In his seminal book "Management", published in 1973, Peter Drucker foresaw the challenge of the reluctant manager that is facing today's organisations and their workforces.
In it, he recounts the story of the three stonecutters and provides a crucial insight on the need to strike a balance between people who want to develop and practice their specialised expertise and those that are prepared to invest in the additional expertise required to lead and manage the organisation in the achievement of its mission, vison and goals.
This article aims to explore this intricate balance, its implications for modern organisations, and how it aligns with best practices in management.
The parable of the three stonecutters provides an insight into a spectrum of employee engagement and offers some critical insights that apply even more so today. Drucker uses the story to explore the limitations and dangers of managers and/or a workforce who are so heavily focused on developing their specialised expertise that they become divorced from the overall organisational objectives.
The three stonecutters were asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country.” The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.”
The first stonecutter is focused on making a living and represents what might be called doing “a fair day's work for a fair day's pay” and a mindset that has little interest in investing in managerial or organisational excellence. In modern businesses, such individuals sustain the organisation but seldom drive innovation or improvements in efficiency or effectiveness.
The second stonecutter, proud of their technical skills, exemplifies a danger that Drucker warns against. While high standards of workmanship and professionalism are essential for organisational integrity and morale, an overemphasis that dilutes the need to collaborate horizontally, can lead to disconnected silos within an organisation. This disconnection often manifests as each department/function striving for its own excellence at the cost of the overall organisational goals.
The third stonecutter is highlighted by Drucker as the true manager, the one who not only understands their craft but also how it fits into the grand scheme of things. For them, every stone cut serves the larger vision of building a cathedral, symbolic of achieving organisational excellence through individual excellence.
Peter Drucker’s parable of the three stonecutters provides an invaluable insight for modern businesses. It draws attention to the pitfalls of managers and the workforce whose focus is an overemphasis on developing and applying their specialised expertise while becoming disconnected from broader organisational objectives.
Drucker’s insights remind us of the need to establish multiple paths of advancement for those who primarily want to develop and practice their specialised expertise and those who are interested in investing in the expertise required to become a professional manager. In doing so organisations will achieve the necessary balance between those who want to hone and perfect their specialist expertise with those who are committed to investing in the specialist expertise required to lead and manage a high-performance, excellent organisation.
Some Best Practices for Modern Management to Avoid These Pitfalls:
Develop Managers Who Are Prepared to Invest in Management Expertise: In many organisations, people are promoted based on their performance in applying their specialised expertise. In the absence of other means of advancement, a major flaw in many organisations, management roles are accepted by what are in effect, reluctant managers.
Balanced KPIs: Design KPIs that measure both technical excellence and contributions to organisational goals.
Cross-Functional Training: Implement learning and development programs that encourage understanding and appreciation for roles outside one’s specialty.
Unified Vision: Regularly communicate and update employees on how their specialised roles contribute to the company’s objectives.
Rewards and Recognition: Incentivise both specialised skills and broader contributions to the organisation's success.
How Expertivity Technologies Helps Address These Challenges:
Holistic Client Assessment: Our extended evaluation frameworks help analyse the balance between specialised skills and organisational alignment.
Systems and Process Focus: We highlight the dangers of siloed excellence during our engagements, emphasising the need for a unified organisational vision and execution strategy that includes process ownership and management.
Balanced Scorecards: Are a useful tool, enabling organisation to measure both the value of specialised expertise and the contribution to overall goals.