Management Skills for the Effective Manager – Drucker’s The Effective Executive – 25 min read

Peter Drucker's The Effective ExecutiveIn Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, he outlines eight management practices in the introduction that are the core skills of the effective manager:

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions
  • They took responsibility for communicating
  • They focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I”.

But, before really getting to work on these he takes on some very interesting foundational issues. First, “… the executive is, first of all, expected to get the right things done. And this is simply that he is expected to be effective.” ((All quotations in this posting are from pp. 1-24. Here is an early example of how the style, and many of the examples, in The Effective Executive are quite dated. The pronoun “she” never appears in the book. When he wrote the book in 1967, women in management were extraordinarily rare and their was only a nascent awareness that women could and should play a full role in our economic and social institutions ))  

What is effectiveness?

Effectiveness is not dependent on brilliance, creativity, imagination or knowledge. “These are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.”   Drucker distinguishes the world of manual work from what he calls knowledge work. Manual work is a about doing things correctly and with efficiency. Knowledge work is about doing the right things. “Increasingly, the majority of people who have been schooled to use knowledge, theory, and concept rather than physical force or manual skill work in an organization and are effective insofar as they can make a contribution to the organization.”  ((Certainly the 45 years since he wrote this has changed much knowledge work into quite tightly routinized processes, I think that his point still stands. )) But, what is the scope of the effective manager, who is a manager. The answer is that everyone who supervises people, deploys physical assets (machinery, computing, etc.), is responsible for a budget of sales (including internal services between departments or divisions) and expense, and is responsible for results, either in dollars of sales or some service metric, is a manager. Broadly then, for The purposes of the discussion, everyone from CEO to front line supervisor is a manager.

What Is The World of the Manager? 

Drucker says that there are four major realities within which every manager inescapably live.

  1. “The manager’s time tends to belong to everyone else.”
  2. “Managers are forced to keep on “operating” unless they take positive action to change the reality in which they live and work.”
  3. “The third reality pushing the manager toward ineffectiveness is that he is within an organization.”
  4. “Finally, the executive is within an organization.”

The first reality will be discussed in the next posting in this series. The second reality points to the overwhelming tendency of managers to continue doing the work of the operations which they manage. Engineering managers continue to engineer; Sales managers go on selling; CFOs spend too much time with the bookkeeping and financial management tools of their bailiwicks. The problem here is that this engagement tends to determine what the manager focuses on and what gets the bulk of their time. “What the executive needs are criteria which enable him to work on the truly important, that is, on contributions and results, even though then criteria are not found in the flow of events.”

The third reality points out that the manager is only effective to the extent that they can communicate and organize those in the organization to work on what is important in a coherent and vigorous manner. And, Drucker adds, the effective manager must reach outside of his organization to others not reporting to him, horizontally and vertically,to enable them to support his vision and contributions.

The fourth reality is perhaps the most significant. “All results are on the outside. The only business results, for instance, are produced by a customer….” ((Notice that long before the customer value centered world that became commonplace in the 1990s and continues today, Drucker stated clearly that all value is defined and arises outside the organization))  Inside the organization are the costs and efforts, outside is where those are converted into sales and profits by customers. “This outside, this environment which is the true reality, is well beyond effective control from the inside.” So a primary task then for every manager is to be actively seeking out these external realities, the changes in trends and technologies, that control much about their effectiveness. 

These four realities apply across the whole span of the managerial world. These obviously apply to the corporate chieftains. But, they apply equally to the front line supervisor. The work output of their team, group, or department is converted into upstream value by the organizations they support. The real value of their work is determined by these organizations not by anyone’s within their team. The reports of output may look good, but, if the environment of them consuming organization changes, and you are not paying attention to their needs, your real results will not be meeting their needs.

Can Effectiveness Be Learned?

Drucker argues:

“Effectiveness…. is a habit; that is a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned. Practices are simple, deceptively so; even a seven-year-old has no difficulty in understanding a practice. But practices are always exceedingly hard to do well. They have to be acquired…… that is repeated ad nauseam until…. [they] become unthinking, conditioned reflex, and firmly ingrained habit. Practices one learns by practicing and practicing and practicing again.”

The Five Essential Practices of the Effective Manager

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.”

We will take up each of these practices in future postings in this series.