Drucker on Commitment to Contribution

In his book, The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker analyzed the ways that management practices and principles affect the performance of organizations, individuals, and society. The book covers the basic principles of management and gives professionals the tools to perform the tasks that the environment of tomorrow will require of them.

These are my takeaways from reading the book.

In the chapter “Focus on Contribution,” Drucker discussed the key element of achieving effectiveness, which is the focus on contribution. The key question Drucker proposed we ask was, “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?”

The focus on contribution is very different from what most of us do, which is to focus downward. We are often concerned with efforts rather than with results. We worry over what the organization and our managers “owe” us and should do for us. We are also too self-conscious above all with our status and the authority we should have over others

The man who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank. But the man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, is in the most literal sense of the phrase,

When we focus solely on the status and effort, we render ourselves ineffectual. When we focus on contributions and take responsibility for results, we position ourselves for the journey of achieving effectiveness. We essentially play the role of “top management” when we hold ourselves accountable for the performance of the greater whole.

The focus on contribution is to practice facing outward, the only place where there are results to be gained. When we turn our attention to the outside, we care more about and more likely to think through what relationships our skills, our function, or our team have to the entire organization. We will also come to think regarding the customer, the client, or the constituent, who is the ultimate reason for whatever the organization produces. Another word, the focus on contribution brings purpose to our work.

Drucker believed that every organization needs performance in three major areas:

  • Direct results
  • The building of values and their reaffirmation
  • Building and developing people for tomorrow.

All three elements must be part of the contribution of every knowledge worker. If an organization becomes deprived of these three key elements, it will surely decay and die.

The direct results of an organization must be visible and come first, as a rule. In business, they are economic results such as sales and profits. When there is confusion as to what they should be, there are no results. In the care and feeding of an organization, the direct results play the role calories play in the nutrition of the human body.

An organization also needs a commitment to values and their constant reaffirmation, as a human body needs vitamins and minerals. There must be something “this organization stands for,” or else it degenerates into disorganization, confusion, and paralysis.

Finally, the organization must provide today the men and women who can run it tomorrow. It must renew its human capital and should steadily upgrade its human resources. Focus on the contribution by itself is a powerful force in developing people. People adjust to the level of the demands made on them. One who sets his sights on contribution raises the sights and standards of everyone with whom he works.

Commitment to contribution is a commitment to responsible effectiveness. Without it, a knowledge worker shortchanges herself, deprives her organization, and cheats the people she works with. When we, as knowledge workers, do not focus on contribution, we will likely to aim too low, or worse, to aim at the wrong things. To ask, “What can I contribute?” is to look for the unused potential in our work.