Book review: High Output Management

May 23, 2022
High Output Management book review

High Output Management was recommended to me by James Taylor, Founder and CEO of Particular Audience, as well as Justin Tan via TikTok (don’t judge me).

Touted as the book read by CEOs in Silicon Valley and written by the former CEO of Intel, Andrew S Grove, High Output Management focuses on successful frameworks for self-measurement, as well as team management styles to deliver success, the Intel way.

Before we dive into the book review, let me just say that Intel is a company story for the ages. If you’re not already in-the-know or obsessed with the story, I would recommend listening to the Intel Acquired episode

Intel’s story shows the value of a pivot — the dream move of betting it all, and it working out. That's something I endlessly admire. After all, at one stage, Intel only meant memory. 

Overall, High Output Management reminded me of a mix of Intelligent Investor and How to Win Friends and Influence People. Here are a few learnings that (I hope) will make you a better manager. 

Measuring a manager

Andy starts the book with a breakfast factory analogy to illustrate different elements of production and how they work together. But don’t be fooled into thinking this makes the insights any less relevant. 

As a manager, it explains, my output is not just the number of breakfasts I deliver, but the amount of breakfasts the team/company delivers, including the profits generated and the satisfaction of customers (page 15). 

This idea is illustrated throughout the book. Simply explained:

A manager’s output = the output of her organisation + the output of the neighbouring organisations under her influence (page 40). Why? Because work is done by teams.

Once illustrated, the book moves to explaining how you can impact output as a manager, focusing mostly on how to increase leverage (in other words, the mechanisms that allow someone to do their job more effectively).

In our marketing team, for example, our content curator’s productivity is benefited by systems and tech (for scheduling) that help increase her velocity. Basically, these systems help her to succeed faster. For this reason, increasing automation and improving processes is a major way to improve leverage at work (page 35).

The code of conduct for a manager

Make shit happen; don’t be a dick; the customer comes first. We’ve all heard these values, to varying degrees, based on what startup you’re at. 

It’s important to note, however, that “values and behavioural norms are not transmitted easily by talk or memo, but are conveyed very effectively by doing and doing visibly” (page 52). This also speaks well to the 'build in public' approach most startups take post-Series A. 

This idea is a good reminder to live the values (not just write them), focus on the optimisation of your schedule and be a knowledge-sharer. 

A good manager must “keep many balls in the air at the same time”, ‘shift their energy and attention to activities that will most increase the output of the organisation’, and ‘move to the point where their leverage will be the greatest’. 

I love this because it really speaks to the idea of being the change you want to see in a company! And honestly, this is how I think I should be measured as a leader and manager, if you’re listening James?!

Plan today’s actions for tomorrow’s output

Something we practice more and more at Particular Audience is process management. Why? Because early input saves time in the long run (page 60).

One way to do this is using your calendar as a production planning tool (page 64). To do this, you also need to:

1. Actively use your calendar to forecast output; and

2. Say no to things at the outset if they’re beyond your capacity to handle. (I’m working on it.)

Organise your meetings 

Contrary to the rise (and fall) of walking meetings, Andy says there should be two types of meetings (page 72).

  1. Process-oriented meetings which focus on regularity. At Intel, there's the 1-on-1, the staff meeting and the operational review. 
  2. Mission-oriented meetings, for when you need a specific outcome.

This chapter made me realise I need to start treating 1-on-1s as the team member’s meeting, not my own. The team member must drive the agenda and outcomes deciding how they want to spend the hour.

Then, I need to apply Groves’ Principle of Didactic Management and ‘ask one more question’ (page 76). The idea here is similar to what some people use when building out strategy, which focuses around a ‘What? So What? Now What?’ ideology. 

In other words, when you think you’re at the end of a creative idea or strategy, dig a little deeper! 

I also loved learning about operational reviews (a type of process meeting). At Particular Audience (thanks to our people leader Viv), we use Donut to facilitate this (page 81). Donut is a tool that allows people to meet with others in a business (all around the world) to ensure that their role is operationally understood. 

The purpose, at Intel and Particular Audience, is to keep people at varying levels of operations connected and constantly learning. 

Maslow's theory of motivation

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs | Simply Psychology

When a person isn't doing their job it's either because they can't or won’t do it (page 157). As a manager, you need to acknowledge this and either train or motivate them. 

To illustrate this, Andy uses Maslow's Theory of Motivation alongside the Hierarchy of Needs (an adage you’ve probably heard of). Knowing where you and your team sit can be useful for engagement and to ensure continued success. 

Personally (similar to many in the startup space) I’m driven by self-actualisation needs (page 164). According to Maslow, self-actualisation stems from the personal realisation that “what I can be, I must be”. 

In short, it means I’m driven by personal growth and being as helpful to an organisation as possible. I’m the happiest when I believe I’m being 100% effective. This achievement-driven path links back to how I’m measured and how I get feedback (always constructive). 

Knowing this, for example, means I can give the most to Particular Audience and they can get the most out of me as an individual. 

Building a high-performing team

Another key learning from High Output Management is the role of a coach (or manager). 

The primary role of any coach is to:

  1. Take no credit for a job well done;
  2. Be tough on the team (within reason); and
  3. Remember that a good coach was likely a good player at one time (page 171).

This is something we focused on at our executive offsite earlier this year and something that I know a lot of teams try to do well. 

But how do you build a high-performing team that hasn’t graduated to self actualisation in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? 

While it's still a work in progress, I already know the answer is training and motivation!

At Particular Audience, building our narrative, team and processes for scale (to drive not just early adoption, but mainstream adoption) means processes (like these) will be our key to success. 

After reading this book, I’ve started handing over 1:1s, committing to more operational meetings, and working 1 week in advance with calendar planning. 

Working in a startup, and gaining knowledge like this, is a reminder that the more you learn the less you know. This is humbling, great and (I hope) the most effective path to growth. 

Give the author some love!
Written by
Written by
Rochelle RitchieRochelle Ritchie

More Articles