might actually be useful on this parting . So, here is my graduation speech.
The First Job of a Leader is being Quiet and Let the Team Work
Many years ago, when I got to the point in my work life when I found myself sitting in meetings with a General Manager, I began to notice that once the General Manager had indicated his opinion of a problem, almost everyone on the team reflexively, and I am sure unconsciously, shifted their opinions to be in the same orbit as the General Manager. The scope of the discussion seemingly as on auto pilot shrank to encompass just the General Manager’s scope of thinking.
Revisit an Important Topic – a repeat posting from 2013
It is accepted wisdom in human resource management practice that financial incentives, wages and bonuses, drive work performance ((Note that we are talking about individuals here. Organizations, for profit, non-profits and government, definitely react positively to financial incentives and disincentives)). This is a part of our business and political culture. ((In fact the notion that people make “rational” decisions based in part on financial rewards is a central pillar of our “if we only let markets work, everything will run smoothly” culture.)) Though studies and surveys have shown for decades that people find many other factors (growth of skills, engagement, sense of purpose, social connection, and many others) to be important in their work, the key to every human resource management strategy has been the compensation plan. Increasingly over the past couple of decades human resource management professionals have devised ever more complex methods for connecting various performance metrics to compensation plans.
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:
“….know where their time goes.”
“….focus on outward contribution”
“….build on strengths….”
“….concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.”
“…. make effective decisions.”
This posting is devoted to the third practice, build on strengths. ((All quotes in this posting come from pages 71-99 in Peter Drucker The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. Revised. Collins Business, 2006.))
The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all of the available strengths – the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant. Its task is to use the strength of each man as a building block for joint performance. ((Note again the dated language from 45 years ago))
“To Focus on Contribution is to Focus on Effectiveness”
This 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.” ((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.)) …..
“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.”
A recent New York Times article “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green ((March 2, 2010 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/magazine/07Teachers-t.html)) told the story of Doug Lemov’s discovery that a large component of high performing teachers’ success came from their classroom management skills. While reading the article, and, especially watching the videos of teachers actually employing good class management, I was struck by an interesting parallel in the management world. Just as education schools do not do a good job of preparing teachers to know what to do when they first walk into a classroom, most managers learn their craft by trial and error. They have little help from mentoring or development programs in their companies. And, business schools seem to provide little guidance either.
Meeting management is to effective managers as classroom management is to successful teachers
Meetings are a great place to start to learn the management craft and a crucial platform for driving and sustaining high performance. Great managers and great organizations have great meetings. And, from the perspective of a manager interested in developing a high performance culture, meetings are a great starting point in building a high performance company. After all, meetings exhibit all of the important attributes of high performance organization and culture. And, no effective manager can be ineffective in meetings.
focus on results ($s, people and values)
engage, empower and demand every participant’s energies
use fact-based thinking
orient to customer needs (internal and external)
devolve strategy into tactics
employ process and systems thinking
use well-developed problem solving tools and approaches
focus on adding value for customers (internal and external)
look for waste reduction
build on company and individual strengths
among the more important……
Meetings are a great place to start because they are a regular event in which the manager has significant control and can demonstrate, concretely, high performance principles and practices in front of, and with their direct reports.