Free Advice


It's been over a century now that otherwise bright consultants have been offering the same sage advice: Focus on the employees. Be of service and profits will follow. Be clear about your purpose. Given the choice between cutting head count and cutting the dividend, cut the dividend. You can't drive knowledge workers, and everyone who works for you is a knowledge worker.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard the latest rehash of these classics on NPR's Marketplace program, where Rosabeth Moss Kantor, herself a NY Times Best selling author and Harvard B-School professor, warmly remembered Peter Drucker's legacy. What would Drucker have to say about the current business climate? Same old, same old.

It is apparently not any generation's job to change the world. I'm holding out for the idea that it might (I said MIGHT) be every generation's job to learn to better cope with the world as it is. Yet these sage bits of advice seem focused upon fundamentally changing the world

I don't mean to sound cynical here, because I'm not cynical, though I have concluded that simply telling another what they should be doing has little influence on that other person's actions. Yet the sages continue offering the same good advice, just as if, stated for the umpteenth time, it might finally change someone or something. How likely is that to happen?

Our business leaders are predators. Make no mistake. They pursue maximum profit, which means annex everything not nailed down. Given a choice between cutting head count and anything else, you already know what the predator will do. Drive knowledge workers? You bet! (Hey, they're not THAT smart if they're not the one driving!) Be of service? Sure, on my off hours. I volunteer for the Boy Scouts. Purpose? Destroy the competition!

Drucker was absolutely right. So was Deming and Gantt and Follett and every other visionary. But their message was somehow wrong. It bounced off the advice deflectors every predator was born with, reassuring only scholars and theorists and all those of us who engage in business without the predator gene. The game will not be changed.

But the game might be more wisely engaged in. How might we better engage, those of us who would otherwise be little beyond beach balls bouncing off the indifferent smirks of our shadowing bureaucracies? Telling 'em does not seem to work. Maybe, as I said in The Blind Men (click on the Buy My Book tab above), an ounce of acceptance is in order. After all, we knew they were snakes when we first picked them up. Who did we think we were that we believed we might talk them out of their nature?

You and I should have paid closer attention in Junior High.

Amen


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