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Rules for Staff Work

Staff work is not done to advance knowledge; its only justification is the improvement of the performance of operating people and of the entire organization.

First, staff should concentrate on tasks of major importance that will continue for many years. A task of major importance that will not last forever—for example, the reorganization of a company’s management—is better handled as a one-time assignment. Staff work should be limited to a few tasks of high priority. Proliferation of staff services deprives them of effectiveness. Worse, it destroys the effectiveness of the people who produce results, the operating people. Unless the number of staff tasks is closely controlled, staff will gobble up more and more of operating people’s scarcest resource: time.

Effective staff work requires specific goals and objectives, clear targets, and deadlines. “We expect to cut absenteeism in half within three years” or “Two years from now we expect to understand the segmentation of our markets sufficiently to reduce the number of product lines by at least one third.” Objectives like these make for productive staff work. Vague goals such as “getting a handle on employee behavior” or “a study of customer motivation” do not. Every three years or so, it is important to sit down with every staff unit and ask, “What have you contributed these last three years that makes a real difference to this company?

ACTION POINT: Keep support staff small and few. Establish specific goals and deadlines for all staff work. Make sure goals are linked directly to one or more organizational goals.

The Frontiers of Management

* Source: The Daily Drucker by Peter F. Drucker

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