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Team Health / Team Wealth Blog

Book Review 2: High Output Management

Hey all - back at it again, HMS book summary #2.

High Output Management by Andy Grove.

A great book that pushed the edges of my comfort zone considerably. I’ve always been good as an individual contributor (IC) both in work and in sports, let’s say competitive arenas. However, I’ve never truly led a team and I want to someday.

How would I lead? How should I manage? That’s what I sought to answer in reading this book.

Let’s begin.

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First, the over-arching themes that I internalized:

1) Managers should get credit for increasing the output of their organization *and* neighboring ones under his/her influence. Mental shift - my work is not my output. Mental shift #2 - I can do my work well, but if my team does not produce, I do not.

2) Managers increase the output of their organizations & neighbors by applying their time to maximum leverage activities. The 4 responsibilities of the manager are: Info Gathering, Info Giving, Decision Making, and Nudging. A small amount of time well placed into these = positive high leverage.

3) The levers of a manager to increase individual's performance are to 1) Train 2) Motivate. That’s it.

This book is packed with them, but I’d like to share my favorite actionable lessons. I keep a running note in my journal called “CEO How-To” and all of these got added for my future enterprise.

E-myth echoes: Everything is a process.

Metrics: Picking the right metrics is as important and measuring them. There are plenty of ways to commandeer the idea of success. A few metrics, that at time counter-balance each other, is the key. Note: the counter balancing nature of metrics here is one of the all-time insights from this book. Things will often get net-better, but rarely do you find something that doesn’t have some drawbacks in fully optimizing.

Example: If you want to increase speed, you can automate more of a given process. Speed goes up. But then, if you want to change the output of that process, you have to change all of the automated components. Less flexibility. 

Meetings are a medium of managerial work. There are 2 types: Process Oriented Meetings, usually scheduled in advance and Mission-Oriented meetings, designed to reach a decision, usually ad hoc. Process oriented meetings include the Manager/Subordinate 1:1, which cannot be substituted because “we see each other all the time”. Those interactions are not created equal, to get the thorny issues, you should dedicate specific time.

Keep your direct reports anywhere from 6-8 people, if possible. Too few, you’re prone to get bogged into tactical oversight, too many, you can’t keep the pipelines of information exchange full.

Task-relevant maturity: understand your employee’s specific task ability and manage to that. Ignore general experience and age. Unless they miss goals, they you must intervene. Use this same rubric for meeting cadence - let people with deep specific expertise spend more time deploying it.

Decisions: How to make decisions: Free Discussion, Clear Decision, Full Support, and back to Free Discussion if you prove wrong. Try to let the lowest level competent individuals to drive the decision, given they have both technical know-how and past experience.

OKRS: He dives deep into OKRs, which most of us are familiar with at this point. The subtlety to me is that one level of OKRs always feeds the next, from the lowest point in the org to the very highest strategic objectives. That alignment creates unity in an organization driving toward the same set of goals.

Teams: 2 types, functional vs. mission-oriented. Functional teams perform for the entire org and increase leverage and consistency. Mission teams move faster and have better product context. If speed is the priority, go mission (hello in-trepreneurs), otherwise, functional is always better.

Training: Don’t leave training to outsiders, do it yourself. If training is 50% of the job, that you CAN’T outsource it. We live in the era of hyper-specialization, and one of my friends even runs a skills training company. But I agree. Motivate + Train.

Help your employees see the ‘racetrack' - give them indicators of where they’ve been, where they are, and then push them to get their competitive juices flowing. Somewhat a 1:1 endeavor, depending on their particular values.

Reviews: Focus on task relevant feedback. I think reviews are scary because they can seem personal. “You are x, you are y.” This task focus to me is 100x better. Performance reviews are designed to improve performance. Sounds simple, but good to hammer home.

Top Performers: It is possible to recycle high performers who aren’t doing as well in a new role. Despite the embarrassment, complexity, and uncomfortable nature, this is superior to letting them go. I’ve seen this a lot, and it’s humbling but true. Sometimes we overextend, we need the EQ to pull back.

Assess Yourself: As a (future) manager, I must think about how I can measure myself now and make progress before I start. Still noodling on this, but this is going to be my Day 0 progress picture before I start leading teams later this year.

Lastly —

My favorite line from the book, summarized: If an employee isn’t performing in their job, there are 2 potential causes. They can’t do it or they won’t do it. What are the options? Motivate them or train them. How to find out? If their life depended on it, could they?

Will McLellarn