Focus on contribution, not effort

October 1, 2006 By    

This is the eighth in a series on business topics inspired by the 20th century business management icon Peter Drucker.

Effective propane managers – and hopefully all employees – focus on contribution. Regardless of the position they hold within the company, employees should be able to look up from their daily work and ask: “What is it that I can contribute that will significantly impact the results and performance of the company I work for?”

We have previously introduced the concept of the knowledge worker: employees who don’t just do the work they’re assigned, but also create ideas, concepts or better ways to do things to improve their company and ensure its long-term success. The knowledge worker focuses on contribution.

 Carl Hughes
Carl Hughes

The propane knowledge worker understands that focusing on contribution, not effort, is crucial. They always ask themselves: “Who relies on my output, and why? How will it benefit the company?”

Those who don’t ask what they can contribute are not only aiming too low, they may be aiming at the wrong things. They define their contribution – and their opportunity – too narrowly.

Warning to management

Good managers have learned that focusing on contribution is a powerful force in developing people. People adjust to the level of the demands made on them. One who sets his sights on contributions raises the sights and standards of everyone with whom he works.

Unfortunately, a high percentage of propane managers tend to focus downward. In other words, they focus on effort or activity, not on results. These managers worry about the authority they should have, and as a result they are ineffective.

The employee who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank may be.

Conversely, the employee who focuses on contribution and takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior his role may be, is, in the most literal sense of the phrase, “top management.” He holds himself accountable for the performance of the whole organization.

Contribution in retail propane

Every propane company needs performance in three major areas: directing results, building and affirming company values (reaffirming the idea of the business and its core competencies) and building and developing people for tomorrow.

Failures of companies in our industry begin with the lack of contribution in one of those three areas.

A propane company that is not focused on results, and is not capable of perpetuating itself, has failed. An organization has to be committed to develop the men and women who can run it tomorrow.

If a company just perpetuates today’s level of vision, excellence and accomplishment, it has lost the capacity to adapt for the future. Since the one and only sure thing is change, the company will not be capable of survival in a changed tomorrow.

The managers in your company should ask their employees to always stay focused on making a contribution.

Individual employees should open themselves up to the opportunities that await them if they focus on their contribution instead of just getting the work done.

These two actions will go a long way to ensure your organization will change, adapt and perpetuate itself long into the future.

Carl Hughes is vice president of business development for Inergy LP. He can be reached at
or 816-842-8181.

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