Why I Love Peter Drucker – The Timeless Business Prophet

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What an amazing coincidence that a week ago I had the idea to write about the great Peter Drucker. Today, I took my collection of his books from my library and opened his classic and seminal work, The Practice of Management published in 1954. Inside I found his obituary I cut from the Los Angeles Times, dated Saturday, November 12, 2005! Undoubtably, Peter Drucker has articulated some of the most cogent and profound thoughts on business. I think he probably said it best when asked about the focus of his work, “I looked at people, not at machines or buildings.” It is the norm to think that people fall into the ‘soft’ side of business, and the matters of finance, process, strategy, and operations are the most important. This is precisely why I can say that I ‘love’ Peter Drucker.  He validates the idea, which is to recognize that without elevating the role of people, you may begin to focus wrongly on machines or buildings! Once you recognize that any and everything accomplished is a result of human effort, one is able to see the profound truth of Druckers’ statement; “ Only superior management competence and continuously improved management performance can keep us progressing, can prevent our becoming smug, self-satisfied and lazy.”

So why is Peter Drucker such an influence on my thinking?  He passed away almost 14 years ago and a few days today. I think I love Peter Drucker because he reminds me every time of what is most important for any business “…a business enterprise is created and managed by people. It is not managed by ‘forces’. It is my sense that most businesses get lost in the ‘complexities’ of business and fail to realize that we are always simply dealing with people. That said, people are not simple – we must have a laser-like focus on the needs and concerns of people. And equally important is a clear recognition that, “there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence.” Drucker is the 20th century’s most prominent management thinker and one of its great social philosophers. I’m a huge fan of folks such as Edgar Schein, Patrick Lencioni, Gary Hamel, Bob Sutton, Dan Pink, Daniel Goleman, all whom I thoroughly recommend, but Drucker seems to cover so many topics and disciplines in his very unique way.

In his writing you will find a management and leadership expert, innovation strategist, organizational culture sage, and operational excellence proponent. “To emphasize only profit, for instance, misdirects managers to the point where they may endanger the survival of the business. To obtain profit today they tend to undermine the future.” You won’t find trendy or frivolous fads in his writing, only tried-and-true, time tested advice and ideas. “Management must with every decision make provision for molding the future as far as possible toward the predicted shape of things to come.” When I think about the climate of most organizations, and the slew of engagement surveys which conclude far too often that our workplaces are unhappy places, it is powerfully profound statements like the following which we need to reflect on and seriously consider; “A mean spirit in the organization will produce mean managers, a great spirit great managers. A major requirement in managing managers is therefore the creation of the right spirit in the organization. He further goes on to say that managers are either guided in the right direction or are misdirected, and he lets us know where your organization is on the effectiveness continuum.    “Every business enterprise has either an effective or an ineffective organization structure; but it has an organization structure. It has either a spirit that killeth or one that giveth life. People are always being developed. The only choice is whether they are to be developed equal to their potential and to tomorrow’s demands or are to be misdeveloped.

I was first introduced to Peter Drucker by a friend who’s MBA professor was a Drucker fan. Upon being handed the book, The Practice of Management – The Study of The Most Important Function in American Society, and reading for the first time, “ A manager’s job should be based on a task to be performed in order to attain the company’s objectives. It should always be a real job – one that makes a visible and, if possible, clear measurable contribution to the success of the enterprise… the manager should be directed and controlled by the objectives of performance rather than by his boss.” I have seen so many positions in many organizations which quite frankly seem useless. Perhaps at some time the need may have been real, however, today the scope of the  job does not embody a significant challenge, significant responsibility or significant contribution. Drucker puts it this way, ‘The manager should be able to point at the final results of the entire business and say: “This part is my contribution.” I think many managers would be hard pressed to point directly to their contribution, but managers need to, because their team is really only concerned with the bosses’ contribution. Drucker is right because he orients leaders to focus on what is most important; “It’s the abilities, not the disabilities, that count.” Gallup StrengthsFinder is all about reorienting our focus on building on what we do well. When I work with teams that are experiencing disharmony and dysfunction, I will point them to focus on the strengths that exist within the team. “Nothing destroys the spirit of an organization faster than focusing on people’s weaknesses rather than their strengths.” My goal as an executive coach, is to create an atmosphere or spirit that focuses people on the organizations performance and the individuals contribution.

As I reflect further on why I love Peter Druckers’ work, it is chapters in this book such as; The Objective of a Business, The Spirit of an Organization, The Ford Story, Management by Objectives and Self-Control, Developing Managers, Employing the Whole Man, Is Personnel Management Bankrupt, and The Manager and His Work; which will convince the reader that his ideas were and are, way ahead of his time. His wisdom and insights are so needed today, because in so many ways the corporate world has lost its way, especially when we think about how people are consistently mismanaged. When you read his writings, he always serves to remind us, always eloquently, of what matters most. Or as Andrew S.Grove co-founder of Intel Corp said, “Unlike many philosophers, he spoke in a plain language that resonated with ordinary managers.” Drucker, called the Father of Modern Management cared deeply about people, because they are the ‘lifeblood of any organization.’ He describes the kind of workplace culture which we all desire; “the simplest practice is one that says in effect to all managers: the spirit of this organization is the business of every one of us. Find out what you are doing to build the right spirit in the unit you head and tell us, in higher management, what we can do to build the right spirit in the unit of which you are part.” In 21st century vernacular, it is appropriate to say that Peter Drucker rocks!

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How to Hire the Right Person – Ensure that the new blood is the desired blood

Everyone says it, and I believe most leaders believe that, the people on your team are your most valuable and strategic resource. There is no doubt in my mind as I look at the organization I have worked for, and the organizations I have consulted with that many hiring decisions do not include the kind of process that goes beyond compliance to job requirements. Most human resource departments provide interviewing techniques and guidelines which focus exclusively on canned questions, which is fine for ascertaining if the candidate has the relevant job experience and skills. What is missing from this standardized approach is a systematic approach which allows one to discern if the candidate is the right ‘cultural fit’ for the job.This idea has been talked about for many years and there some organizations like W.L. Gore & Associates, Mars, Zappos, Patagonia, and Google to name a few, who only hire candidates whose values and behaviors appear congruent with their organizational culture.Unfortunately, too few organizations do this and many times end up with individuals who are a bad fit.

So how does an organization ensure that it isn’t simply going through the motions when hiring new employees but rather, has determined what are the ‘non-negotiables’, beyond qualifications, for new associates. According to RoundPegg, an organizational culture research consultancy, “Hiring people whose values match company values should be one of the top competencies of an organization committed to a high performance culture. The biggest lever you have at your disposal to align the company is to ensure that the new blood is the desired blood.” This belief and practice is truly what separates a highly effective organization from a mediocre or poor performing one. What is really unfortunate about these organizations, is that they are stuck in a downward spiral with no plan to break the cycle.The reasons for this could be; an over-emphasis on complying with rigid hiring practices, a ‘fetish-like’ desire for particular qualifications or pedigree (only hiring candidates who have graduated from elite universities), or a homogenous approach where diversity of thought is not valued. Any of these approaches will not allow for bringing new team members who are going to take your organization to the next level of performance – which I believe is what you want every time when hiring a new associate.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with C.L. Max Nikias, President of University of Southern California. During our discussion he mentioned that the major accomplishments and successes of his organization could be credited to his excellent leadership team. Further, he stated that the people on his team are the most important asset, which triggered my question, what qualities and characteristics are non-negotiable for his leadership team? His response was not only authentic and with his permission to share, an excellent model for hiring the right person, rather than the person who looks most qualified on paper. C.L. Max Nikias non-negotiable requirements for hiring leaders are knowledgecharacter, and judgement. I cannot recall a time in my entire career during a hiring decision or when a new hire was introduced to the organization that their ‘good character’ or ‘judgement’ was mentioned in their list qualifications! As I reflect on my time with Mr. Nikias, the following thoughts are worthy of consideration if you want hire the right people:

  • Make hiring decisions which are unequivocally beneficial for both parties. It is far too easy to hire someone who simply meets the job qualifications on paper. But qualifications won’t help when the new persons’ attitude and actions are incompatible with the values, mission, and the culture of your organization.
  • Ensure your interview panel understands that cultural fit is equally important as knowledge and expertise. Too often we take a lackadaisical approach to interviews and treat the task as just one of many tasks to complete. This approach is irresponsible and short-sited. It is imperative to step back and ask, what kinds of questions do we fail to ask that would provide a better assessment of the candidates suitability for the position?
  • Make it your highest priority to ensure that you have the right people in the right jobs. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan devote a chapter in their book Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done — “The Job No Leader Should Delegate – Having the Right People in the Right Place.” They emphasize strongly that leaders cannot delegate the process for selecting and developing people. When one finds people in the wrong jobs, it sends the message that those leaders are not personally committed or deeply engaged in the people process. Leaders are obsessive and fanatical when selecting talent.