Peter Drucker and Time Sheets

Recently, I have been plagued by people who claim Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

First, let me say that I cannot find this as a direct quote of Drucker’s other than continuous and unsubstantiated citations in many articles, blog posts, and PowerPoint presentations all over the Internet. If anyone has the direct knowledge of the book or published article wherein Drucker says these exact words, please let me know. Until such time, please do not attribute this quote to Drucker.

Second, in my research looking for this quote, I found the following:

Reports and procedures should be the tool of the man who fills them out. They must never themselves become the measure of his performance. A man must never be judged by the quality of the production forms he fills out – unless he be the clerk in change of these forms. He must always be judged by his production performance. And the only way to make sure of this it by have him fill out no forms, make no reports, expect those he need himself to achieve performance. – Peter Ferdinand Drucker, The Practice of Management, 1954, page 135.

All emphasis mine.

Does anyone now want to say that Peter Drucker would be in favor of submitted time sheets to measure productivity? I rest my case.

20 thoughts on “Peter Drucker and Time Sheets

  1. Linda Shillingburg

    Ed–First, I love your pricing methodology and hope more people use it. I think that, in the hands of good partners, it more correctly indicates the value they provide.

    Second, the closest I can find to the quote is, “What you measure is what you get.” He goes on to say, “Ensure that every measure of performance is pertinent to the achievement of a goal or value of your organization. Otherwise, you risk misdirecting your organization.”

    From The Daily Drucker–Sept 24. And, finally, no, I don’t think Peter Drucker would think that time sheets truly measure productivity.

  2. Thanks, Linda, for finding this reference.

    “What you measure is what you get,” is very different from the attributed quote. In fact, it is right on target.

    If you measure billable hours, you will get more billable hours. The trouble is that more hours does not necessarily equate to better results for the customer.

    Thanks again for posting.

  3. The chapter on Controls, Control, and Management in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices ( might be the place to start looking.

    Even if true the quote “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is out of context of Peter Drucker’s core message and an oversimplification.

  4. Dear Ed, from my knowledge the quote don’t refer to Peter Drucker but to Kaplan and Norton. You can find it in their book “The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action”.

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  6. Spike, thanks for posting this. This is most helpful because if this is correct a paraphrase of Lord Kelvin would be in line with my belief. He was referring to scientific data. My belief is that “Business ain’t science.”

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  8. I cannot argue as to the source of the quote, but I do not believe that it is wrong…… As you cannot manage what you cannot measure ….. But, and it is a very big BUT, you still need to take management action to cover those things which are outside your ability to measure and manage …. This is the heart of techniques such as Scenario Planning. The error is if you read it as, ‘I cannot measure it so i won’t bother managing anything related to it’. This error, for example, can be seen in the Financial Engineerring approach of managing the measurable effects of Uncertainty and Volatility, by creating evermore unmeasurable Complexity ….. until it all comes unstuck as in 2008.

  9. Thanks for the comment, Richard, and I agree with you assessment of the financial situation of 2008. However, I disagree, with the notion that “you cannot manage what you cannot measure.” Could you not lose weight without a scale?

    I think we would agree that it is important to understand that one is making a judgment when selecting a measurement. As Linda pointed out, Drucker did say, “what you measure, you will get.”

  10. Glad I came across this discussion. I have been researching to find the exact source of this quote over the past week but it seems this is a management adage, which is widely used and no one really knows who said it. I looked over Deming’s bibliography but it seems that he was not the quote source either. In your opinion what would be the best way to cite it on my paper?

    Any comment would be highly appreciated!


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