Peter Drucker’s 5 most important questions for every IT leader

Peter Drucker was one of the most influential business thinkers in the 20th century.  He worked with many of the captains of industry including Jack Welch of GE; Alfred Sloan of General Motors; Tom Watson of IBM; Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard of HP; and many others.  His ideas are still foundational to our best management thinking, but much of what he believed centered on the idea of embracing the new and disposing yesterday’s relics.

We’re a little over a year into the Covid pandemic and many companies are realizing their IT operations are going to need to undergo some radical changes if they want to function in this new normal. A recent report by Willis Towers Watson, a benefits consulting firm found that “Employers expect nearly 2 in 5 employees will still be working remotely at the end of 2021, compared with 57% who work remotely now, although that varies by industry.” This change alone will require many companies to make an investment in digital transformation and change management, especially within their IT departments along with helping their employees develop new skills in order to operate remotely. They’ll need plans in place that allow them to be adaptable and improvise as needed, to the point where it’s automatic and operations don’t need to pause or stop in order to pivot.

Brian Prentice, VP Analyst for Gartner says, “We’re entering a period where digital technology will not simply support enterprise operations but will actually reshape it.”

The pandemic

The pandemic brought a host of issues for IT operations that not only were they unprepared for, fixing them wasn’t an easy (or sometimes even possible) task. This included challenges around:

  • Disaster recovery
  • Agile infrastructure & operations
  • Inadequate logistics
  • Supply chain

While these are all things many companies were already doing in some form or another, the pandemic intensified the need for IT departments to have solid, working plans in place and the needed resources and tools to carry out those plans. It was no longer okay for any of these things to be on their radar as “areas to work on” – they needed to be in place immediately while also being flexible enough for modifications to be made as the pandemic dictated.

This opens the door to a host of questions and considerations for IT departments. To help narrow the focus to the critical things IT should be asking first, we’re looking at how management guru Peter Drucker’s “top 5 questions” and applying them today.


Peter Drucker’s 5 most important questions:

First, What is your mission, or what should your mission be?

As an IT leader you have a mission, when was the last time you looked at it?  You should look now, because it has changed, and it will continue to change because the environment will evolve, and your mission should adapt.

As Simon Sinek says, your mission is your why? Your purpose for existence. But what’s important to realize is that Peter Drucker didn’t define it by what you sell, it’s defined by your customer and what they need or buy from you, whether that’s the end-user, senior management, other peers, or all of the above.

For many good reasons, IT asset managers have been bound with a cost center mentality, and their mission has been limited to:

  • Cost savings
  • Compliance
  • Security
  • Availability

While these objectives are important and cornerstones to good ITAM, are they enough? Or are they now simply stakes to stay in the game.

The pandemic shifted expectations and companies are no longer content with the status quo. They’re now requiring more out of their IT operations and infrastructure, including:

  • Digital transformation
  • Automated workforce
  • Agile infrastructure
  • Consistent customer service

Second, who exactly is your customer and how will they change over time?

Each IT department has customers, this could be employees, HR, finance, senior management, or others. The fact is the environment has changed and so have requirements. In many companies, the customer for IT is now the board of directors, or the C-Suite they are demanding digital transformation and expect it to happen, the competitiveness of the company may be at stake, and you can’t wait. With this said, IT has and will continue to out front of the needs of the organization, to meet the needs of the board.  Peter Drucker would suggest that being keenly aware of this change is critical.

Third, what’s most important to your customer?

With the urgency that many companies are responding to change, this is no longer an operational tactic that is being managed; this is a strategic imperative to “change or be changed”. Boards and C-Suites are expecting to fully utilize and maximize the technologies they have invested in. Or, if they haven’t, they are looking to invest into the future of the business.

Are you clear on what that future is for your business, or what it is that is expected from your customer?

Fourth, how do you define your results and measure success?

As quoted in the 2021 Gartner Symposium, “Now what we’re saying is, “Okay, it’s not about the business case as a document. It’s about what are the outcomes we have to deliver.”

This is to say that the strategic position and the strategic outcome is where your focus needs to be.  This aligns with the purpose of the company, the board or even the C-Suite.  The lowest level of alignment is on results and next is on the methodology, but when you are aligned on purpose you will transcend traditional thinking.

Fifth, what’s your plan?

Asking these questions is a forcing factor for IT leaders to focus on what’s most important and stick to their mission. Once these questions have been answered, you’ll have everything needed to formulate a plan for success and a solid framework for reaching your future IT goals, even in uncertain and wildly changing times.

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