Today I realised what my place in the world means to a few very precious persons. It is not often you are able to think about who you are beyond what you do Mon-Fri, or beyond what you were born into. Today was a welcome reminder that a greater calling awaits us all, and with great responsibility one must wield great caution.
In 1981, Peter Drucker delivered a lecture at New York University titled “Managing the Increasing Complexity of Large Organizations.” Drawing on lessons from the auto industry, banking and beyond, he offered provocative prescriptions for coping in a world in which “the real challenge is to decide what you are doing” in the face of tremendous “technological change or market change.”
But, as was his wont, Drucker didn’t just provide answers. Speaking slowly, through his thick Viennese accent, he asked questions: “How do we organize the new within the old?” “How do you organize your entrepreneurial within the managerial?” “How do you maintain the cohesion” at a multinational corporation with far-flung operations spanning myriad cultures?
This was no mere rhetorical device. As I’ve explored previously, Drucker was always asking pointed questions—and, in turn, prompting people to challenge their assumptions, reframe problems and consider different angles.
More than 30 years after Drucker’s talk at NYU, the level of complexity confronting us has only continued to increase—or at least it feels to most managers like it has increased, given the outdated models and processes that most businesses tend to use (as both Steve Denning and Roger Martin have eloquently explained).
With that in mind, here are six questions—all of them straight out of Drucker’s writing—that I believe he would now pose to any manager trying to cope with, in his words, “the complexities of size, markets, products and technologies.” You should ask the first two from the standpoint of your overall organization. You should ask those who work for you the second two. And the final two you should ask yourself.
1. What does the customer value? This “may be the most important question,” Drucker advised. “Yet it is the one least often asked.” This insight is especially relevant in an age where customers have more power and choice than ever before. Unless there is a relentless quest to figure out what they want and need—and the only way to do this is “to go out to look, to ask, to listen,” Drucker said—it is easy to be left behind in relatively short order. Think BlackBerry, for example. “What is value to the customer,” Drucker wrote in his 1999 book Management Challenges for the 21st Century, “is always something quite different from what is value or quality to the supplier.”
2. What is our business, and what should it be? “Nothing may seem simpler or more obvious than to know what a company’s business is,” Drucker pointed out in his 1973 landmark Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. Yet “the right answer is usually anything but obvious.” This is particularly true in an era in which market structures can change with astonishing rapidity and new horizons are continuously opening because of technological advances. One of the reasons for Amazon’s great success, I would argue, is that it is constantly honing its answer to “What is our business?”—although doing so requires an extraordinary amount of discipline. Why? Asked seriously, “the question causes controversy, argument and disagreement,” Drucker noted. “It requires judgment and considerable courage. The answer rarely follows what ‘everybody knows.’ … It should never be made quickly; it can never be made painlessly.”
3. What is the task? No one ever would have asked this question to a 1950s blue-collar laborer. That’s because “in manual work,” Drucker observed, “the task is always given”: A car rolls down the assembly line, and someone bolts on the fender. But today, when knowledge work is predominant, tasks can be far more difficult to define. There is often no specific way for a knowledge worker to tackle an assignment. He or she typically has enormous discretion over what steps to take (and which ones not to take), and in what order to take them. Even outputs can be fuzzy when the “work product” is what lies between people’s ears, not what emerges from their hands. The key to improving knowledge-worker productivity, Drucker wrote, begins bottom-up, “with asking knowledge workers themselves: What is your task? What should it be? What should you be expected to contribute? And what hampers you in doing your task and should be eliminated?”
4. What are your ideas for us to try to do new things, develop new products, design new ways of reaching the market? More than ever, it’s imperative that all employees make innovation a priority, not just the R&D staff or the “new products” team. To be sure, not everyone has equal capacity for driving “change that creates a new dimension of performance,” as Drucker put it. “There are clearly people who are more talented innovators than the rest of us,” he acknowledged. But each person in the organization, from top to bottom, needs to adopt an innovative mindset. One way to foster this, Drucker counseled, is for senior executives to hold a session a few times a year with 25 to 30 more junior employees from across all functions. As Drucker scripted it, “the senior opens the session by saying: ‘I’m not here to make a speech or to tell you anything. I’m here to listen. I want to hear from you what your aspirations are, but above all, where you see opportunities for this company and where you see threats.’” Such gatherings, Drucker added, “are one of the most effective ways to instill entrepreneurial vision throughout the company.”
5. Who in this organization depends on me for what information? “Each person’s list will always include superiors and subordinates,” Drucker wrote in a 1988 Harvard Business Review essay called “The Coming of the New Organization.” “But the most important names on it will be those of colleagues, people with whom one’s primary relationship is coordination.” This notion rings even more true now, as traditional command-and-control structures slowly give way to more fluid and flexible arrangements at a growing number of enterprises. Asking this question—and making sure that the information you deliver to your peers comes in the right form and at the right time—is a central part of what Drucker termed taking “information responsibility.” After determining who depends on you for information, the follow-up question is also crucial: And on whom, in turn, do I depend?
6. What would happen if this were not done at all? There’s never been a more apt moment to ask this question, what with every manager these days struggling to preserve his or her most precious resource—time. In his 1967 classic The Effective Executive, Drucker recommended that everyone keep a detailed time log, tracking how minutes and hours are actually spent. Mark down events as they occur; don’t rely on your memory. After three or four weeks, analyze what you’ve recorded and ask what the result would be if a certain activity weren’t undertaken in the first place. “If the answer is nothing would happen,” Drucker wrote, “then obviously the conclusion is to stop doing it. It is amazing how many things busy people are doing that never will be missed.”
From HBR.org & Rick Wartzman
Wokingham has been named technology capital of the UK. A wealth of multi-national business parks has made Wokingham borough the country’s technology hotspot.
The borough has more than five times the national average proportion of jobs in the tech sector, according to figures from the Tech Monitor UK report issued last week.
Bracknell was listed 13th in the breakdown, five places behind Reading in eighth.
The triumph has been celebrated as the realisation of Wokingham Borough Council’s vision to be a ‘great place to live, an even better place to do business’.
Councillor Rob Stanton, the council’s deputy leader, said: “This is great news for the borough, because the technology and knowledge- based sectors are the most important sectors for the UK’s economic future and we are leading in them.“ The tech sector has consistently outpaced all other sectors during the past 10 years for job creation and output growth.
It is also the most confident sector and business confidence is vital as we come out of recession. “We have consistently said that Wokingham borough must punch above its weight and this is a great example of us doing so. We are not complacent and don’t take our advantages for granted, which is why we are working in the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership to ensure we maintain our competitive edge and enhance our reputation as a place to do business even further.”
Wokingham borough is home to companies including Microsoft, BG Group, ING Direct and Oracle and boasts Winnersh Business Park, Thames Valley Business Park, Suttons Business Park and Green Park.
The Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) is a partnership between businesses and councils that helps set regional economic priorities and leads growth across the six Berkshire unitary authorities.
Steve Lamb, chair for Thames Valley Berkshire LEP, said: “It is evident from the report Thames Valley Berkshire is rich in creative enterprise, and it is the LEP’s objective to support this dynamic and evolving industry. Known as the Silicon Valley of Europe, we live and work in a world class business location, with huge specialisms in digital and tech innovation.”
Cllr Paul Bettison, leader of Bracknell Forest Council, is pleased to see the borough ranked so highly in the report and says he is a little surprised it wasn’t placed even higher.He said: “We have 37 multi-national headquarters in Bracknell Forest and all but three are to do with IT. PWhether we are first or 101st, the important thing is we generate a steady supply of high quality employment – and we do.”
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!