Corentin Derbré


The Effective Executive – Peter Drucker

ISBN: 0060833459
Date read: 2016-10-27
How strongly I recommend it: 7/10
(See my list of books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Good principles, but many examples are outdated, and many principles have evolved or became more widespread. Gives a better understanding of the role of being an executive in organizations.

my notes

Management is largely by example. Without effectiveness there is no “performance,” no matter how much intelligence and knowledge goes into the work, no matter how many hours it takes.

What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices: • 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 were focused on opportunities rather than problems. • They ran productive meetings. • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

But effective executives do not splinter themselves. They concentrate on one task if at all possible. If they are among those people —a sizable minority— who work best with a change of pace in their working day, they pick two tasks.

However, after completing the original top-priority task, the executive resets priorities rather than moving on to number two from the original list. He asks, “What must be done now?”This generally results in new and different priorities.

He asked himself which of the two or three tasks at the top of the list he him self was best suited to undertake. Then he concentrated on that task; the others he delegated.

“Is this the right thing for the enterprise?”

Write an Action Plan

Executives are doers; they execute. Knowledge is useless to executives until it has been translated into deeds. “What contributions should the enterprise expect from me over the next 18 months to two years? What results will I commit to? With what dead lines?” The action plan is a statement of intentions rather than a commitment.

Time is an executive’s scarcest and most precious resource.

Organizations are held together by information rather than by ownership or command.

Good executives don’t raise another matter for discussion. They sum up and adjourn.

Think and Say “We”

They have authority only because they have the trust of the organization. This means that they think of the needs and the opportunities of the organization before they think of their own needs and opportunities.

1: Effectiveness Can Be Learned

The executive is,first of all, expected to get the right things done.

Brilliant men are often strikingly Ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights be come effectiveness only through hard systematic work.

Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.

For manual work, we need only efficiency; that is, the ability to do things right rather than the ability to get the right things done.

I have called “executives” 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.

Organization is a means of multiplying the strength of an individual.

The fewer people, the smaller, the less activity inside, the more nearly perfect is the organization in terms of its only reason for existence: the service to the environment.

Most of the mass of the amoeba is directly concerned with survival and procreation. Most of the mass of the higher animal—its resources, its food, its energy supply, its tissues—serve to overcome and offset the complexity of the structure and the isolation from the outside. If one cannot increase the supply of a re source,one must increase its yield. And effectiveness is the one tool to make the resources of ability and knowledge yield more and better results.

Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit.

These are essentially five such practices—five such habits of the mind that have to be acquired to be an effective executive: \1. Effective executives know where their time goes. \2. Effective executives focus on out ward contribution. \3. Effective executives build on strengths \4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results. First things first—and second things not at all. \5. Effective executives, finally, make effective decisions.

2: Know Thy Time

• recording time, • managing time, and • consolidating time

To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.

People are time-consumers. And most people are time-wasters.

One cannot even think of managing one’s time unless one first knows where it goes.

Effective executives have the log run on themselves for three to four weeks at a stretch twice a year or so, on a regular schedule. After each such sample, they rethink and rework their schedule. But six months later, they invariably find that they have “drifted” into wasting their time on trivia. Only constant efforts at managing time can prevent drifting.

“What would happen if this were not done at all?” And if the answer is, “Nothing would happen,” then obviously the conclusion is to stop doing it.

“What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?”

“I have asked [Messrs Smith, Jones, and Robinson] to meet with me [Wednesday at 3] in [the fourth floor conference room] to discuss [next year’s capital appropriations budget]. Please come if you think that you need the information or want to take part in the discussion. But you will in any event receive right away a full summary of the discussion and of any decisions reached, together with a request for your comments.”

A crisis that recurs a second time is a crisis that must not occur again.

A well-managed organization is a “dull” organization.

In a lean organization people have room to move without colliding with one another and can do their work with out having to explain it all the time.

One should only have on a team the knowledges and skills that are needed day in and day out for the bulk of the work.

Another common time-waster is malorganization. Its symptom is an excess of meetings.

Too many meetings signify that work that should be in one job or in one component is spread over several jobs or several components. They signify that responsibility is diffused and that information is not addressed to the people who need it.

“Why always an hour and a half?” He answered, “That’s easy. I have found out that my attention span is about an hour and a half. If I work on any one topic longer than this, I begin to repeat myself. At the same time, I have learned that nothing of importance can really be tackled in much less time. One does not get to the point where one understands what one is talking about.”

The larger the organization, the more time will be needed just to keep the organization together and running, rather than to make it function and produce.

All effective executives control their time management perpetually. They not only keep a continuing log and analyze it periodically. They set themselves deadlines for the important activities, based on their judgment of their discretionary time.

Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.

3: What Can I Contribute?

“What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?”

The focus on contribution is the key to effectiveness.

Only a few say, “It’s my job to give our managers the information they need to make the right decisions,” or”I am responsible for finding out what products the customer will want tomorrow,” or “I have to think through and prepare the decisions the president will have to face tomorrow.”

An executive’s focus on contribution by itself is a powerful force in developing people. People adjust to the level of the demands made on them. The executive who sets his sights on contribution, raises the sights and standards of everyone with whom he works.

Warm feelings and pleasant words are meaningless, are indeed a false front for wretched attitudes, if there is no achievement in what is, after all, a work-focused and task-focused relationship.

Every one of them inspired deep devotion, indeed, true affection in all who worked for them. All three, in their different ways, built their relationship to people—their superiors, their colleagues, and their subordinates—around contribution.

The focus on contribution by itself supplies the four basic requirements of effective human relations: • communications; • teamwork; • self-development;and, • development of others.

One can either direct a meeting and listen for the important things being said, or one can take part and talk; one cannot do both. But the cardinal rule is to focus it from the start on contribution.

4: Making Strength Productive

Men of narrow but very great strength.

Effective executives know that their subordinates are paid to perform and not to please their superiors.

Effective executives never ask “How does he get along with me?” Their question is “What does he contribute?” “What can he do uncommonly well?”

Human excellence can only be achieved in one area, or at the most in very few. The main reason is that the immediate task of the executive is not to place a man; it is to fill a job. It is only too easy to be misled this way into looking for the “least misfit” —the one man who leaves least to be desired. And this is in variably the mediocrity. “Is he the man most likely to do an outstanding job?”

Structuring jobs to fit personality is almost certain to lead to favoritism and conformity. The effective executive therefore first makes sure that the job is well-designed.

The second rule for staffing from strength is to make each job demanding and big. It should have challenge to bring out whatever strength a man may have.

One can measure the performance of a man only against specific performance expectations.

(a) “What has he [or she] done well?” (b) ‘What, therefore, is he likely to be able to do well?” (c) “What does he have to learn or to acquire to be able to get the full benefit from his strength?” (d) “If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?” (i) “If yes, why?” (ii) “If no, why?”

Every people-decision is a gamble. By basing it on what a man can do, it becomes at least a rational gamble.

While the others complain about their inability to do anything, the effective executives go ahead and do.

The assertion that “somebody else will not let me do any thing” should always be suspected as a cover-up for inertia.

“What are the things,” he asks, “that I seem to be able to do with relative ease, while they come rather hard to other people?”

Only strength produces results. Weak ness only produces headaches—and the absence of weakness produces nothing.

The standard of any human group is set by the performance of the leaders.

The task is to multiply performance capacity of the whole by putting to use whatever strength, whatever health, whatever aspiration there is in individuals.

5: First Things First

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.

Effective executives therefore allow a fair margin of time beyond what is actually needed.

Effective executives do not race. They set an easy pace but keep going steadily.

They concentrate— their own time and energy as well as that of their organization—on doing one thing at a time, and on doing first things first.

It is the executive’s specific job—whether he works in government, in a business, or in any other institution—to commit today’s resources to the future.

The assumption should rather be that all programs outlive their usefulness fast and should be scrapped unless proven productive and necessary.

“Is this still worth doing?” And if it isn’t, he gets rid of it so as to be able to concentrate on the few tasks that, if done with excellence, will really make a difference in the results of his own job and in the performance of his organization.

Social organizations need to stay lean and muscular as much as biological organisms.

One hires new people to expand on already established and smoothly running activity. But one starts something new with people of tested and proven strength, that is, with veterans.

Another predictable result of leaving control of priorities to the pressures is that the work of top management does not get done at all. That is always postponable work, for it does not try to solve yesterday’s crises but to make a different tomorrow. The pressures always favor yesterday.

Most executives have learned that what one postpones, one actually abandons.

Courage rather than analysis dictates the truly important rules for identifying priorities:

• Pick the future as against the past; • Focus on opportunity rather than on problem; • Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the bandwagon; and • Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference, rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do.

A good many studies of research scientists have shown that achievement depends less on ability in doing research than on the courage to go after opportunity.

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

The effective executive does not, in other words, truly commit himself beyond the one task he concentrates on right now. Then he reviews the situation and picks the next one task that now comes first.

6: The Elements of Decision making

Effective executives, therefore, make effective decisions. Effective executives do not make a great many decisions. They concentrate on the important ones.

Unless a decision has “degenerated into work” it is not a decision; it is at best a good intention.

Even today few businessmen understand that research, to be productive, has to be the “disorganizer,” the creator of a different future and the enemy of today.

Their decisions were, in other words, strategic, rather than adaptations to the apparent needs of the moment. They all innovated. They were all highly controversial.

Is this a true exception or only the first manifestation of a new genus?

By far the most common mistake is to treat a generic situation as if it were a series of unique events;

The effective decision-maker, therefore, always assumes initially that the problem is generic. He always assumes that the event that clamors for his attention is in reality a symptom. He looks for the true problem. He is not content with doctoring the symptom alone.

“If I had to live with this for a long time, would I be willing to?” And if the answer is “No,” he keeps on working to find a more general, a more conceptual, a more comprehensive solution—one which establishes the right principle.

Similarly, an executive who makes many decisions is both lazy and ineffectual.

“Does the explanation explain the observed events and does it explain all of them?; he always writes out what the solution is expected to make happen—make automobile accidents disappear, for instance—and then tests regularly to see if this really happens;

The second major element in the decision process is clear specifications as to what the decision has to accomplish. What are the objectives the decision has to reach? What are the minimum goals it has to attain? What are the conditions it has to satisfy? In science these are known as “boundary conditions.” A decision, to be effective, needs to satisfy the boundary conditions. It needs to be adequate to its purpose.

‘What is the minimum needed to resolve this problem?”

One needs organized information for the feedback. One needs reports and figures. But unless one builds one’s feedback around direct exposure to reality—unless one disciplines one self to go out and look—one condemns oneself to a sterile dogmatism and with it to ineffectiveness.

7: Effective Decisions

It is at best a choice between “almost right” and “probably wrong.”

And no one has ever failed to find the facts he is looking for.

The only rigorous method, the only one that enables us to test an opinion against reality, is based on the clear recognition that opinions come first—and that this is the way it should be. Then no one can fail to see that we start out with untested hypotheses. We know what to do with hypotheses—one does not argue them; one tests them.

The best way to find the appropriate measurement is again to go out and look for the “feedback” discussed earlier—only this is “feedback” before the decision.

Unless one has considered alternatives, one has a closed mind.

The first rule in decision-making is that one does not make a decision unless there is disagreement.

Every one of the effective Presidents in American history had his own method of producing the disagreement he needed in order to make an effective decision. Disagreement, especially if forced to be reasoned, thought through, documented, is the most effective stimulus we know. He starts out with the commitment to find out why people disagree.

The effective executive is concerned first with under standing. Only then does he even think about who is right and who is wrong.

No matter how high his emotions run, no matter how certain he is that the other side is completely wrong and has no case at all, the executive who wants to make the right decision forces himself to see opposition as his means to think through the alternatives. He uses conflict of opinion as his tool to make sure all major aspects of an important matter are looked at carefully.

He either operates or he doesn’t.

Conclusion: Effectiveness Must Be Learned

1 – Recording where the time goes. The analysis of the executive’s time, the elimination of the unnecessary time-wasters, already requires some action. It requires some elementary decisions. It requires some changes in a man’s behavior, his relationships, and his concerns.

2 – Focus his vision on contribution

3 – Making strengths productive

4 – First Things First

5 – The effective decision

As executives work toward becoming effective, they raise the performance level of the whole organization.

Organizations as well as executives need to work systematically on effectiveness and need to acquire the habit of effectiveness. They need to learn to feed their opportunities and to starve their problems. They need to work on making strength productive. They need to concen trate and to set priorities instead of trying to do a little bit of everything.

© 2018 Corentin Derbré.