People Power

Peter Drucker once remarked that “most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Properly practiced, Drucker declared, management is what “makes modern organization perform.” And to be successful, managers have to execute on a series of very specific tasks: setting objectives, organizing work, motivating and communicating, establishing yardsticks of performance, and developing people. Of them all, the last may be most important.

“The manager works with a specific resource: people,” Drucker wrote. “‘Working’ with the human being always means developing him or her. The direction that this development takes decides whether the human being–both as a person and as a resource–will become more productive or cease, ultimately, to be productive at all.”

[EXPAND More]This notion came to mind when we read Sunday’s New York Times piece on a study undertaken at Google, which concluded that oftentimes a boss’s technical know-how is less crucial than simply being accessible to—and supportive of—his or her employees.

In what the Times said might be dubbed the “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Google Managers,” the company’s internal study analyzed performance reviews, data from feedback surveys and nominations from top-manager awards. What Google found in creating a list of the optimal qualities of an effective manager was not shocking or new. Familiar ideas about having a clear vision and helping employees with career development appeared on the list. What was surprising, according to Laszlo Bock, a Google human resources executive, was the ranking of those values.

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Bock said. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.”

Google’s observations are reminiscent of Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp‘s own realizations about the need to focus on building management skills at time when her then-nascent nonprofit faced major organizational challenges. “I realized something pivotal,” Kopp wrote in her book One Day, All Children. “Whether or not Teach for America met its goals would depend on whether or not our organizational leaders–and I myself–were effective managers. It was great to have big ideas. But they wouldn’t grow into successful initiatives without effective management at every level. We would need to define goals and hold ourselves, and our staff, accountable for meeting them. And we would need to invest the energy needed to develop our staff members’ capacity to reach those goals. This was a big shift in my thinking.”

What about your organization? Does management focus its energy on technical matters—or on supporting you and helping you to develop to your fullest?[/EXPAND]