Saturday, October 30, 2010

by John Pearson
John Pearson and Associates

Even though I quote Max De Pree several times a month, I was surprised in looking back at my previous 198 book reviews that I’ve only reviewed one of his books, Leadership Is an Art.

De Pree was chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, Inc. (the office furniture manufacturer). He wrote that a financial analyst once asked him, “What is one of the most difficult things that you personally need to work on?”  De Pree’s answer: “The interception of entropy.”  How many leaders ponder that one?
So when I was in Chicago last Monday talking about “The Results Bucket,” I was reminded again how elegantly De Pree discusses results in his book,Leading Without Power, especially in chapter four, “What Shall We Measure?”

No color commentary needed here. His powerful insights are sufficient:
“In my experience a failure to make a conscious decision about what it is we’re going to measure often causes discombobulation and a lack of effectiveness and a lack of achievement.”
“Yet measurement is essential in an organization for several reasons.  It’s directly connected to the way an organization can mature and grow.  And it directly affects whether or not we’re going to reach our potential—how close we’re going to come to our potential.  The idea of measurement in an organization is also directly connected to the whole concept of renewal, one of the essential ingredients of which is abandonment.  What are we going to give up? What are we going to abandon? None of us have unlimited resources.”
“The task of stating just exactly what to measure falls to the leaders in organizations.  It’s not an easy job, and finding what to measure won’t happen automatically.”
“Broadly speaking we can begin by thinking about how we measure inputs and outputs. The Soviet Union believed that in many cases managers should be rewarded with bonuses based on input.  If you were running a shoe factory, your bonus as a manager was based on how much leather, how many nails, how many pounds of glue entered the process.  If all the shoes came out for left feet, well, that was too bad. Nobody cared—except, of course, the people who needed the shoes. If you made furniture, your bonus was calculated on the how many board feet of lumber entered the plant, not on how many chairs came out.  A strange system.  We should be surprised not that it disintegrated but that it lasted as long as it did.”
“Clear and relevant planning by project, both for the short term and the long, is an input to be measured—as is our work at appointing the right person to the right job.  Especially in non-profit groups we tend to accept willingness for competence—a dangerous mistake. Willingness is necessary but not sufficient.”
De Pree goes on to discuss other inputs and then those all-important outputs (the results of your work).  But his wisdom will trip you up—as in this insight:

“I once posed the following question to a senior vice president of sales and marketing during a performance review: ‘What would grace enable us to be?’ A strange question in a profit-making organization, but I repeated it to the five people for whom I was accountable.  The man to whom I first put the question responded with a four-page essay on what grace could enable a corporation in the capitalist system to be.  It was an astonishing response.  I couldn’t measure it, but it gave us such a foundation for a future, such a wonderful forum in which to discuss potential.”
I hope these gems have whetted your appetite to read this masterpiece.  De Pree adds, “It’s so easy to fall into the trap of measuring only what’s easy to measure.”  Then he suggests you measure the “tone of the body” in your organization. Not easy—but he gives you clues on how to do it, like gauging a team’s sense of urgency.  Good stuff!

To order this book from Amazon, click on this link:Leading Without Power: Finding Hope in Serving Community, by Max De Pree.

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