Book Review: High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

Andrew S. Grove is the former chairman and CEO (and employee number three) of Intel. Having led Intel into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, Andrew shared his insights on management that are still relevant to this day.

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Although this book is more applicable to managers, it is not limited to people who hold management positions. From the outset of this book, Andrew mentioned that this book is also relevant for “know-how managers” – people who are sources of knowledge, skills, and understanding to people around them in any organization.  These know-how managers regularly affect and influence the work of others even without strict organizational authority.

I transitioned to the data engineer position from my previous solutions engineering role roughly 3 months ago. Even though I’ve never held a management position, I regularly help, train, and/or affect the work of engineers, engineering leads, commercial teams, and product managers. I see myself as a know-how manager and with this mindset, it gives me a new perspective on how I should approach my work which I’ll discuss below.

I’ll also encourage anyone who reports to a manager to read on further since I find it insightful to understand what a good manager should focus on. A good manager will have a huge positive impact on your career growth whereas a bad manager will negatively affect your desire to stay at your current company. The earlier you can identify signs of working for a bad manager, the more prepared you can be on your plan (ex. presenting new ideas to your manager, transferring departments, preparing for a new opportunity) going forward.

Helping others is a responsibility

The output of a manager is the output of the organizational units under his or her supervision or influence.

This quote above is my biggest takeaway. I love to help others and to see those people perform well. Due to that as well as some bad internal processes, I had to work long hours until recently for my own workload as well as the time I allocate to help and train others. I do it not because I have to but because I want to see these people along with the company succeed.

However, this book has given me a different perspective. Since I consider myself as a know-how manager, my output should be based on not only the output of my individual work but the output of all the people under my influence. Helping others is no longer just an act of goodwill, but a responsibility instead. Like my individual work, the time I spend on helping others need to be taken into account as my workload by both my manager and me. This means that I need to be more rigorous when helping others and the time I spend to help others will need to be properly allocated and prioritized against my own individual work.

Time management

How you handle your own time is the single most important aspect of being a role model and leader.

Andrew introduced the concept of managerial leverage, which is the output generated by a specific type of work activity.

It is crucial for managers to spend their time on high leverage activities since time is a finite resource. With that said, choosing the right activity to spend time on only allows you to exert the highest impact. The key is not to maximize your impact but to maximize positive impact. Therefore attention and focus need to be applied to the high leverage activities that you identified to ensure your impact is a positive one.

One example that many people can relate to is getting their performance reviews. Performance review usually happens annually and is the time when you get performance feedback along with any additional compensation or promotion that is deemed warranted by your manager. Performance review when done right will motivate employees to strive to perform at their best. And when done poorly (ex. ambiguous feedback, unclear leveling requirements, no feedback on how to improve) can demotivate employees for the rest of the year and in many cases cause employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. This is why Andrew was very rigorous on carrying out performance reviews and would also give training sessions on doing performance reviews since he was well aware that this is a particularly high leverage activity that can impact Intel’s ability to attract and keep great talent.

Normalize irregular activities

To make something regular that was once irregular is a fundamental production principle, and that’s how you should try to handle the interruptions that plague you.

One of the most costly time sinks is context switching. During context switching, you will need some time to change your mindset and continue from where the task was last left off. Working in a fast paced environment with multiple tasks I need to attend to, I incur context switching constantly. As many as 10 people can message me any given day for me to help resolve an issue. No matter how efficient you work, these interruptions do take a toll eventually. Getting unexpected interruptions throughout the day can drastically reduce your efficiency at any given task. And before you know it the day will be over and you wouldn’t be able to dedicate much time and focus on the core tasks that you planned for the day.

One thing that really helped me was to ask people that need your help to schedule regular meetings with you instead. This will achieve multiple objectives. First, people usually come more prepared with their questions when they come to meetings since they know it’s time-boxed. Second, it gives them an opportunity to group related questions together for you to resolve at the same time. And lastly, it gives people that need your help an idea of when their issues can be resolved. This is one example of normalizing irregular activities that have really benefitted me. If you have any other examples please share with me as well. 🙂

Summary

I’ll say this is a must-read for managers of different levels. Being a good manager is not easy and this book shows how managers can improve the lives of people under their influence which will, in turn, improve the performance of the team. Often times managers simply do not know what they need to focus on and giving this book a read is definitely a great first step.

 

I’m currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.