Sunday, 22 January 2012

So What Do Mangers Actually Do?

Now you may think that it is a pretty basic question however with the recent spate surveys showing that management skills around the world are pretty poor, perhaps it's time to get back to some basics. This is the first part of a series which I will post over the next week or two.


The definition of management that stands out and is perhaps the most widely recognised is: "management is about getting things done through other people". According to the text books the primary functions of management are, planning, organising, controlling and leading. All these issues will be covered in this series of posts however alone they are inadequate in describing what management is really all about. Lets start by defining the core issues with which management is concerned.

Renowned management writer Peter Drucker introduced the concepts of efficiency and effectiveness. Drucker sees efficiency as "doing things right" and effectiveness as "doing the right things". The problem with being efficient alone is that you can efficiently produce a bunch of less than desirable goods or services, or even efficiently run and ineffective operation that creates no customer value at all. If 'companies only exist to serve customers' (which they do) and if the organisation is not effectively customer focussed as first priority... all the efficiency that we can muster will be of no use at all. You might think that this is common sense however many new ventures, including a large number of dot-coms in the late nineties where extremely efficient technically, however in market terms were totally ineffective, hence the crashes.

Henry Mintzberg offers managers three areas of competence or roles central to our responsibilities as a manager that we should also consider. These he calls: "interpersonal", "informational" and "decisional". Our "interpersonal" responsibilities include being the figurehead, providing the central liaison point and acting as the leader. "Informational" responsibilities include monitoring activity, disseminating information and acting as spokesperson for the group. Finally "decisional" activities are, being entrepreneurial, handling disruptions, allocating resources and negotiating on behalf of the organisation. These issues will also be expanded in the various sections that follow.

Management from my experience is about all the above however today it is so interwoven with leadership and that fact is perhaps is the wrinkle that has created so many problems particularly with those promoted from within or for those with no actual management training. Most mangers (in the companies I have looked at) unfortunately are selected in their technical proficiency rather than their proven leadership or management competence.

So traditional management (in the bad/good old days) used to concern itself with; supervision, checking, delegating, controlling, inputs and how to make sure the staff did what they where told. Managers where seen as fitting along a style line somewhere between laissez faire (lax) and autocratic (despotic), with us all being encouraged to be somewhere in the middle as democrats.


Today the issue is more complex with the trend in ever more countries towards the newly 'empowered' better educated workforce that most of us manage. Our personal style preference is perhaps less relevant and we as managers need to become 'more things' to a more demanding workforce. The concept of a manager also fulfilling a leader role is prevalent in most companies. Some even argue managers are no longer required at all and it is only leaders that will drive the companies of the future. This is fine in theory however corporate culture can take a long time to change and for the majority of us the expectation is that we will be required to fulfil the duel roles. This creates inner conflict as the ideals of the two disciplines are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The next post will define this problem further with lists gathered from a wide range of sources gives some insights into the dilemma facing most managers. 

Next issue we take a look at...