Why Peter Drucker still matters

The man who helped invent modern management was at the height of his fame in the late 1960s, but his emphasis on the moral quality of an organisation predates today's ESG agenda.

by Paul Simpson

What will you do differently on Monday? That is one of the four questions Peter Drucker, who helped to invent modern management, used to ask every CEO he consulted for. (He also asked: What is your mission? Who are your customers? What do you know about them?) 

The really clever thing about these questions is they are not clever. They contain no jargon, allude to no arcane management theory and are not at all specialist. Every manager, in any kind of organisation, in any line of business, can understand these questions and try to answer them. In an era where we have, as the consultant Rita McGrath put it, a “guru industrial complex”, and where management theory seems to be fragmenting into an array of specialist disciplines, it is refreshing to read Drucker again and rediscover a thinker who focused on the core skills every manager – whether they are a CEO or a factory administrator – needs to succeed.

That focus is likely to be more rewarding than chasing the new management trend which, as Tom Peters’ former co-author Bob Waterman noted, are coming and going at an accelerating rate. In part, this is because many trends are overhyped and over-promise, be it Six Sigma, holacracy, design thinking or a flat management structure. All of these may – or may not – improve performance, but none of them will, by themselves, cure bad management.

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