High Output Management - A now old book with timeless principles

A book by Andrew S. Grove

Management is hard. Managing people is especially hard. Our company has grown and as we move people into management positions, we’ve realized that we are throwing them into the waters without teaching them how to swim. Some people thrive, some people struggle. Some people realize they want that manager position, while others rather be divers, don’t go up in a hierarchy but rather go deep in their craft, and increase their mastery.

This book is old (it was originally published in 1983), but it has aged well. Grove starts its pages using the analogy of an operation in which eggs and breakfast need to be served, and from there starts developing its arguments. Every page is still current. This is a book for managers, a guide that cuts through the noise of the everyday operations to provide uncontested statements:

A manager’s output = The output of his organization + The output of the neighboring organizations under his influence

Grove goes over his managers' daily routines, pretty much as going deep into the work of their team - not because he’s babysitting, but because the principle of Trust, but verify is the safest policy there is. A manager that goes deep, knows what is going on, and can better support her/his team. Grove provides thorough guidance on 1 on 1 meetings: it should be regarded as the team’s member meeting, with its agenda and tone set by him.

The part about performance and Maslow’s pyramid of human needs is simply brilliant. Grove urges the need for organizations to take their team-members to the Self Actualization level as soon as possible.

Maslow Hierachy of Needs

But he also recognizes the importance of motivation here.

Individual Capability PerformanceAs both a manager and a parent, I’ve found that finding what makes someone move and tick, is very hard. People are different and complex, with pasts that build currents that make them think differently. Plus, there is their internal wiring. As a company, we need to prepare the soil for motivation and try to find what moves the people who report to us. But also as collaborators, we need to understand that it is also up to us. That Self-actualization is the point where we all want to be (I think). Someone can build the latter, but you can’t make anyone climb it.

Grove touches on these subjects in his Sport Analogy chapter. This resonated a lot personally. We are an adolescent company in which many changes are taking place, including the implementation of measurements in different processes. Naturally, we’ve gotten pushback. Here Grove says:

The single most important task of a manager is to elicit peak performance from his subordinates.

So coming back to the sports analogy, aren’t we all “athletes” at work? We don’t know how fast we are running if we are not timing ourselves, if we are not analyzing our movements. Our captain and coach can’t be like “Nah, no worries, don’t push yourself too hard when running for the Olympics”. If we want to win, we need to have a plan to keep continuously improving.

“Our society respects someone’s throwing himself into sports, but anybody who works very long hours is regarded as sick, a workaholic. So the prejudices of the majority say that sports are good and fun, but work is drudgery, a necessary evil, and in no way a source of pleasure.”

For those who reach that top part of the pyramid, work is not work, self actualization becomes like food - you can’t just go on too long without it.

A now old book with timeless principles, High Output Management is a book every manager should read.

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