Austrian-born lecturer, consultant and writer Peter Drucker died recently at the age of 95 but his ideas will continue to influence all managers, whether they are aware of it or not.
Drucker had many followers in the field of management theory and he was a specialist in applied intelligence, that most potent of management techniques. He discovered truths and made the correct conclusions from his observations through common sense.
He was a humanist who realised that for a business to be successful it needed to realise its human potential, something that can't be quantified or measured.
But this didn't mean Drucker shied away from facts or hard figures. He was the first to predict the knowledge worker's unstoppable ascent and his foresight was as a result of factual observation.
Drucker picked up on information that was available to all but his skill was to project the observed present into a likely future.
Mankind's fallible nature, often leading to people acting against their own interests, was another fact observed by Drucker, who noted that the only inexhaustible commodity is incompetence.
While that might appear pessimistic, Drucker held the optimistic view that improvement is possible in all areas, as long as the right questions are asked and the right answers are found.
He was a man who liked to make himself understood and believed that avoiding collapse called for the study of customers and also the non-customers.
He said: "The first signs of fundamental change rarely appear within one's own organisation or among one's own customers."
It now seems like stating the obvious to say a business does not exist without customers but Drucker articulated this truism first and, by doing so, inspired a host of marketing pundits.
His simple formula for management was:
1) Know what to do
2) Know how to do it
3) DO IT
The emphasis is on the third point because of its ultimate importance. Thanks to Drucker, knowledge of what to do has improved to a great extend following his publication of The Practice of Management in 1954, filling a void of useful management literature.
As I said previously, Drucker was a humanist who believed people should be treated as such rather than robots.
His recruitment guidelines set out four questions not for the candidate but for the person doing the recruiting:
1) What is it that the candidate has done well?
2) What are they likely to do well?
3) What will they have to learn to realise the full potential of their strengths?
4) Would you let your son or daughter work under this person?
Drucker's advice to young hopefuls and established figures often went against the grain of accepted wisdom. Challenge is a necessity for even the greatest manager or thinker.
Drucker sought to teach rather than preach and he was rightly sceptical of any cure-alls and panaceas in management theory.
Although they might not know it, a great many managers will have Drucker's philosophies to thank for their success for years to come.