Book Report: High Output Management

“I take notes in just about all circumstances and most often end up never looking at them again. I do it to keep my mind from drifting and also to help me digest the information I hear and see.” – Andy Grove


This is meant to be more of a book report, than a review.  In particular, I want to highlight three lessons from the book, High Output Management by Andy Grove, that I found impactful.

Maybe this is well trodden territory, but I wasn’t that familiar with the book.  This article by Ben Horowitz led me to the book.

In general, I enjoyed the book.  It took me a bit to get going. The Breakfast Factory was not gripping reading for me.  But once I made into the managerial sections, the take-aways and reading flowed much quicker.  My undergraduate training is as an engineer, with an emphasis on systems, so there was much to relate to here in terms of thinking.  There were some topics that I considered less relevant to those of us managing smaller organizations. For example, I’m less concerned about dotted line relationships across my company and more concerned about the fact so many lines lead back to the same person – my Director of Engineering is also our Director of IT and the Director of Security and the Director of Whatever Comes Up Next.

However, three topics that did alter my perspective were:

Stagger Charts.  I adopted this one before I even finished the book.  It’s been useful as I’ve started to dial-in my forecast model for my new business.

“Another sound way to anticipate the future is through the use of the stagger chart, which forecasts an output over the next several months.The chart is updated monthly, so that each month you will have an updated version of the then-current forecast information as compared to several prior forecasts”

“I have found the ‘stagger chart’ the best means of getting a feel for future business trends.”

Meetings: The Medium of Managerial Work.  Maybe I was in a place where I was open to this message.  In my prior company, I felt most meetings were a waste of time.  Or maybe more precisely, something where I generally walked away with having only gained more more work and now less time to actually get it done.  Generally I was already in the know for most things (not much new to learn) and it seemed like most decisions were not made in formal meetings (no reason to spend time debating a topic).

In my new role, meetings have taken on a new dimension.  There’s much more of a two-way value proposition going on.  

“Earlier we said that a big part of a middle manager’s work is to supply information and know-how, and to impart a sense of the preferred method of handling things to the groups under his control and influence.  A manager also makes and helps to make decisions. Both kinds of basic managerial tasks can only occur during face-to-face encounters, and therefore only during meetings. Thus I will assert again that a meeting is nothing less than the medium through which managerial work is performed.  That means we should not be fighting their very existence, but rather using the time spent in them as efficiently as possible.”

Performance Appraisals.They key for me is the forward-looking point of view Mr. Grove imparts here.  

“But what is the fundamental purpose?  Though all of the responses given to my question are correct, there is one that is more important than any of the others: it is improve the subordinate’s performance”.

It makes a lot of sense.  It’s not a box to be checked or a way to memorialize historical accomplishments or areas for improvement.  The appraisal should be focused on improving performancing in the future.

I read this right in the middle of a round of appraisals.  It would have been nice to have read it prior to authoring the appraisals, but I was able to make some adjustments before delivering the reviews and hopefully take a more constructive tone than I might have otherwise.

All in all, definitely worth a read.  I see myself re-reading parts of this book as I encounter new challenges or come upon another round of employee reviews.  I’d also like to spend some time working through the “One More Thing…” exercises at the end of the book.

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