Drucker on Contribution and Human Relations

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. For the knowledge workers, the focus on contribution is particularly important. Knowledge workers do not produce a “thing.” They produce ideas, information, and concepts, which must be assembled together with the output of other knowledge workers before it can produce results.

The goal, therefore, is not to breed generalists who can do everything. Ideal generalists are rare and not practical for most organization. The goal should be to enable the specialist to make himself and his specialty effective. This means that she must think through who is to use her output and what the user needs to understand to be able to make productive uses of her output.

Effective knowledge workers have learned this principle. If a person wants to be an executive (or be recognized as a knowledge worker), she must concern herself with the usability of her “product” (or her knowledge). Such awareness will always prompt the knowledge worker to ask this question, “What contribution from me do you require to make your contribution to the organization? When do you need this, how do you need it, and in what form?”

The person who takes responsibility for her contribution will relate her specialty area to a genuine whole. By herself, she may never be able to integrate many knowledge areas into one, but she realizes that she must be able to learn enough of the needs, the directions, the limitations, and the perceptions of others to enable them to use her output.

When it comes to working with others, knowledge workers in an organization do not have good human relations because they have a “talent for people.” They have good human relations because they focus on contribution in their own work and in their relationships with others. As a result, their relationships are productive, and Drucker believed that this is the only valid definition of “good human relations.”

In a work-focused relationship that yields no productive results, warm feelings and pleasant words are meaningless and simply a false front for wretched attitudes. On the other hand, an occasional rough word will not disturb a relationship that produces results and accomplishments for all concerned.

With the focus on contribution, Drucker outlined the four basic requirements of effective human relations:

  • Communications: When knowledge workers take responsibility for contribution in their own work, they will, as a rule, demand that their directs take responsibility, too. When there is shared responsibility, communication becomes possible and, more often, becomes easy.
  • Teamwork: The focus on contribution leads to communications sideways and thereby makes teamwork possible.
  • Self-development: Individual self-development in large measure depends on the focus on contributions.
  • Development of others: The executive who focuses on contribution also stimulates others to develop themselves, whether they are directs, peers, or superiors. He sets standards that are not personal but grounded in the quest for excellence. The quest for excellence demands high aspiration, for ambitious goals, and for work of great impact.

We know one thing: people in general grow according to the demands they make on themselves. They grow according to what they consider to be achievement and attainment. If they demand a good deal of themselves, they will excel without any more effort than is expended by the non-achievers.