Highlights from “High Output Management”

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I picked up this book based on a recommendation that I saw on Twitter. And, I loved the book for a couple of reasons. First, it confirmed the good practices employed by good managers that I have worked with in the past. Second, it confirmed my own managerial practices; of course, there is more to learn and hone. Third and most important, it demystifies (middle) management with a no-fluff/nonsense, easy-to-read, succinct (~230 pages), and accessible approach and lots of real life examples. If someone is curious about management, then I suggest that they start with this book cos’ it paints a fair picture of management.

That said, this is not a management cookbook. It is provides information in fine-enough broad strokes that may need adaptation for specific contexts.

As for the highlights, there are so many good bits in the book. So, this is a long post :) Since I typed this up in a bit of a hurry, please let me know if you find any typos.

  1. ... the key definition here is that the output of a manager is a result achieved by a group either under her supervision or under her influence.
  2. So why are written reports necessary at all? They obviously can’t provide timely information. What they do is constitute an archive of a data, help to validate ad hoc inputs, and catch, in safety-net fashion, anything you may have missed. But reports also have another totally different function. As they are formulated and written, the author is forced to be more precise than he might be verbally. Hence their value stems from the discipline and the thinking the writer is forced to impose upon himself as he identifies and deals with trouble spots in his presentation. Writing the report is important; reading it often is not.
  3. Your information sources should complement one another, and also be redundant because that gives you a way to verify what you’ve learned.
  4. There is an especially efficient way to get information, much neglected by most managers. That is to visit a particular place in the company and observe what’s going on there.
  5. As can be seen from my schedule, a manager not only gathers information but is also a source of it. He must convey his knowledge to members of this own organization and to other groups he influences. Beyond relaying facts, a manager must also communicate this objectives, priorities, and preferences as they bear on the way certain tasks are approached. This is extremely important because only if he manager imparts these will his subordinates know how to make decisions themselves that will be acceptable to the manager, their supervisor. Thus,
  6. Information-gathering is the basis of all other managerial work, which is why I choose to spend so much of my day doing it.
  7. While we (managers) move about, doing what we regards as our jobs, we are role models for people in our organization — our subordinates, our peers, and even our supervisors. Much has been said and written about a manager’s need to be a leader. The fact is, no single managerial activity can be said to constitute leadership and nothing leads as well as example.
  8. Because managerial time has a hierarchy of values, delegation is a n essential aspect of management. The “delegator” and “delegatee” must share a common information base and a common set of operational ideas or notions of how to go about solving problems, a requirement that is frequently not met.
  9. We all have some things that we don’t really want to delegate simply because we like doing them and would rather not let go. For your managerial effectiveness, this is not too bad so long as it is based on a conscious decision that you will hold on to certain tasks that you enjoy performing, even though you could, if you chose, delegate them.
  10. How often you monitor should not be based on what you believe your subordinate can do in general, but on his experience with a specific task and his prior performance with it — his task-relevant maturity, something I’ll talk about in detail later.
  11. To gain better control of his time, the manager should use his calendar as a “production” planning tool, taking a firm initiative to schedule work that is not time-critical between those “limiting steps” in the day.
  12. You should say “no” at the outset to work beyond your capacity.
  13. A manager should carry a raw material inventory in terms of projects. … this inventory should consist of things you need to do but don’t need to finish right away — discretionary projects, the kind the manager can work on to increase his group’s productivity over the long term.
  14. Most production practices follow well-established procedures and, rather than reinventing the wheel repeatedly,
  15. ...
  16. Anyone who spends about a half day per week as a member of a planning, advisory, or coordinating group has the equivalent of a subordinate. So as a rule of thumb, if a manager is both a hierarchical supervisor and a supplier of know-how, he should try to have a total of six to eight subordinates or their equivalent.
  17. If you can pin down what kind of interruptions you’re getting, you an prepare standard responses for those that pop up most often.
  18. Many interruptions that come from your subordinates can be accumulated and handled not randomly, but at staff and at one-on-one meetings, the subject of the next chapter. If such meetings are held regularly, people can’t protest too much if they’re asked to batch questions and problems for scheduled times, instead of interrupting you whenever they want.
  19. To make something regular that was once irregular is a fundamental production principle, and that’s how you should try to handle that interruptions that plague you.
  20. A key point about one-on-one: It should be regarded as the subordinate’s meeting, with its agenda and tone set by him.
  21. The most important criterion governing matters to be talked about (in one-on-one meetings) is that they be issues that preoccupy and nag the subordinate.
  22. “The good time users among managers do not talk to their subordinates about their problems but they know how to make the subordinates talk about theirs.” — Peter Drucker
  23. When the supervisor thinks the subordinate has said all he wants to about a subject, he should ask another question. He should try to keep the flow of thoughts coming by prompting the subordinate with queries until both feel satisfied that they have gotten to the bottom of a problem.
  24. Clearly, one-on-ones can exert enormous leverage. This happens through the development of a common base of information and similar ways of doing and handling things between the supervisor and the subordinate.
  25. What should be discussed at the staff meeting? Anything that affects more than two of the people present. IF the meeting degenerates into a conversation between two people working on a problem affecting only them, the supervisor should break it off and move on to something else that will include more of the staff, while suggesting that the two continue their exchange later.
  26. The supervisor’s most important roles are being a meeting’s moderator and facilitator, and controlled of its pace and thrust. Ideally, the supervisor should keep things on track, with the subordinates bearing that brunt of working the issues.
  27. The junior person will benefit from the comments, criticisms, and suggestions of the senior manager (at a operational review), who in turn will get a different feel fro problems from people familiar with their details.
  28. The supervisor of the presenting managers should organize the meeting. He should help the presenters decide what issues should be talked about and what should not, what should be emphasized, and what level of detail to go into. The supervisor should also be in charge of housekeeping (meeting room, visual materials, invitations, and so on). Finally, he should be the timekeeper, scheduling the presentations and keeping them moving along.
  29. The reviewing manager is the senior supervisor at whom the review is aimed —like the general manager of an Intel division. He has a very important although more subtle role to play: he should ask questions, make comments, and in general impart the appropriate spirit to the meeting. He is the catalyst needed to provoke audience participation, and by this example he should encourage free expression. He should never preview the material, since that will keep him from reacting spontaneously.
  30. One of the distinguishing marks of a good meeting is that the audience participates by asking questions and making comments.
  31. Regard attendance at the meeting for what it is: work.
  32. So before calling a meeting, ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish? Then ask, is a meeting necessary? Or desirable? Or justifiable? Don’t call a meeting if all the answers aren’t yes.
  33. A meeting called to make a specific decision is hard to keep moving if more than six or seven people attend.
  34. The chairman is also responsible for maintaining discipline. It is criminal for him to allow people to be late and wast everyone’s time. … Don’t worry about confronting the late arriver.
  35. Once the meeting is over, the chairman must nail down exactly what happened by sending out minutes that summarize the discussion that occurred, the decision made, and the actions to be taken. And it’s very important that attendees get the minutes quickly, before they forget what happened. The minutes should also be as clear and as specific as possible, telling the reading what is to be done, who is to do it, and when. All this may seem like too much trouble, but if the meeting was worth calling in the first place, the work needed to produce the minutes is a small additional investment (an activity with high leverage) to ensure that full benefit is obtained from what was done.
  36. If all goes well, routine meeting will take care of maybe 80 percent of the problems and issues; the remaining 20 percent will still have to be dealt with in mission-oriented meetings.
  37. The first stage should be free discussion, in which all points of view and all aspects of an issue are openly welcomed and debated. The greater the disagreement and controversy, the more important becomes the word free. … The next stage is reaching a clear decision. Again, the greater that disagreement about the issue, the more important becomes the word clear. … People who don’t like a decision will be a lot madder if they don’t get a prompt and straight story about it. … Finally, everyone involved must give the decision reached by the group full support. This does not necessarily mean agreement: so long as the participants commit to back the decision, that is satisfactory outcome.
  38. … that any decision be worked out and reached at the lowest competent level. The reason is that this is where it will be made by people who are closest to the situation and know the most about it. And by “know” I don’t just mean “understand technically.” That kind of expertise must be tempered with judgment, which is developed through experience and learning from the many errors one has made in one’s career. Thus, ideally, decision-making should occur in the middle ground, between reliance on technical knowledge on the one hand, and on the bruises one has received from having tried to implement and apply such knowledge on the other. To make a decision, if you can’t find people with both qualities, you should aim to get the best possible mix of participants available.
  39. Peers tend to look for a more senior manager, even if he is not the most competent or knowledgeable person involved, to take over and shape a meeting.
  40. You can overcome the peer-group syndrome if each of the members has self-confidence, which stems in part from being familiar with the issue under consideration and from experience. But
  41. If the peer-group syndrome manifests itself, and the meeting has no formal chairman. The person who has the most at stake should take charge. If that doesn’t work, one can always ask the senior person present to assume control.He is likely to be no more expert in the issues at hand than other members of the group — perhaps less expert — but he is likely to act as a godfather, a repository of knowledge about how decisions should be made and give the group confidence needed to make a decision.
  42. The final step of planning consists of undertaking new tasks or modifying old ones to close the gap between your environmental demand and what your present activities will yield. The first question is, What do you need to do to close the gap? The second is, What can you do to close the gap? Consider each question separately, and then decide what you actually will do, evaluate what effect your actions will have on narrowing the gap, and when.
  43. As you formulate in words what you plan to do, the most abstract and general summary of those actions meaningful to you is your strategy. What you’ll do to implement the strategy is your tactics.
  44. We should also be careful not to plan to frequently, allowing ourselves time to judge the impact o the decisions we made and to determine whether our were on the right track or not. In other words, we need the feedback that will be indispensable to our planning the next time around.
  45. The MBO (Management By Objectives) system is meant to pace a person — to put a stopwatch in his own hand so he can gauge his own performance. It is not a legal document upon which to base a performance review, but should be just one input used to determine how well an individual is doing. If the supervisor mechanically relies on the MBO system to evaluate his subordinate’s performance, or if the subordinate uses it rigidly and forgoes taking advantage of an emerging opportunity because it was not a specified objective or key result, then both are behaving in a petty and unprofessional manner.
  46. To be useful a key result must contain very specific wording and dates, so that when deadline time arrives, there is no room for ambiguity.
  47. The MBO system cannot be run mechanically by a computer. The system requires judgment and common sense to set the hierarchy of objectives and the key results that support them.
  48. The shift back and forth between the two types of organizations (functional vs mission-oriented) can and should be initiated to match the operational styles and aptitudes of the managers running the individual units.
  49. Sooner or later all reasonably large companies must cope with the problems inherent in the workings of a hybrid organization. The most important task before such an organization is the optimum and timely allocation of its resources and the efficient resolution of conflicts arising over that allocation.
  50. At work, surrendering individual decision-making depends on trusting the soundness of actions taken by your group of peers.
  51. Hybrid organizations and the accompanying dual reporting principle, like a democracy, are not great in and of themselves. They just happen to be the best way for any business to be organized.
  52. When a person is not doing his job, there can only be two reasons for it. The person either can’t do it or won’t do it; he is either not capable or not motivated.
  53. The single most important task of a manager is to elicit peak performance from his subordinates.
  54. An attitude may constitute an indicator, a “window into the black box” of human motivation, but it is not the desired result or output. Better performance at a given skill level is.
  55. The Ph.D. in computer science who knows an answer in the abstract, yet does not apply it to create some tangible output, gets little recognition [at Intel], but a junior engineer who produces results is highly valued and esteemed. And that is how it should be.
  56. So it appears that at the upper level of the need hierarchy, when one is self-actualized, money in itself is not longer a source of motivation but rather a measure of achievement.
  57. For the self-actualized person driven to improve his competence, the feedback mechanism lies within that individual himself.
  58. He [manager] has to see the work as it is seen by the people who do that work every day and then create indicates so that his subordinates can watch their “racetrack” take shape.
  59. Task-Relevant Maturity (TRM) of the subordinates, which is a combination of the degree of their achievement orientation and readiness to take responsibility, as well as their education, training, and experience.
  60. The [performance] review is usually dedicated to two things: first, the skill level of the subordinate, to determine what skills are missing and to find ways to remedy that lack; and second, to intensify the subordinate’s motivation in order to get him on a higher performance curve for the same skill level.
  61. To make an assessment less difficult, a supervisor should clarify in his own mind in advance what it is that he expects from a subordinate and then attempt to judge whether he performed to expectations.
  62. As managers, we are really called upon to judge performance, not just to see and record it when it’s in plain sight.
  63. [In performance reviews] At all times you should force yourself to assess performance, not potential. [The latter should be assessed in interviews.]
  64. In my experience, the best thing to do is to give your subordinate the written review sometime before the face-to-face discussion.
  65. Most managers seems to feel that training employees is a job that should be left to others, perhaps to training specialists. I, on the other hand, strongly believe that the manager should do it himself.
  66. For training to be effective, it has to be closely tied to how things are actually done in your organization.
  67. Some 2 percent to 4 percent of our employees’ time is spent in classroom learning, and much of the instruction is given by our own managerial staff.
  68. Training should be a process, not an event.
  69. [Don’t forget to read pages 226 and 227 :) ]

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Programming, experimenting, writing | Past: SWE, Researcher, Professor | Present: SWE

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