Taking Stock / So Spoke the Guru

At the end of the day, it's all about people.

That was Peter F. Drucker's boiled-down wisdom about enterprise management. Drucker, who died on a Friday some 10 days ago at the age of 95, is not a well-known figure in Israeli business circles. He should have been: He is one of the most important voices of the last century in the theory of management.

Years before people began to talk about the importance of workers to an organization, Drucker presaged a power shift in the modern management world, to the workers with know-how. Fear and money would no longer be the only whips, he predicted.

Successful organizations are ones that create the conditions for workers to do their jobs as well as possible, he preached. Managers have to give their subordinates goals, but let them make the decisions.

A year and a half ago, Drucker published a piece in the Harvard Business Review, in his clear style, laying down his tenet of eight rules to create effective managers. He doesn't mention charisma, leadership or aggression, all of which have become widely associated with top-level management.

* Ask what needs to be done. All too many managers ask, "What do I want to do?" instead of what actually needs to be done. Even the most talented manager will flop unless he gets the question right.

"What needs to be done" usually results in multiple missions, but a manager can focus on one, at the most two. He has to choose the most important in the area of his greatest expertise, and delegate the rest to other people.

* Ask what's right for the organization. Trivial? Not at all; managers tend to ask what's good for the shareholders or the managers or the workers. Managers of public companies in particular get fixated on that first one. But the real question is, "What is good for the enterprise?"

Shareholders, managers and workers are important to the organization, but a decision working against the organization is not good for the shareholders, managers and workers either.

* Write a program for execution. The job of management is not to think; it's to do. But before leaping into the void, they must plan ahead: What are the results we expect? What are the limitations? What are the changes we may need to make? What are the test points and what will the step contribute to the organization in a space of two years?

The plan is a statement of intent, not a contract; it must not shackle and must be able to change.

* Take responsibility for decisions. No decision has been made until the people in the organization know who is responsible for it, when it should be executed, and whom it affects. They must therefore know about it, understand it, and sometimes approve it as well. Sounds simple? Try to think how many times a decision at your organization flopped because it didn't meet these tests.

* Take responsibility for communication. Effective managers assure that their plans and informational needs are clearly understood. They share their plans with all their colleagues - the bosses, the subordinates, and their peers - seeking input. What holds an enterprise together at the end of the day is not ownership or authority, but information.

* Focus on opportunities. Good managers focus on opportunities, not problems. Problems need handling, naturally, but problem-solving does not generate results, it prevents damage. What creates results is exploitation of opportunities. Effective managers treat change as an opportunity, not a threat. They constantly seek to identify changes within the organization and outside it, and ask how it can be turned into opportunity.

* Make meetings productive. Managers spend much of their time in work meetings. For a meeting to be effective, they must decide in advance what sort of meeting it is to be, and prepare accordingly. For meetings to be effective, discipline is a must: Select the meeting type and stick to its goals. When the goal has been accomplished, it should end.

* Think and say "We." Don't say "I," say "We." Good managers know that at the end of the day, their responsibility cannot be shared or transferred. But they also know they hold that responsibility because they have gained the trust of the organization, which feels the manager acts for the good of the enterprise ahead of his own personal good.

And for a finale, the late Drucker tossed us, his students, a little tip. It's a cliche, but an important one. Listen - and then talk.