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Career Make-Over

She's Full Speed Ahead on a New Career Track

Shift from Fortune 500 to high-tech firm not as tough as it seems, management expert Peter Drucker says.

November 26, 2000|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When railroad executive Doris Cope enrolled in the master's program at Claremont Graduate University's Drucker School of Management, she had no idea that famed management science guru Peter Drucker was about to change her life.

After she submitted an autobiographical paper for a class he was teaching, Drucker, impressed by what he read, initiated an ongoing dialogue with Cope about her future.

"He was asking me, 'Who are you, what do you have to contribute, what are your strengths and what do you want to do?' " Cope said. He encouraged her to envision new horizons.

"Out of that, I stopped looking at myself as an employee, but [thought of myself] as a contributor," Cope, 48, said. "And I stopped thinking that someone in the personnel department would take care of my career. I started taking care of it myself."

Drucker had learned from reading the Pasadena resident's paper that she had been self-supporting since age 16. Before accepting sales and marketing work with a Nebraska-based Fortune 500 railroad transportation firm, Cope worked at a variety of occupations: in the military and as a police dispatcher, community relations officer and Greyhound bus driver. She earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix, but wanting more of an educational challenge, returned to Claremont last year to work on a master's of science degree in advanced administration.

There she met Drucker, who was impressed by her and wanted to help.

While she was immersed in her studies, Cope received a lucrative job offer from a Silicon Valley-based biotech firm. It seemed a faraway world, not just geographically, but culturally. But Drucker had provoked her to contemplate such an opportunity.

She wondered whether a railroad executive could make a successful transition into a position at a fast-paced high-tech company. And she questioned whether she could leap into a supervisory spot and prove herself an effective manager.

Cope mustered her courage, accepted the offer and took her concerns to Drucker. "The most important thing in starting a new job is to remember it's a new job and not a continuation of the old one," Drucker said. "It's always totally different from what made you effective in your old job. The most important thing is, I feel, weeks into the new job, you sit down and say, 'What do I do now to be effective and successful in the new job?' "

To tackle this question, Cope must survey her new responsibilities and assess the company's needs. She should select two priorities to which she can devote her attention, Drucker said. These goals should have three components: They should have the potential to generate impressive results in a relatively short time. They should seem sensible to other company personnel. And they shouldn't be so radical as to generate concern. When she has settled on her top two goals, she should communicate her intentions to those with whom she works, including subordinates.

"You say, 'This is what I intend to concentrate on. Does it make sense to you? Can you tell me something about it? Can I count on you to help me?' " Drucker said. "And listen."

Cope can increase her effectiveness as a manager by learning about her employees' work, Drucker said. She can explain to them that she'll initially be called upon to make decisions in areas unfamiliar to her; to do the best job possible, she'll need their cooperation and input.

Drucker suggested that she say to her subordinates, "I can only do this if you tell me what is important, what are you trying to do, what should you be held accountable for, what are your priorities, where do you see that I can help you . . . so I can remove obstacles. My job is to . . . help you be productive."'

To manage well, Cope should be encouraging to her workers, but not allow anyone to neglect their responsibilities. If an employee fails to demonstrate improvement after two warnings, Cope should discharge him or her, Drucker said.

"Protecting the incompetent is not doing people a favor," Drucker said. "In the first place, the person who is incompetent . . . may be a superstar--they're just in the wrong place, in the wrong job very often. Second, permitting low performance or, even worse, laziness, demoralizes the whole force."

Drucker told Cope that the best bosses he had encountered during his lengthy work career "were stern, aloof and set incredibly high standards for themselves and expected the same standards from us."

Once Cope has amassed early results from her fact-finding missions, she should apprise others in the company of her findings, Drucker said. Then she should draft a specific "action proposal" for solving any problems she discovered.

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