Alfred P. Sloan, when he was long retired, was asked what was the most important thing he learned during his long career. His answer – “Get someone else to do the work”.
It is a good story about a legendary manager – Sloan was the central figure who built General Motors. It is tempting to picture an old man delivering a cynical and clever remark linked to the source of his ongoing fame.
I have recently been rethinking Sloan’s response.
I have come to believe he was saying that the most important thing he learned about management is that the most difficult and important thing that good managers do is manage people.
The issue is not to pass work off to someone else and get to the golf course faster – Sloan learned that the challenge is to create a team, to delegate, to motivate, to attract, retain and engage good people who will commit themselves to making the organization successful.
Managers often concentrate their time and effort on processes, operations and finances. Sloan understood that managing people is as important as managing operations and finances – and accepting substandard or disinterested people management is a major and costly mistake. Alfred P. Sloan still has something to teach us.