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Doing the Right Things Right: Key concepts from Laura Stack's book on execution

How the Effective Executive Spends Time - applying Peter Drucker's principles in your work day


Image: The Productivity Pro(R)

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

“The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker (1967) is author Laura Stack’s favourite and most instructive business book. Her own book "Doing the Right Things Right" is to help executives carry out Peter Drucker’s insights.

Leadership guru Jim Collins writing the preface in an updated version of "The Effective Executive" summarises Drucker's principles thus: 

• Manage your time not your work

• Know your priorities; do first things first, and do not multi-task. 

• Results come primarily from building on strength not shoring up weakness

• Replace the quest for success with the quest for contribution. 

• The critical question is not How can you achieve?, but What can you contribute? 

"Doing the Right Things Right" outlines hundreds of ways, steps, and checklists to implement Drucker’s ideas. 

Author Laura Stack focuses on time management by managing effectiveness and efficiency.

Members of The Growth Faculty can watch the full interview with Laura Stack anytime.

Key concepts from "Doing the Right Things Right"

Definition of Effectiveness vs Efficiency:

  • Effectiveness – successfully producing the expected or desired result; it’s the degree to which you achieve your objectives, solve problems, and realise profits.
  • Efficiency- is the accomplishment of a job with the minimum expenditure of time, effort, and cost – the shortest distance between a goal and a checkmark.

In business, effectiveness is summed up by “doing the right things” and efficiency is summed up by “doing things right.”  

Peter Drucker’s 5 effectiveness practices are summarised by Laura as: 

1. Understand and control where time goes

2. Focus on results

3. Build on strengths

4. Prioritise tasks

5. Make effective decisions 

Stack says the effective and efficient leader should follow 12 practices sorted into the 3Ts (Thinking strategically, Team focus, Tactical work): 

Thinking strategically

Goals – Align strategy and objectives

Change – Embrace innovation and adaptability

Communication – Share mission, vision and expectations

Decision-making – Resolve and execute decisions promptly

Team focus

Environment – Build an open team culture

Performance – Forge a results-oriented team

Motivation – Harness creativity and loyalty

Growth – Emphasize continuous improvement

Tactical work

Value – Focus on high impact activities

Technology – Master data handling and workflow

Agility – Maximise speed and flexibility

Balance – Sustain personal health and mental acuity


By its very nature, strategic thinking requires you to learn to make the best decisions you can as quickly as possible, boosting innovation and flexibility, helping your team adapt to circumstances as they change…

1. Don’t try to act on all your ideas at once. Pick your best idea and give it your all. 

2. Don’t let history hold you back. Just because something didn’t work before doesn’t mean it won’t work now. 

3. Don’t assume the experts are right. Give your idea time to grow then test it. 


Steps to success 

1. Emphasise core values 2. Emphasise both individual contributions and team effort. Tell each of them why their work matters and how it moves the organisation forward. Ask them what they need to be more valuable to the marketplace, the organisation, and the team. 3. Focus on a few major goals. Break big goals into manageable pieces. 4. Celebrate when you achieve a goal. 

Setting goals as a team – 

1. Start with individual team members. Ask about individual goals. 2. Set reasonable goals 3. Ensure a supportive, productive, working environment. 4. Clear the way to the target – and give your team something to shoot for. 5. Track your team’s productivity and provide meaningful feedback. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. 

Even the largest company can weather the change storms if corporate leaders take advantage of, even welcome, change. As one of those leaders, how can you divert your organisation off a dead end path? 

1. Encourage innovation and initiative. Never say “I don’t pay you to think” or “If I wanted your opinion I’d ask for it.” These are dinosaur thinking statements. Take advantage of their experience, imagination and desire to help. 

2. Empower your team to own their jobs. Tell your people the general direction you want them to go and let them tell you how to get there. Delegate enough responsibility and authority for your team to do whatever they feel they must without have to ask, and without punishment if something fails. 

3. Make your organisation worth working for. Everyone wants to be proud of their work. Celebrate the good things. Explain how each of them can change the world of work. 

Improvement – the problem lies in the implementation. Leadership frequently fails because we can’t see our greatest flaws. 

1. Set aside your ego. Take everyone and everything into account before you leap. 

2. Carefully pick a direction and stick with it. Focus on growing what you do best. 

3. Model yourself after the best in your field. What can you learn from activities competitors have done right, as well as what they’ve done wrong? 

4. Communicate intentionally. 

The greatest obstacle to change is usually a reluctance to modify or abandon familiar, comforting procedures. But an agile organisation has no choice but to change in the face of reality. Adaptation rules the day. 6 change management methods: 

1. Employ enhanced flexibility. Be open to modifying the scope and direction of projects as you move forward.

2. Aim for controlled growth. As we move into a business landscape that has been decimated by recent economic troubles, we must take care not to expand too far, too fast. Take time when you need it so you can consolidate your gains. 

3. Consider calculated abandonment. Help your people adjust to changes that result from selling off or abandoning underperforming projects, markets or locations. 

4. Constantly upgrade your technology. It might be time to buy new devices to boost productivity and engagement. The stuff you were using last year might be given away in cereal boxes next year. 

5. Retune your team’s activities regularly. Each team member is like an instrument in an orchestra. Check in with your team regularly to make sure they’re in tune…not only with the team but with the organisation. 

6. Evolve with society. No matter how much you love the product you make or service you provide, it can become obsolete overnight as society changes. Be willing to reconsider your branding and reinvent yourself occasionally. 


Plain talk, honesty and cooperation. 

1. Repeatedly communicate your expectations. Keep your mission in front of your team. Repeat your goals until you’re blue in the face. Lead by example. 

2. Triple check for understanding. 

3. Communicate in multiple ways 

Trust, but verify. Make sure team members understand not just WHAT but WHY. 

Decision Making 

Dithering is neither effective nor efficient, and a successful business leader will avoid it. Don’t let meditation overcome motion. Once you’ve decided, act on it. If it fails, you tried. 

Test your choices against core values, mission and vision. Follow the decision to its logical conclusion (can you see danger lurking?). Will your decision make your company more money than it spends? Every choice you make closes doors. Finally, will this decision slow workflow and efficiency? 

1. Consider as many options as possible without stalling. 

2. Take reasonable precautions. Even if you’re excited, do due diligence. 

3. Don’t hesitate to reverse direction. 

4. Don’t automatically dismiss new opportunities. 

The only way to move forward. Make decisions…lots of them. Constantly. If you make 5 wrong decisions, you’ve ruled out 5 things that won’t work. 


The flip side of conflict. Careful handling of honest disagreements can inject a much needed breath of fresh air into the workplace atmosphere. 

• Conflict doesn’t have to stifle innovation or bring your workflow to a screeching halt. 

• Dissension has its place in workplace discussions. If nothing else it lets people blow off steam and feel more engaged – crucial factors in performance and productivity. 

• Conflict sparks healthy debate and competition. It avoids the blind agreement that characterizes groupthink. Colourless groupthink serves you poorly in business. It also stirs up the team culture. If an idea looks like it won’t work, let debate sort it out – don’t just cut it down immediately. 

• Conflict gives everyone a voice in decision making, making sure no one feels left out. It leads to a better understanding of one’s teammates. 

• Conflict allows constructive change. Well-reasoned disagreement, especially when the dissenter stands by it, can result in improvement not only for one project but for subsequent ones as well. 

• Conflict short circuits worse problems. Properly handled conflict allows individuals to resolve their differences before they explode. 

EXECUTE – As a leader, it’s your responsibility to elicit results. If your people are dragging their feet shake them up a bit. 

1. Stop accepting excuses. If lack of training or equipment slows productivity, rectify the situation. If people still don’t produce find out why and correct the issues in whatever way necessary. 

2. Set strict deadlines. Make team goals clear, while setting dates for producing what your superiors require. 

3. Don’t overcomplicate. All you need is a basic roadmap, so choose the easiest, cheapest way to execute the mission. Embrace flexibility. 

4. Hone their skills. Send your team to training, even for skills they don’t need now but may need in the future. Urge them to invest in continuing education to increase their personal ROIs. 

5. Help them structure their time. Intervene if necessary on scheduling for low performers. 

Team focus

Executives have evolved from being bosses to being team members. Smart leaders realise they get further by forming partnerships with their employees. Strategy is more fluid and responsive to change than ever before. 

1. Sincerely view your employees as your greatest asset. Everyone says they do this, but in our precarious economy, some leaders still see employees as replaceable. Good workers cost a lot to replace. In a knowledge-based economy your teammates become especially valuable because their skills are completely portable. Care about them. 

2. Communicate leadership by word and deed. Talk is cheap. If you can’t keep a promise don’t make it. 

3. Unlock their enthusiasm and energy. Find reasons for your team members to pour their discretionary effort into their work. Empower them in every way possible. Allow them to do their jobs without too much interference. 

4. Provide training. Give your employees the intellectual and educational tools they need to maximise their potential. Team them to ask themselves “Did I pay for myself today?” 


Move from meditation to motion as quickly as possible. It’s important you may have to force the evolution of corporate culture at times. This means aggressively adopting new technologies and strategies, as well as emphasizing force multipliers such as delegation, accountability and communication. The easier you make it for your team to excel, the more likely they will. 

Business is becoming more complicated, competitive and unpredictable by the day. Occasionally, you have to stop, take a good look round and breathe deeply and then do whatever it takes to reduce the outrageous complexity everyone faces. 

Leaders create unnecessary complexity when they: 

• Overthink business situations

• Overengineer products and services

• Lose focus on what truly matters

• Avoid handling important issues

• Repeatedly reinvent the process wheel. 

• Aimlessly chase unclear goals

• Fear that simplifying means eliminating jobs. 

Laura says that instead of crashing and burning against the wall of over-complexity, we should all hit the brakes, take our sledgehammer out of the trunk, and start breaking down the wall…

The Growth Faculty has this year launched virtual masterclasses - the Time For Transformation series; especially designed for business leaders. We make learning and development easy and inexpensive by bringing your team the world's renowned thought leader. Ensure your team are trained to pivot, adapt and innovate in these unprecedented times. See who's up next. (Classes are $145 AUD each or UNLIMITED for Annual Club or Premium members.)