Peter Drucker (1909–2005) was the 20th century’s leading thinker on business and management. He was amazingly prolific—he produced 39 volumes on management and leadership and worked right until his death a week before his 96th birthday.
Drucker’s The Practice of Management (1954) played a pivotal role in the recognition of management as a professional discipline. Even six decades after publication, The Practice of Management remains relevant for its original, profound, and timeless ideas. Drucker’s conception for the organization as an integral part of society, his elucidation of the nature of managerial tasks, his emphasis on good governance, and his prescription for effective leadership have served managers well over the decades.
Here are some prominent insights from The Practice of Management:
- Drucker accentuated the need for clarity about the meaning of a business. He argued, “‘what is our business’ is the most important question successful management groups have to address.” In corporate strategy, this inquiry has become the underpinning for business analysis and the formulation of mission statements.
- A business exists to “create a customer.” Therefore, managers need to query who their customers are and what the business must try to do for its customers.
- The Practice of Management contributed to a rich analysis of the role of business in society. Drucker proposed that a business exists at three constructs that influence each other and thus establish the organization’s performance, mission, and business definition:
- as an economic establishment that produces value for its stakeholders and for the society,
- as a community that employs people, pays them, develops them, and coordinates their efforts to increase productivity,
- as a “social institution that is deeply embedded in society and values and as such is affected by public interest discussion, debate, and values.”
- “The manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business” who defines the organization’s mission, develops and retains productive teams, coordinates various activities, sets goals, and gets things done.
- Leadership gives the organization meaning and purpose—leadership defines and nurtures the organization’s central values, creates a sense of mission, allocates resources, and builds systems and processes in pursuit of the organization’s goals.
- Management entails farsighted thinking about the future state of things and taking appropriate risks to capitalize on opportunities. Additionally, “managing a business must be a creative rather than adaptive task. The more a management creates economic conditions or changes them rather than passively adapts to them, the more it manages the business.”
- Managers inculcate the dominant cultural norm in the organization through their actions. These values become evident in the decisions they make concerning whom they recruit, whom they retain and promote, the goals they pursue, and the ethical parameters with which they frame their decisions.
- The Practice of Management popularized the concept of management by objectives (MBO) for the successful execution of an organization’s strategic plan. The MBO process ensures delineation of key objectives, prudent allocation of resources, dedication of effort on key goals, use of real-time feedback, and effective communication. MBO helps managers organize and motivate their employees, promote effective communication, develop employees, measure performance, and increase their sense of empowerment.
The Practice of Management is one of those books that his admirers tend to appreciate more with every successive reading. Drucker’s remarkable virtues as the “father of modern management”—viz., clarity, usefulness, and common-sense pragmatism—are all on display in this book.
Recommendation: Read—it’s the best book you’ll find on the responsibilities, tasks, and challenges that managers undertake. The Practice of Management will have a profound effect on your thinking.