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The Practice of Management - Book Review

1 May 2013
Dr. Moria Levy

Peter Drucker, the management giant of the 20th century, passed away at the end of 2005. Fifty years earlier, he authored "Management in Practice," a book that became the practical approach to managing modern society. However, in 1954, when the book was published, only a few grasped its concepts, and finding organizations that adhered to his teachings was challenging.

Peter Drucker was ahead of his time. He analyzed how we are destined to behave in his renowned book and subsequent works. His insights were not based on fortune-telling but on his ability to scrutinize trends and processes, suggesting courses of action beyond conventional boundaries. This foresight is evident in his book "Management Challenges in the 21st Century," published in 1999. It is not surprising that its principles have yet to be embraced by organizational leaders and individuals. Maturation is essential for us to change our ways; it requires more than just a wise and just individual pointing the way.

Contrary to my usual approach in book reviews, I will refrain from providing a summary here. Not because there is nothing to convey but to maintain focus. In this review, I will delve into aspects related to knowledge workers and their management.

Knowledge workers, a term familiar to us at the close of the 20th century, are poised to become the primary workforce in the 21st century. Unlike production workers, these individuals engage in varied tasks, avoiding monotonous activities. They are expected to exercise discretion rather than merely adhere to established procedures. Rather than being subordinates, they are to be regarded as colleagues. Their managers must comprehend and internalize that, for a knowledge worker to excel, they must possess more excellent knowledge and professionalism than their manager.

Knowledge workers require information that catalyzes their activities and decision-making to fulfill their tasks effectively. However, a challenge arises in determining the nature and organization of this information, as Drucker contends that each employee must define their method. There is no universal approach to managing information that suits everyone. The most crucial information for the employee pertains to the extraordinary: special events, unexpected successes, and more. These serve as a foundation for their thoughts, facilitating accurate decision-making and sustained focused activity.

Despite being compensated, knowledge workers should be treated as volunteers. Salary is only a hygiene component, capable of causing dissatisfaction but not necessarily satisfaction with work (as per Herzberg's perspective). In today's landscape, any employee can leave their job as it is portable. The workplace must present a challenge, with the employee comprehending the organization's tasks and goals and believing in them. Continuous and regular training is imperative for knowledge workers, who also need to witness tangible results.

The manager's role is to guide the knowledge workers under their purview and optimize each employee's strengths and knowledge to attain the organization's goals successfully. The primary contribution that management tools in the 21st century can make, as outlined by Drucker, lies in enhancing the efficiency of knowledge work and knowledge workers.

The efficiency focus in the 20th century, characterized by the streamlining of production work, was driven by a reorganization of tasks associated with each operation—a concept rooted in Taylor's doctrine. Process analysis thrived during this period, involving the breakdown of tasks into sub-tasks and their reorganization to facilitate overall task efficiency.

In the 21st century, the emphasis has shifted to streamlining knowledge work, with knowledge workers assuming prominence in developed countries and engaging in work of a distinct nature. The approach to achieving efficiency differs, with six key factors defining employee effectiveness:

  1. Task Definition: The task should be clearly defined, encompassing both the "how" and the "what."

  2. Individual Responsibility: Knowledge workers must manage themselves, carrying the responsibility for task execution independently.

  3. Innovation Integration: Constant innovation should be integrated into the work process.

  4. Continuous Learning and Teaching: Knowledge workers must engage in constant learning and, equally importantly, share their knowledge by teaching others.

  5. Quality as Important as Quantity: Efficiency is not solely measured by quantity; quality holds equal importance.

  6. Asset Treatment: Knowledge workers should be perceived as assets rather than expenses.

A bit of clarification on the topic of task definition is warranted. Initially, this factor may seem perplexing. Does the employee need to learn the task assigned to them? Is the manager unaware? What exactly is it about? By furnishing examples from various contexts, Drucker elucidates that redefining the task is the crux of enhancing its efficiency. A practical illustration comes from a specific hospital where nurses discovered an efficient approach upon reconsidering their mission. By rediscovering their tasks and thoroughly examining job components, they identified functions that could be relinquished, delegated to others, or assigned to non-medical personnel (such as a hospital secretary). Eliminating bottlenecks among nurses saved the hospital resources and bolstered its overall efficiency. This model applies across diverse roles, whether teachers, certified telephone technicians, or consultants. Redefining tasks, coupled with specifying the required contribution for task success and defining the quality of task execution, can significantly streamline knowledge work.

Drucker envisions the future embodied in a category of workers he labels as technologists. According to him, technologists are individuals who seamlessly blend routine and production work with knowledge work. Surgeons serve as prototypes for these professionals. The diagnostic phase, rich in knowledge, precedes the surgical procedure, which involves production work devoid of expertise. Technologists constitute the largest segment of knowledge workers, and this group is also experiencing the most substantial growth. It encompasses diverse roles, such as automotive workers, medical professionals, and laboratory personnel. Drucker underscores the importance of proper training and the provision of managerial tools for their success. As detailed earlier, treating them as knowledge workers and optimizing their activities is paramount.

Towards the end, Drucker addresses the individual's role in the new reality—self-management becomes paramount. While the organizational aspects and the manager's role have been defined, the focus now shifts to how the individual should navigate this landscape. Drawing from the earlier discussion on organizational roles, particularly that of the manager, Drucker emphasizes several key points.

The knowledge worker is tasked with meeting five essential requirements for practical work:

  1. Self-Understanding: Employees should introspect and ask: Who am I? What are my strengths? How do I work? Seeking constructive feedback aids in strengthening areas of improvement, and the employee must grasp their learning style among the four types.

  2. Cultural Alignment: Employees must question: Where do I belong? A strong alignment of organizational and personal values is crucial for an employee's sense of belonging.

  3. Contribution Clarity: Employees should ponder: What is my contribution? Acknowledging that each knowledgeable employee can contribute uniquely based on their strengths is vital. However, the focus should be on contributing where necessary rather than merely where possible.

  4. Relationship Management: Employees must manage relationships within the knowledge worker community. Collaboration is critical, and every employee is responsible for sharing knowledge and understanding how to convey information to others effectively.

  5. Lifelong Planning: Employees must plan the second part of their lives, considering increased life expectancy. As our ability to work in later years grows, thoughtful planning is necessary for continued satisfaction and enjoyment. Drucker suggests avenues like contributing to the community as supplementary to regular work.

The management landscape in the 21st century constitutes a revolution, particularly in managing knowledge workers. This revolution extends to employees transitioning to self-management and adopting a CEO mindset. Managers, too, face a revolutionary shift as they learn to lead individuals who function as managers themselves.

As the 21st century unfolds, the imperative is clear: internalize the changes and commence acting accordingly. The future is already upon us.

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