Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Effective Executive, Chapter 1: Effectiveness Can be Learned

We're back with the long-awaited series on Peter F. Drucker's The Effective Executive (1966).

The following summary of chapter 1 is quite long as chapter 1 is itself a microcosm of the whole book.

The job of the executive is to be effective. Effectiveness is the ability to get the right things done. Effectiveness is NOT intelligence, imagination or knowledge. Effectiveness is what turns intelligence, imagination and knowledge into results.

I. Why we need effective executives
  • Effectiveness is the specific tool of the knowledge worker within an organisation.
  • Manual work only requires efficiency, i.e. the ability to do things right. The productivity, that is the efficiency and quality, of manual work can be measured in terms of a definable and discrete output. Previously, the bulk of the workers in organisations were manual workers and therefore only a few people were required to be executives, that is concerned with getting the right things done.
  • Society is now made up of large, knowledge-based organisations staffed by knowledge workers. The knowledge worker primarily applies his mind to his work, whereas the manual primarily applies his hands to his work. The knowledge worker primarily uses knowledge, theory and concepts; the manual worker primarily uses physical strength and manual skill.
  • The viability and prosperity of modern society depends crucially on the productivity of the knowledge worker (or the executive). The productivity of the knowledge worker cannot be measured with the same yardstick as that of the manual worker.
  • The nature of knowledge work and the knowledge worker is fundamentally different from that of manual work and the manual worker. Specifically:
  1. The knowledge worker cannot be supervised closely or in detail. He can only be helped.
  2. The knowledge worker must direct himself towards performance, contribution, and effectiveness.
  3. The knowledge worker’s primary work is thinking.
  4. The motivation of the knowledge worker depends crucially on his being effective and able to achieve. Without effectiveness, the knowledge worker’s commitment to work and contribution will diminish rapidly.
  5. The knowledge worker’s output (knowledge, ideas, information) is useless in itself, unlike the manual worker’s output (a physical product like a ditch, a pair of shoes, or a machine part). Unlike the manual worker, the knowledge worker must make a deliberate effort make his output effective.

II. Who is an executive?
  • Every knowledge worker in an organisation is an executive IF, by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organisation to perform and to obtain results. Such a person must make decisions; he cannot simply carry out orders. He must take responsibility for his contribution. And he is supposed, by virtue of his knowledge, to be better equipped to make the right decision than anyone else.
  • Most managers are executives-though not all.
  • Many non-managers are executives in modern society.
  • Many managers are not executives –they are superiors and overseers of other people BUT they do not have responsibility for or authority over the direction, content and quality of the work, or the methods of its performance. Their productivity can still be measured with the same methods as those used to measure the productivity of manual workers.
  • Whether or not a knowledge worker is an executive does NOT depend on whether or not he manages people. This is because knowledge work is defined by its results NOT by its quantity or by its costs. Consequently, the number of people involved or the size of the managerial task are irrelevant. In fact, a knowledge worker may be so busy “managing” that he has no time for his actual work and to make fundamental decisions. An individual knowledge worker may be as productive or unproductive as a team of 200 knowledge workers. "Throughout every one of our knowledge organisations, we have people who manage no one and yet are executives."
  • Executives are those knowledge workers, managers, or individual professionals, who are expected, by virtue of their position or their knowledge, to make decisions in the normal course of their work that have significant impact on the performance and results of the whole organisation.
  • The executive plans, organises, integrates, motivates, measures and makes decisions.

III. Executive realities

The realities of the executive’s situation inside an organisation, at one and the same time, demand effectiveness from him AND make effectiveness exceedingly difficult to achieve. (By contrast, effectiveness for an executive outside an organisation is much easier to achieve.)

There are four major realities about an executive’s situation inside an organisation that push him towards non-results and non-performance:
  1. The executive’s time tends to belong to everybody else
    • We can define an executive operationally (that is, through his activities) as a captive of the organisation.
    • An executive can also be defined as someone who normally has no time of their own because their time is always pre-empted by matters of importance to somebody else.
  2. Executives are forced to keep on "operating" unless they take positive action to change the reality in which they live and work
    • Unless the executive changes it by deliberate action, the flow of events will determine what he is concerned with and what he does.
    • If the executive lets the flow of events determine what he does, what he works on and what he takes seriously, he will fritter himself away “operating”.
    • Events rarely tell the executive anything, let alone the real problem. They are often not even symptoms in the sense in which a patient’s narrative is a clue for a physician. What events are relevant and important, and what events are merely distractions, the events themselves do not indicate.
    • What the executive needs are CRITERIA which enable him to work on the truly important, that is on contribution and results, even though the criteria are not found in the flow of events.
  3. The executive is within an organisation
    • The executive is effective only if and when others in the organisation make use of what he contributes. Organisation is the means of multiplying the strength of an individual.
    • Usually the people most important to the effectiveness of an executive are NOT his subordinates, but his peers or his superiors. Unless the executive can reach these people, and can make his contribution effective for them and in their work, he has no effectiveness at all.
  4. The executive is within an organisation
    • “Even the largest organisation is unreal compared to the reality of the environment in which it exists.”
    • There are no results within the organisation. All the results are on the outside.
    • All that there is within the organisation are efforts and costs.
    • The only reason the organisation exists is for the service it provides to its environment
    • BUT it is the inside of the organisation and all its workings that is most visible to the executive. Unless he makes deliberate efforts to gain direct access to outside reality, he will become increasingly inside-focused.
    • Much of the quantitative information that is presented to executives is inside-focused and misses most of the important and relevant outside events. These events are frequently qualitative, and indeed unquantifiable. They are not yet “facts”, that is “events” that have been conceptualised, defined, classified and endowed with relevance.
    • “The truly important events on the outside are not the trends. They are changes in trends. These determine ultimately success or failure of an organisation and its efforts. Such changes, however, have to be perceived: they cannot be counted, defined or classified.”
    • “Executives may become blind to everything that is perception, i.e. event, rather than fact, i.e. after the event.”
    • “Executives live and work within an organisation. Unless they make conscious effort to perceive the outside, the inside may blind them to the true reality.”

IV. The promise of effectiveness

  • Increasing effectiveness may be the only area where we can hope significantly to raise the level of executive performance, achievement, and satisfaction.
  • More able and knowledgeable people are welcome of course, but it unrealistic to expect the supply of such people to be significantly increased. At best, we can hope for someone to be good in one specialised knowledge area.
  • However, each knowledge worker should try to at least learn what other knowledge areas are about, why they exist and what are their aims.
  • Since we can’t increase the supply of better people, we should try and make better use of the people who are available. That is, rather than increasing the supply of a resource, increase its yield. Effectiveness is the one tool to make the resources of ability and knowledge yield more and better results.

V. But can effectiveness be learned?

  • Effectiveness is NOT a gift one is born with, it can be learned.
  • What are the elements of effectiveness? What does one have to learn and how does one learn it?
  1. Is effectiveness a knowledge which one learns in systematic form and through concepts?
  2. Is effectiveness a skill which one learns as an apprentice?
  3. Is effectiveness a practice which one learns through doing the same elementary things over and over again?
  • There is no such thing as an “effective personality”. Effective executives differ widely in their personalities, temperaments, abilities, knowledge and interests. All they have in common is the ability to get the right things done.
  • All effective executives have the same, common practices that make effective whatever they have and whatever they are.
  • Effectiveness is a habit, that is a complex of practices. Practices are very simple. Practices can always be learned. Practices are learned by practising and practising and practising again, until the practice becomes an unthinking, conditioned reflex and a firmly ingrained habit.
  • There is no reason why any, normally endowed individual cannot acquired competency in any practice. Mastery may require special endowments, but all that is required for effectiveness is competency.
  • There are five essential practices that have to be acquired to be an effective executive.

Effective executives:
  1. Know and manage their time (Chapter 2)
    • They know where their time goes and they work systematically at managing the little of their time that can be brought under their control.
  2. Focus on outward contribution (Chapter 3)
    • They gear their efforts to results rather than work. They begin with the question “What results are expected of me” rather than the work to be done, or its techniques and tools.
  3. Build on strengths (Chapter 4)
    • They build on strengths: their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates; and on the strengths in the situation, that is, on what they can do. They do not build on weakness, or start out with what they cannot do.
  4. Concentrate on priorities (Chapter 5)
    • They concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. They force themselves to set priorities and stick to their priority decisions. They have no choice: they do first things first and second things not at all. The alternative is to get nothing done.
  5. Make effective decisions (Chapter 6 and Chapter 7)
    • They practise a systematic decision-making process:
      • Follow the right steps in the right sequence;
      • Make a judgement based on “dissenting opinions” rather than on “consensus on the facts”;
      • Make few, carefully considered fundamental decisions rather than many, fast (and wrong!) decisions;
      • Strategic, rather than tactical.

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