The Way the Cookie Crumbles

Peter Drucker

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Of all the news making headlines today—civil unrest in Egypt, the Dow briefly topping 12,000 on Wednesday, Toyota’s latest vehicle recall—we’re guessing that Peter Drucker would have been drawn in particular to this front-page item from The Wall Street Journal: ,“Cookie Cutters: Girl Scouts Trim Their Lineup for Lean Times.” Drucker, after all, was a close adviser to former Girl Scouts CEO Frances Hesselbein and, in his seminal Harvard Business Review article “What Business Can Learn from Nonprofits,” hailed the Girl Scouts as one of “America’s management leaders.” In fact, Drucker was made a lifetime Girl Scouts member.

According to the Journal, the Girl Scouts are dealing with tough economic times by moving toward what Drucker called “planned abandonment,” with a dozen Girl Scouts councils testing a plan to shed a great many varieties of cookie offerings in order to cut costs, speed delivery and boost revenue. Instead of peddling Dulce de Leche, Thank U Berry Munch and a host of others, the idea is to focus on six customer favorites that account for more than three-quarters of cookie sales: Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Lemon Chalet Cremes, Tagalongs and Samoas.

But what Drucker would have liked best, we think, is this: “To teach girls confidence and business basics,” the Journal says, “the nonprofit is holding seminars and so-called cookie colleges to explain to schoolgirls why the changes make business sense.” In other words, the Girl Scouts have figured out how to turn an operational and marketing challenge into a teaching opportunity.

“In a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm,” Drucker wrote. “To be sure, it is painful and risky, and above all it requires a great deal of very hard work. But unless it is seen as the task of the organization to lead change, the organization—whether business, university, hospital and so on—will not survive.

“It is therefore a central 21st-century challenge for management that its organization become a change leader,” Drucker added. “A change leader sees change as opportunity. A change leader looks for change, knows how to find the right changes and knows how to make them effective both outside the organization and inside it.”

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