people signals


talent leadership change innovation

The Future of Work – Peter Drucker’s view

Fredmund Malik took Peter Drucker’s view further and discussed the implications for corporations. According to his world-view, the main challenge of the future is to manage complexity and adjust to environments. He centers his approach on the Viable-System-Model that highlights the adaptability of organizations to their environment. It requires leaders and workers to be more versed in the ideas of change, organic systems and whole-system perspectives.

Telekom HR-chief and former Lufthansa-HR-head Michael Sattelberger took his philosophy of talent development to Germany’s biggest telecommunications company: “we build a talent environment rather then a drill-based military-like complex. Talents want participation.” He highlights the need for people to not be stuck in a job too long, exchange with peers and shape the strategy of the business they work for.  “Companies have to become more democratic and give talents room to participate and create options on the future”[1]. This also means that people need to account for more responsibility for their careers, take on part-time engagements and strive for flexibility and experience. It also means that jobs will follow people and companies need to offer perspectives for the employees they want to attract and retain.(see Brand Eins 04/2010)


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The Future of Work – Peter Drucker’s view

Peter Drucker was one of the first to introduce the notion of knowledge work. Since the 1960s he advocated a shift in how we do work and what that means for corporations. He predicted that the prominence of the large corporations (1950 big business employed a third of American workforce; vs. 8% today)and its command-and-control structure will diminish in favor of orchestrating and “writing the score”. Instead of running a business in Talyorism way of fixed input and predictable output, the work is to define the results, work to your and other’s strengths,  determining how to make a contribution and accepting that knowledge workers outlive their organizations. This means, they are responsible for the own development and should create opportunities themselves.

Productivity speaker David Allen states it as this: “What’s tricky is defining what “done” means, and then defining what “doing” looks like. In other words, your work is not self-evident. You have to define it. And even though people are giving you stuff to deal with, they’re not pre-digesting it for you. I don’t know anyone who got their current job and who was given a list of the 63 projects—clearly defined—that were going to be required to fulfill their job requirements, and the 153 action steps they needed to take to make that happen. And that’s what’s new: In the old days, you just showed up and the work was self-evident. Today, everybody has to have their own individual responsibility to define what their work is—at both the outcome level and the “how-do-I-allocate-my-own-resources-to-make-this-happen” level. We haven’t been trained to think that way.”

In turn, it means that corporations have to treat individuals as if they were volunteers and accept the fact that they do not know most of the time or the details of a person’s work or how they spend it – highlighting the need for trust and self-management. In “Management Challenges of the 21st Century”, Drucker defined six factors for knowledge worker productivity:

  1. Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”
  2. It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves.
  3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
  4. Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
  5. Productivity of the knowledge worker is not — at least not primarily — a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
  6. Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.

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The 5 best questions of the year

This year I’ve run across a wonderful piece of Peter Drucker’s legacy. I always admired his insight and focus on the essential. With this piece on “The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization” Drucker wanted to help non-profits manage their organizations. It turns out he help the rest of the world as well. The questions are: 

1) What is our mission? – what a great question to focus what you are all about. While it might seem easy, it usually is not. Try letting people write down their understanding of the mission and it becomes clear that a clear mission is a lot of work. It also cuts right at the question on how to react to change inside and outside of the organization.

2) Who is our customer? – Peter Drucker recommends to look at 2 types of customers. The typical customer who buys the services or products. And then the internal customer that you need to deliver those. Like employees. Only through good understanding of your target will the organization be focused.

3) What does the customer value? – what do customers want. Now that always seems obvious, but working in an organization it is easy to overshoot the market, to deliver non-essentials and loose essentials. It requires constant renewal to focus on the costumer’s value and not just through study, but through going there and feeling their pain.

4) What are our results? – focusing on outputs. Another great question for a team. While this also seems trivial, I hardly see any organization that agrees on this. Top management overestimates the understand of the employees and if there is little agreement on this, there is a lot of waste.

5) What is our plan? – out of all the first questions you bild the plan.


The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask,” – Peter Drucker – .


Applied to Obama’s campaign: Obama’s Drucker-style win (business week)

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