Book Notes: “High Output Management”

High Output Management
By Andrew S. Grove, with a new foreword by Ben Horowitz
Vintage Books, 2015

Management is a crucial business skill. Regardless of your line of work or seniority, at some point in your career, you’ll likely find your work being managed or having to manage the work of others. It behooves you — and your team-mates – to do it right. I know of no better introduction to the practice than High Output Management, written by Intel CEO Andy Grove almost four decades ago.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part covers the basics of how organizations produce value. It does this by introducing a hypothetical example that recurs throughout the book: scaling a small restaurant into a “breakfast factory.” Mr. Grove analyzes this business as an engineer, breaking it down into its constituent elements and how they combine to produce particular outcomes. He then discusses the role of management in making the factory operate successfully.

Part two covers a central function of management: making decisions, which includes planning for the future. Such decision-making requires information, which is mostly conveyed through meetings. Mr. Grove spent a lot of his time meeting with other team members. “Information-gathering is the basis of all other managerial work,” he says, “which is why I choose to spend so much of my day doing it.”

The purpose of such information-gathering is to increase the leverage of managers. That is, “the output of a manager is a result achieved by a group either under her supervision or under her influence.” Managers must focus on those activities that give their work the most leverage. This part of the book provides practical advice on what they might be. Intriguingly, this advice also applies to individual contributors: members of the organization who don’t directly manage others, but whose work influences the work of others.

Part three of the book is about growing beyond simple operations to large enterprises; it covers more complex management structures, including hybrid and matrix organizations. Part four is about working with individuals: teamwork, hiring, giving performance appraisals, establishing compensation, etc. Both parts provide useful pointers to managers facing tough decisions. Mr. Grove backs up his advice with examples from his tenure as a manager at Intel, which is widely seen as excellent.

The best books help you understand complex subjects in ways that change your actions towards better outcomes. High Output Management changed how I understand the work I do with other people. (That is, all of my work.) I include this book in my list of essential reading for anyone doing any productive work at scale.

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