Thursday, 31 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Peter Drucker's "manager's letter"

Coaching with Peter Drucker's Manager's Letter has a little similarity to my previous tool posting Record, Typeup and Playback. I think this tool can be used for everyone, including your Self :). I might use this Drucker tool instead of Record, Typeup and Playback or I might use it with. It really depends on the coachee, and the manager, and if there is a particular aspect that has been highlighted and we all need a little more information before proceeding in the right direction!

I discovered the manager's letter in the fantastic book Essential Drucker (Classic Drucker Collection) that contains 26 chapters by ONE OF THE management guru's - Dr Peter Drucker.
I cannot highly recommend this book enough to anyone studying management or anyone wanting to become a better manager. It's the only book out of the hundreds I own and have read that I actually underlined, drew pictures in and made comments in the margins. I love my books and keep them in pristine condition but Drucker's ideas, tools and writing style inspired me to break my rules.

A few years later I read his other incredible and inspirational book from the 1950's - The Practice of Management!
Words escape me trying to describe or summarise main points. Every sentence and every paragraph on all but 2 pages expanded my thinking in some way. It took quite a while to get through that one - a great deal of introspection and reflection of past management situations to recall and reconsider.

Text editor
Sufficient time

The coachee writes a 1 page letter to their line manager or their peer. In this letter the coachee:

Step 1:  Identifies the superior's job's objectives, and the objectives of their own job as they see them.

This is not a copy-and-paste out of an intranet web page or HR tool. It is written concisely and clearly in their own language, and from memory/current understanding of these 2 areas.

What matters in this step and in each of the next steps is that the responses are really the coachee's perception of reality, uninfluenced by any external things.

Step 2: Next the coachee sets out the performance standards that they understand and being applied to them.

Again, not a copy-and-paste, and again brutally honest, own language, own experience, own understanding.

Step 3: Then the coachee lists the things they must do themselves to attain the goals, and also lists the major obstacles to attaining the goals.

Often organisations are adept at creating vague, abstract and almost meaningless goals, weak actions (which are not actually changes or growth makers) to achieve the goals and transparent obstacles in order to not offend anyone and to ensure some HR or governance checklist is all ticked off. Here again, it is important to get total honesty from the coachee and list real items.

Step 4: Next on the letter is the list of things the superior and company do that help, and the list of things the superior and the company do that hinder.

This is basically one of the most powerful and simple 1-1 solicited feedback tools I ever learned, used, still use and now teach! I even wrote it up as another favourite coaching tool - What Do I Do That Helps You? What Do I Do That Hinders You?

Step 5: The final piece of the letter is the coachee's proposal of what he/she wants to do over the next year to reach his goals.

Yes - the always important "call to adventure" that all such exercises conclude with. Without thinking through the next small change in the short-term future, that "thought precedes reality" stuff will not occur. So we have to lay the seed(s)/frame the future(s)/formulate the vision(s)...or just simply START!

The Manager's Letter should be deployed twice a year according to Peter's research and experience with the managers (and their departments) he was working with. I've not yet had the pleasure of seeing a second/followup letter but I hope my coachees who wrote it once with my guidance, at least write it for themselves, if not for their newly inspired managers.

Successfully deployed and used by managers and their reports, this rolling system of staying relevant and updating of goals and understanding in both directions is much better than forced HR/MBO systems which only uncover almost nonsense by only touching on 1 of the above 5 sections. Peter also advises that when used correctly, the manager can accept the letter which then becomes the agreed charter between manager and subordinate. But this really does require a substantial level of relationship between the 2 individual as well as trust within the greater organisation.

Of course, if there are surprises in the letter that expose some lurking misunderstandings, the chance to have clearing up conversation(s) and take corrective action(s) now exists! Before things go really bad unnecessarily. In general the writer and manager/peer/coach will have a good conversation to ensure everyone is on the same page before going further...and accepting the charter (modified or not).

Though, as coach, reviewing the surprises in the letters I have seen, and humbly inquiring - sometimes the coachee, sometimes of the manager - I have helped highlight how important every manager interaction and comment is. Subordinates constantly form incorrect impressions and hence behave in non-beneficial ways (good people making good decisions based on bad data). But once the correct intention is illuminated, things get better and easier! Alignment is a really powerful, commonsense thing to achieve in order to achieve greater goals together synergistically!

Coaching with Drucker's Manager's Letter can be used either as collection of data for reinterpretation, as well as to form a coaching plan. If taken "all the way" - to include the update with the manager - all parties are well primed for "Results-Based Coaching". Taken further, this Drucker tool can also be used in environments striving for deep democracy / sociocracy / stewardship - posts for another time!


Rob Brown said...

See my older post on the excellent Peter Drucker book "The Essential Drucker" at

Daryn said...

Thanks for sharing this, it has really helped me in my current role.

Daryn said...

Thanks for sharing. This is really useful and a good reminder of how PDPs are meant to be. Thanks

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