Drucker, “The question that faces the strategic decision maker. . .”

By | May 2, 2017

“The question that faces the strategic decision maker is not ‘what his organization should do tomorrow.’ It is, ‘what do we have to do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow’?” — Peter Drucker

 This quote is right-on. Without writing a New Yorker-length article, 6 things:

1) Question. Leaders are in the “ask the right question” business. Too much complexity, span, and scope for 1 person to handle – no matter how good you think your are. Another oldie-goldie quote from Drucker, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

2) Decision maker. Executives are entirely in the decision-making business. Think of the titans of industry – Carnegie, Welch, Musk, Morgan, Jobs, Kelleher, Turner, Musk, Bezos. Decision makers.

As inclusive as we want to / feel we need to be – let’s not pretend that it will be rainbows and ponies, consensus all the time. There is a time for democracy mode, and dictator mode.

Bain & Company does a lot of work on this topic.  Common sense says that if your group consistently 1) asks the right questions 2) empowers the right person to make the decision 3) decides quickly 4) sees those decisions implemented. . . you will beat the market.  Absolutely, I believe this.

An army’s success depends at least as much on the quality of the decisions its officers and soldiers make and execute on the ground as it does on actual fighting power. – Bain & Company

3) Not. Love this word.  Strategy is as much what you decide NOT to do. Strategy involves trade-offs, opportunity cost. No more FOMO.

4) Should Do Tomorrow. So easy for MBA-types like myself to get overly intellectual and plan / model something out. Even though 80% of restaurants fail within 5 years, I am sure the business plan for each one of them looked great. Every plan looks good on excel, right?  Growing at 5-10% a year with flat COGS, declining SG&A, great employee retention . . . yeah, right.

5) Do Today. Huge bias for action here. It’s already 10am EST, what am I going to do TODAY (not tomorrow)? Can’t buy more time, right?

6) Be Ready for an Uncertain Tomorrow.  Okay, let’s pause here and reflect on the fact that Drucker wrote this in 1974 in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (affiliate link)

Easy for us to think that we live in the most uncertain times with global competitors, limitless data, and savvy customers. Nope, always been this way. Inflation in 1974 was 10%.

He also commented that strategic planning “does not deal with future decisions, it deals with the futurity of present decisions.”  BOOM

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4 thoughts on “Drucker, “The question that faces the strategic decision maker. . .”

  1. mrtyberian

    It’s necessary to point out that Drucker emphasized that strategy has to be mission driven. Without that part it’s easy to confuse strategy with tactics and end up leading the organization into a quagmire.

    1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

      Thank you. Great point.

  2. Bastian Dietz

    There are a lot of good methods to do the right things today for an uncertain future. And if you leverage them right, you can gain a lot of momentum. For example agile work setups are far more common these days. But many big companies cannot free themselves from their fiscal year plan, waterfally, FTFP environment, because the whole middle management is built upon this.
    So I think, even if the times are as demanding as 1974, there are better answers available now. And these are the drivers behind disruption. For me, Drucker’s sentence describes not only a very good management advice, but what differentiates a normal startup or company from a disruptive force.
    And he does not only describe a management approach. The readiness for uncertainty, to welcome change, to be open to new things: This is the mindset of a leading entrepreneur / manager.
    Puh… Drucker quotes! I love them!

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