Thinking Managers

Appalled by the inefficiency of some organisations, Robert Heller of describes how individuals should adopt Peter Drucker’s suggestions on ‘feedback analysis’ to improve their performance.

Purpose & Business Management

A recent quality review of the business management of one of Britain’s most prestigious and largest organisations would have shocked the smallest and least glorious of companies anywhere in the world.

The critic held the view that: “Without doubt, significant parts of the [organisation] are broken. The machinery of [management] is not even in the 20th century, never mind the 21st century.” While some parts of the system criticised were described as “modern and slick”, a whole host of others were operating like a “horse-drawn buggy” when the rest of society had moved on to the automobile.

The subject of this withering attack is in fact HMG – Her Majesty’s Government, an organisation which once had a supreme, worldwide star rating. It was once an outfit that had a reputation for operating with the smoothness and efficiency of a Rolls-Royce luxury car.

The critic quoted above, Zenna Atkins, is a consultant who told The Observer: “I have never met such bright people who really care about what they are doing, but they are working in a machine with a set of customs, cultures, values and practices that are utterly antiquated.”
She added “A lot of the time the process is more important than the outcome.”

That’s a long way from the recommended way to run any type of organisation. The context in which people work is vitally important: everything for a purpose, every purpose good, and every purposeful step forward measured and approved by the LIMO standard – Least Input for Most Output.

The above admirable formula fails to match the scenario given by Zenna Atkins, who also speaks of ridiculous decision chains (involving 58 people in a single non-critical decision); a climate in which no civil servant risks the sack for doing nothing, but doing something involves heavy risk; a culture where the biggest spender, the Ministry of Defence, is known for being impenetrable, not least because of memos that “appear to be gibberish, incomprehensible”.

It appears unreal but unfortunately it’s all too true. So what hope is there of a new reality, in which public servants are involved in making the decisions that they will have to implement, all within a structure that is concise, well articulated and has a relevant purpose which defines the shared tasks of all staff and delineates all individual purposes?

The paradox is that there is no need for the great complexities lying beyond the business management nous of the old-line civil servants.

The task is not complex at all: simply allow people, at all levels, the necessary luxury of ‘managing oneself’.

Emphasis was placed on ‘feedback analysis’ by the late, great Peter Drucker for precisely this purpose. Whenever “you take a decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations.”

Drucker promised this exercise will give you knowledge of that most important thing: you will discover where your strengths lie, and what “you are doing or failing to do that deprives you of the full benefits of your strengths”. You will also discover where you’re not particularly able and, in fact, where you don’t actually have any strengths.

Purpose, great and small, is served by this: “Given my strengths, my way of performing and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done?” Here, purpose translates to the results that really make a difference and produce successful individuals and organisations.

About the author
Robert Heller is one of the world’s best selling authors on business management.