Why People Succeed or Fail in New Assignments

Back in 1933, Peter F. Drucker was working as a securities analyst in a large insurance company and then, a year later, joined a fast-growing private bank as the firm's economist and executive secretary to three senior partners.

Initially, he worked exclusively with two of the younger partners, both in their mid-30s. Then, the oldest of the partners (a man in his 70s) called him into his office and said:

'I understand you did very good securities analysis at the insurance company… But if we had wanted you to do securities analysis work, we would've left you where you were… You are now executive secretary to the partners, yet you continue to do securities analysis...'What should you be doing now, to be effective in your new job?'

Drucker relates how, initially, how furious he was because he was being so highly praised by the other two partners. But, then, he realized that the man was right.

From that experience, Drucker changed forever his behavior and his approach when confronted with a new assignment. Said Drucker:

"Since then, when I have a new assignment, I ask myself the question: "What do I need to do now that I have a new assignment, to be effective?" Every time it's something different."

"… Of the able people who are being promoted and put into a new assignment, not many become true successes. Quite a few are outright failures. A very much larger number are neither successes nor failures, they become mediocrities. A handful only are successes."

"Why should people who, for 10 or 15 years have been competent suddenly become incompetent? The reason in practically all cases I have seen is that people do what I did 70 years ago in that London bank. They continue in their new assignment to do what made them successful in the old assignment and what earned them the promotion."

"Then they turn incompetent, not because they have become incompetent but because they're doing the wrong things."

Drucker goes on to provide us with his remarkable conclusions based on years of experience and disciplined observation: "Success in the new assignment does not require superior knowledge or superior talent but rather concentration on the things that the new assignment requires, the things that are crucial to the new challenge, the new job, new task."

Of course, it is essential that the individual has the appropriate knowledge, skills and training to succeed. But individuals have to be responsible for their self-development.

Translated, this means the individual must be motivated and/or encouraged to acquire the depth of knowledge and skills required to carry-out the assignment.