Peter Drucker Will Make You Angry

For anyone who took management courses, in college or as part of some professional development track, the name Peter Drucker should ring a huge bell. He’s been referred to as “the founder of modern management”, coined the term “knowledge worker”, and even prophesied the marginalization of the blue collar worker.

And to someone who’s spent the better part of their career fighting sclerotic management practices that were ostensibly based on his work, Peter Drucker’s Post Capitalist Society makes for some downright enraging reading.

The Great Kahn In Her Rage

See, Drucker is held up as the ideal management consultant. A thinker who was hired by the largest car manufacturer of the time, General Motors. A thinker who’s two year study resulted in Concept of the Corporation. It’s been considered one of the first books on the intricacies of corporate work. He even had some suggestions on how GM could improve themselves, but they were ignored. When he took the same suggestions to Japan, they were embraced and Japanese businesses leapfrogged American businesses.

In the second half of the 20th century, he was the consultant’s consultant, the business equivalent of the wandering gunslinger. The legend of Drucker still looms large in certain boardrooms and age-brackets.

But Post Capitalist Society, published in 1993, seems to have been ignored by the same people who profess to follow and understand his work. Here’s a few choice bits from the book, to give you a sense of what I mean.

And yet, we still have managers telling their employees what to do? And how many employees have quit because their manager, who has no idea how to do their job, tells them ‘they aren’t hitting their metrics’? And how do you think those manager’s feel? Given strange KPIs and odd measures of success from executives, who have no idea what the reality is ‘on the ground’ and expected to churn out success? And what about those executives? Being told that these KPIs are ‘industry standard’, whatever that means, even when they see all the issues of ‘working towards a measure’?

If it wasn’t so damn depressing, it’d be nauseating.

Photo by Johnny Cohen on Unsplash

In the book, Drucker proposed three types of teams:

Type 1: work in the team, but not as a team.
An example would be a sports team. Each player is expected to respond to the situation as it occurs but following a plan or playbook.

Type 2: work as a team with fixed roles but with a leader.
An example would be a symphony. Each player follows their copy of the music, but responds to the direction of the conductor

Type 3: work as a team with loose roles.
An example would be a jazz trio where the players respond to each other.

Type 1 teams get their information from the situation, Type 2 from the leader, and Type 3 from each other. Type 1 teams are the weakest and Type 3s, the strongest.

So, when a Type 3 team runs into a manager who wants to micromanage, do they turn into a Type 2? Or do they just fall apart and turn into gnarly scar tissue in the workflow?

That’s a rhetorical question but I’ve only seen the latter. And pointing out the issue, when you’re an employee and not a manager, is heresy. And if you are a manager, you’re meddling in someone else’s fiefdom.

It’s enough to make you rip your hair out!

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Drucker offers a way forward.

Transparency and information sharing cuts down on these interstitial managers who do more harm than good. It also frees up those people who were managers to tackle larger, more complex problems.

Trust the team. Focus on the outcomes. Stop micromanaging.

We used to just look out for our neighbors, because they were physically near us. Now, we need to make the commitment look out for everyone, because physical proximity doesn’t define our community. We define our community.

If you get a chance, find a nice used copy of the book and give it a read. Heck, see if you can get a copy from the library. Or a PDF. Whatever you need to do.

Just read it. Let it simmer. Re-read it. Take notes this time.

And let it make you angry enough to change things.

Photo by Drifting Desk on Unsplash

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Thejus Chakravarthy

Thejus Chakravarthy

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if i’m not optimizing some operations puzzle or the other, i’m probably reading (or writing, apparently)