Managing in a time of great change, by Peter F. Drucker

Drucker is generally considered to be the foremost expert on the art and science of management, and he was heavily cited as the primary influence on the authors of What Management Is, which I liked, so I figured it was time to see what he had to say. This was a collection of essays published in 1995.

In general, I really like what he has to say. He’s got a lot of insight into how to manage people effectively. In other words, he describes a style of manager that I would like to work under :). I was less impressed by his observations on the economy and society, which seemed somewhat misguided to me.

Things I liked in his management section:

  • The Five Deadly Business Sins, including feeding problems and starving opportunities.
  • Six Rules for Presidents, where he presumes to give the President of the United States advice such as “Concentrate, don’t splinter yourself.”
  • Managing in the Network Society, where he makes the point that since more and more work is getting outsourced, the boss-subordinate command relationship is beind outmoded. Therefore, “…one cannot command. One can only gain trust. Specifically that means that one must not start out with the question, “What do we want to do?” The right question is “What do they want to do? What are their objectives? Their values? Their ways of doing things?”
  • The New Society of Organizations, where he speculates that the rising preeminence of knowledge will impose a new social structure. In particular, “For managers, the dynamics of knowledge impose one clear imperative: every organization has to build the management of change into its very structure… Indeed, organizations increasingly will have to plan abandonment rather than try to prolong the life of a successful product…” As far as “knowledge workers” go, “One consequence of this new relationship…is that loyalty can no longer be obtained by the paycheck. The organization must earn loyalty by proving to its knowledge employees that it offers them exceptional opportunities for putting their knowledge to work.” Even in this down economy, this resonates with my own experience.
  • On teams: “Because the modern organization consists of knowledge specialists, it has to be an organization of equals, of colleagues and associates. No knowledge ranks higher than another; each is judged by its contribution to the common tasks rather than by any inherent superiority or inferiority. Therefore, the modern organization cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team.” All the best teams I have worked with have this sort of collegial feeling to them. Each person is acknowledged for their expertise in their area, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The worst bosses I have had are the ones that try to micro-manage me and tell me what I should be doing rather than trusting my expertise. It’s a tricky relationship to negotiate, because the boss then has to accept responsibility while giving up control to their employee.
  • More on teams: He emphasizes there are different kinds of teams, such as the baseball team, where players have fixed positions they never leave so it’s focused more on the individual, the football team, where players have fixed positions, but they play as a team with several things going on at once, or the tennis doubles or jazz combo team, where players have a primary position, but can freelance from there as needed for the team. His point is that emphasizing teamwork isn’t enough – a manager must decide what kind of team he or she wants and develop it. “Teams, in other words, are tools. As such, each team design has its own uses, its own characteristics, its own requirements, its own limitations. Teamwork is neither “good” nor “desirable” – it is a fact. Wherever people work together or play together they do so as a team. Which team to use for what purpose is a crucial, difficult, and risky decision that is even harder to unmake. Managements have yet to learn how to make it.”
  • Be Data Literate; Know what to know – “A database, no matter how copious, is not information. It is information’s ore. For raw material to become information, it must be organized for a task, directed toward specific performance, applied to a decision.” Oh, how I wish more people understood this. One of my greatest frustrations is with people who think that data is inherently good, so more data is inherently better. So they take more and more data without thinking about why they’re taking that data, and what questions they’re trying to answer, so they end up with a pile of data but no new knowledge.