August 2006
Pohmer On…Timeless Management Messages By Stan Pohmer

Over the years I attended quite a few of Peter Drucker’s seminars; some were in small groups and very interactive and some were with auditorium-sized audiences. Some of what he presented was simply a validation of what most managers already know. Other times his talks prompted me to think differently or reprioritize some things we were already doing. Other times, he presented new concepts I had never even thought about. But each time I heard him speak, his words and thoughts energized me into thinking about what I did and why I did it. I’m not suggesting that I always agreed with what he postulated, but he forced me to challenge myself and question my management practices and their application to my business.

Business Applications

Many times, small-business managers feel that people like Drucker and the ideas they deliver only apply to large corporations where there are layers of management and a more formalized approach to running businesses. However, I find the opposite to be true. Unlike large corporations, small businesses such as independent garden centers (IGC) have more flexibility to embrace and react to new ideas. I often compare large corporations to small businesses as the difference in trying to turn an aircraft carrier (the large corporation) and a PT boat (the IGC) around in a harbor. The aircraft carrier requires layers of management to make and implement the decision, and it takes quite a while to see results. However, the PT boat requires only one or two decisions, those decisions can be executed almost immediately, and the results of the decisions and actions can be seen instantaneously. The need for the decision is essentially the same for both vessels, but one is far more nimble than the other (and this nimbleness should be used as a key competitive advantage for small businesses versus the big boxes!).

And there’s no reason small businesses shouldn’t apply the same sound management/business processes to operations that the larger competitors do… it just helps to level the playing field.

Drucker’s Teachings

Here are a few of the “gems” I took away from some of my sessions with Drucker. These teachings made good sense to me, and hopefully, I was able to apply them to my own management practices to make a positive difference. Leadership. “Don’t ever think or say ‘I’. Think and say ‘we’. Effective leaders know they have authority only because they have the trust of the organization. They understand that the needs and opportunities of the organization come before their own needs.”

In this teaching, the “organization” isn’t just upper management or the ownership; it’s the amalgamation of all the assets and resources of the company… the employees, shareholders and stockholders, suppliers and customers. Without trust in what you sell or the services you provide — in the confidence you instill in your employees and the support you get from your growers, distributors and hardlines providers based on your business dealings and relationships you’ve developed over time — leadership becomes extremely difficult.

Work. “Focus on opportunities rather than problems. Problem solving prevents damage, but exploiting opportunities produces results. Unless it is a true crisis, problems shouldn’t even be discussed at management meetings until opportunities have been analyzed and dealt with. Exploit change as an opportunity, and don’t view it as a threat.”

Too often in the garden center industry, we have an operational focus; we are forced to deal with problems and problem resolution as our top priorities every day out of necessity. But getting stuck in this rut causes you to miss out on new opportunities or trends that can set you apart from the competition. And because of your nimbleness, you can seize these opportunities and implement them far faster than the multi-layered decision-making competitors, turning your speed and vision into a very significant competitive advantage.

Making Decisions. “Every decision is risky; it’s a commitment of present resources to an uncertain and unknown future. Risks can be minimized if you know when a decision is necessary, how to clearly define a problem and tackle it directly, and that you’ll have to make compromises in the end. You haven’t made a decision until you’ve found a way to implement it.”

Most people are risk-aversive, meaning they hate to make that final decision until they’ve analyzed all of the various options and consequences. In many cases the decisions needed are never made because they end up in analysis paralysis. Target’s CEO, Bob Ulrich, in an effort to encourage his company to be a trend leader, operated on the principle of “ready, fire, aim” because of his desire to be first to the market with new concepts and ideas. He accepted the fact that, after all the planning on key analysis of the “plan,” there would still be a need to fine tune or tweak the final product or program after it was launched or implemented.

The Marine Corp., in its leadership training exercises, has always preached that a simple plan executed well is far more effective than a complicated plan executed poorly. Go for the 70-percent solution…knowing that you can’t anticipate 100 percent of the unknowns when making a decision, cover 70 percent of the critical issues and roll it out. You can adapt the decision as it’s implemented to address the other 30 percent and make the decision 100-percent effective.

Organizations. “Human beings tend to close out the outside. Effective organizations exist not only to satisfy themselves but to fill a customer need. Leaders have a duty to focus an organization on the outside in a way that continually refreshes what everyone is doing inside the company.”

Because you’re passionate about this industry and your garden center, you probably have a tendency to focus 99 percent of your time and energies on your store and at various industry trade shows and events. But I’d challenge you to visit retailers that aren’t in our industry; attend your local civic and business association lunches; audit a business class at your community college or university; read some non-industry periodicals such as Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, Harvard Business Review; or sign up for some online business webinars that can help expose you to new, innovative ideas you can use on your business.

Time Management. “In a peculiar way the executive’s time is everybody else’s but his own. Everybody can move in on him, and usually everybody does. He cannot shut himself off from these demands, but he must use the little time he can control to do the important things. This is the secret of those people who accomplish so much with so little apparent effort. They put first things first.”

Amen to this statement; we’ve all been there and understand the challenge, but in the heat of battle, it’s sometimes good to be reminded of this concept.

Timeless management messages from a guru or just plain old common sense? Either way, these precepts, if considered and applied, can have a positive impact on you as a leader and manager as well as on your company. Just some food for thought as we enter a new year…

Stan Pohmer

Stan Pohmer is president of Pohmer Consulting Group in Minnetonka, Minn. He can be reached at [email protected] or 612.605.8799.


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