Drucker in the 21st Century

When I mention Peter Drucker, I get two very different responses – often from the same person.

First, comes respect. Drucker, of course, was the management guru of the 20th century. And then comes the doubt: “What makes Drucker relevant today?”

In a 21st century business environment where constraints of time and distance are gone and change comes as fast as the blink of an eye, Drucker’s “take” is absolutely essential to managers.

1. His ideas are practical observations about what works in management. They aren’t theoretical. They are as important in the 21st century as they were in the last. For example, “Management is about human beings.” That very much is at the center of much of Google’s success. It is really the ultimate Druckerian company because they follow his playbook.

2. His ideas force us to think. Drucker challenges his readers, clients, and students to act today for tomorrow. He asks us to abandon outdated assumptions. Doug Ducey, chairman of Cold Stone creamery, commented that until he had read Drucker, the chain was going to be 70 stores. After studying Drucker, he could dream of the 2,000 plus they are today. Or, on the other side, consider the plight of Detroit’s auto companies and you’ll know why this is relevant.

3. His approach lets managers see what is visible and often not seen. He helps us create context so that patterns and changes are more readily identifiable. He believed that the most important measure of a company is its ability to anticipate and invest in tomorrow’s opportunities. For example, by looking at unexpected results – both successes and failures – one often finds opportunities. The ability to use his tools and take a fair amount of uncertainty out of the future by proactively creating tomorrow is of enduring relevance. Seeing shifts in demographics helped the Marriot chain diversify from the standard motel. As Tony Bonaparte said to me, “He looks at things as they are with a very realistic sense of how they could be and helped me do the same. It changed my life.”

4. He holds management accountable – accountable for human fulfillment. No wonder, then, that Drucker puts such great emphasis on the character of managers and on the immense responsibilities they bear and of a healthy society. Management success is measured by results that sustain the whole organization in a manner that values employees, customers, collaborators, and larger society. Wal*Mart still has the opportunity to do the right thing as opposed to its current PR campaign justifying the low wages and benefits as necessary to deliver the lowest cost goods to their customers. Other retailers – The Container Store, Wegmans Food Market, and Whole Foods, were selected as 3 of the best places to work this year.

Drucker believes, that the human freedom most genuinely cherished – fulfillment – depends to a great extent on organizations. They provide the main stage for achievement of personal freedom and a healthy society.

I’d like to hear your stories.

© ElizabethEdersheim

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