Blood and Bone (3): Drucker on decisions

All events but the truly unique require a generic solution. They require a rule, a policy, or a principle. Once the right principle has been developed, all manifestations of the same generic situation can be handled pragmatically—that is, by adaptation of the rule to the concrete circumstances of the case. Truly unique events, however, must be treated individually. The executive cannot develop rules for the exceptional.

The effective decision maker spends time determining which of the four different situations is happening. The wrong decision will be made if the situation is classified incorrectly.

By far the most common mistake of the decision maker is to treat a generic situation as if it were a series of unique events—that is, to be pragmatic when lacking the generic understanding and principle. The inevitable result is frustration and futility.

Equally common is the mistake of treating a new event as if it were just another example of the old problem to which, therefore, the old rules should be applied.

Peter Drucker, The Effective Decision, HBR1967

Blood and Bone (2): policy from decisions

An easy way to start making policy is to take a moment to record decisions you’ve made and why you made them.

When you can articulate the reason for key decisions, you make it much easier to make similar decisions in future – or better yet, easier for someone else to make a good decision without needing to come to you at all.

Peter Drucker describes four types of decision:

1. Decisions for generic events, of which the individual occurrence is only a symptom.

These are questions or problems that keep cropping up in the same or in slightly different form. An example might be repeated questions from clients about a specific service – our question is ‘how should I answer’?

There are three ways to save time with problems like this:

  1. Make the decision about what you’ll do and how you’ll do it, and document it. In this example, it might be writing a template email that provides key information in an appropriate tone. Copying and pasting and tweaking an email is far easier than reinventing the wheel each time.
  2. Find a way to make the problem solve itself. A good-quality FAQ section on your website might reduce the number of people who end up emailing. (But whatever you do, don’t send people who email to the FAQs without copying the relevant paragraph into your answer).
  3. Eliminate the problem. Few problems or questions are inevitable. Is there something you can do to eliminate the need for the question? This could be a case of designing a better product, or investing in a better ‘wrapper’ – one that puts the necessary information in the hands of your client exactly when they’ll need it.

2. Decisions about problems that seem unique, but are actually generic

Your problem might be new to you, but be common to all organisations. Financial management, child protection policies and performance reviews are examples of this.

There are established standards and processes like double-entry bookkeeping because everyone has to deal with money. If they help – and they’re likely to – use them.

Ask for help, learn from others, then be generous in sharing what you know when someone asks you.

If there’s nothing helpful out there – could you share yours once you’ve made it? How about open-sourcing your policies to save others from reinventing the wheel?

3. Decisions about exceptional events 

Unique and unrepeatable events are rare – do the best you can.

4. Decisions about exceptional events that turn out to be generic

It’s possible that you’ll come across an apparently unique problem that turns out to be, in Drucker’s words, ‘the first manifestation of a new genus… the early manifestation of a new problem.’ Try to look closely and see, then treat as in (1), above.

Blood and Bone (1)

When we start working for a cause, we want to get stuff done.

Most of us don’t want to know about money, and we don’t really care about policies and organisational structure.

We’re interested in impact… but impact usually takes time.

If someone doesn’t have a good handle on the finances (where the money comes from, where it’s going), and someone isn’t documenting decisions and culture in a way that’s easy to use and share, you’re unlikely to be able to ‘do the stuff’ very well, or for very long.

Money and structure are the blood and bones of your organisation – they enable it to keep going and to be more than a bag of jelly.

Getting these things right early – starting light, staying flexible, but working regularly to strengthen them –  will save you a huge amount of time and energy later.

For policy, start with notes in a googledoc, and roll from there. It’ll make things easier tomorrow.

For financial stuff, start here.

The Big Push vs Regular Time

Two approaches to getting work done:

The Big Push

The Big Push works well for defined tasks with clear deadlines. Block out some time, gather what you need, and thrash. Get the job done.

It works especially for urgent tasks – a sales or funding proposal – and there are plenty of other tasks that it’s worth giving a Big Push just to get them done:

  • Creating a new service or resource
  • Filming a video
  • Launching a new website
  • Prepping a presentation or event
  • The Annual Report

Regular Time

There are other things, though, that are important (though probably not urgent) that benefit from regular attention. These are usually jobs that are open-ended by nature. You can’t finish them, but they’ll cause a crisis (or at least, damage your capacity) if you don’t identify them and set aside regular time to work on them:

  • Financial structures
  • Maintaining and improving policy documents
  • Investing time with your team for both management and team-building
  • Keeping a website up-to-date
  • Making contact with potential partners and seeking out opportunities to share about your work
  • Non-urgent supporter relations

Little and often.

Drip by drip.

Team performance (3): Learning and individual growth

Richard Hackman‘s third lens on teams and team performance looks at what happens to the individuals on the team.

Individual Growth

What happens to the individuals? Did they learn something? Did they grow and develop professionally, or was this a waste of their time or something that frustrated and alienated them?

Richard Hackman

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Team growth and individual growth are interrelated, but distinct. Team growth is (primarily) related to the team’s ability to work well together as a team, and whether their ability to get the job done is improving, and the improvement is sustainable.

Individual growth is about personal learning and development:

  • Are the members of my team developing their own vision?
  • Are they and exercising and deepening – or possibly redefining – their values?
  • Are they gaining new tools – ideas, skills, understandings – that will serve them and others well, beyond the team?
  • Are they developing significant relationships and resources that will help enrich their lives and the lives of those around them?

How is what you’re doing now going to make their lives better in future? How is the work of your team an act of generosity the teams of the future?

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I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.

Team Performance (1)

I’ve just been listening to Richard Hackman on teams and team performance. His first lens for evaluating team performance is straight forward:

Delivering the goods

Did you get the job done? How well did you do it?

Who is the legitimate receiver, user, reviewer of this performance and what to they think of it? Did you serve the client first?

At a non-profit leader you might have several ‘customers’: the people you serve, donors, the team itself. If you can’t keep everyone happy, where do your priorities lie?

I listened to Andy Kaufman interviewing Richard Hackman on the People and Projects Podcast.

Your role (1)

If you’re leading an organisation or a team, a big part of your job is to help others to do their jobs.

The reference escapes me, but I’m pretty sure Peter Drucker used the phrase “to make the work meaningful and the worker effective.”

Making work meaningful is about vision. It means making sure people understand why what they do is important. What’s the point? Who are you there to serve? What difference are you making as a whole, and what difference will it make if a team member does this particular job and does it well?

Making the worker effective is about helping your colleagues to do their roles as well as they can. At its core, the best way to do this seems to be to equip them with useful tools. This means stuff like computers, vehicles, resources. It means equipping them with processes that work – “this is how we train a teacher to teach reading”, “this is how we respond to an email and process a sale”. And most useful of all, it means equipping your team with the tools to make decisions (often these come back to your vision and values) and giving them the information they need to make new tools.

There’s a hierarchy in there somewhere.