The Nature of Management
What is expected of a manager?
If organizations are to be successful in meeting these challenges, management must lead the way. With effective management, contemporary companies can accomplish a great deal toward becoming more competitive in the global environment. On the other hand, ineffective management dooms the organization to mediocrity and sometimes outright failure. Because of this, we turn now to a look at the nature of management. However, we want to point out that even though our focus is on managers, what we discuss is also relevant to the actions of nonmanagers. On the basis of this examination, we should be ready to begin our analysis of what managers can learn from the behavioral sciences to improve their effectiveness in a competitive environment.
What Is Management?
Many years ago, Mary Parker Follett defined management as “the art of getting things done through people.” A manager coordinates and oversees the work of others to accomplish ends he could not attain alone. Today this definition has been broadened. Management is generally defined as the process of planning, organizing, directing, and controlling the activities of employees in combination with other resources to accomplish organizational objectives. In a broad sense, then, the task of management is to facilitate the organization’s effectiveness and long-term goal attainment by coordinating and efficiently utilizing available resources. Based on this definition, it is clear that the topics of effectively managing individuals, groups, or organizational systems is relevant to anyone who must work with others to accomplish organizational objectives.
An important question often raised about managers is: What responsibilities do managers have in organizations? According to our definition, managers are involved in planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. Managers have described their responsibilities that can be aggregated into nine major types of activities. These include:
Long-range planning. Managers occupying executive positions are frequently involved in strategic planning and development.
Controlling. Managers evaluate and take corrective action concerning the allocation and use of human, financial, and material resources.
Monitoring products and services. Managers get involved in planning, scheduling, and monitoring the design, development, production, and delivery of the organization’s products and services.
As we shall see, not every manager engages in all of these activities. Rather, different managers serve different roles and carry different responsibilities, depending upon where they are in the organizational hierarchy. We will begin by looking at several of the variations in managerial work.
Variations in Managerial Work
Although each manager may have a diverse set of responsibilities, including those mentioned above, the amount of time spent on each activity and the importance of that activity will vary considerably. The two most salient perceptions of a manager are (1) the manager’s level in the organizational hierarchy and (2) the type of department or function for which he is responsible. Let us briefly consider each of these.
Exhibit 1.7 shows differences in managerial activities by hierarchical level. Senior executives will devote more of their time to conceptual issues, while first-line managers will concentrate their efforts on technical issues. For example, top managers rate high on such activities as long-range planning, monitoring business indicators, coordinating, and internal consulting. Lower-level managers, by contrast, rate high on supervising because their responsibility is to accomplish tasks through rank-and-file employees. Middle managers rate near the middle for all activities. We can distinguish three types of managerial skills:8
Technical skills. Managers must have the ability to use the tools, procedures, and techniques of their special areas. An accountant must have expertise in accounting principles, whereas a production manager must know operations management. These skills are the mechanics of the job.
Human relations skills. Human relations skills involve the ability to work with people and understand employee motivation and group processes. These skills allow the manager to become involved with and lead his or her group.
Conceptual skills. These skills represent a manager’s ability to organize and analyze information in order to improve organizational performance. They include the ability to see the organization as a whole and to understand how various parts fit together to work as an integrated unit. These skills are required to coordinate the departments and divisions successfully so that the entire organization can pull together.
As shown in Exhibit 1.7, different levels of these skills are required at different stages of the managerial hierarchy. That is, success in executive positions requires far more conceptual skill and less use of technical skills in most (but not all) situations, whereas first-line managers generally require more technical skills and fewer conceptual skills. Note, however, that human or people skills remain important for success at all three levels in the hierarchy.
Management by Department or Function. In addition to level in the hierarchy, managerial responsibilities also differ with respect to the type of department or function. There are differences found for quality assurance, manufacturing, marketing, accounting and finance, and human resource management departments. For instance, manufacturing department managers will concentrate their efforts on products and services, controlling, and supervising. Marketing managers, in comparison, focus less on planning, coordinating, and consulting but more on customer relations and external contact. Managers in both accounting and human resource management departments rate high on long-range planning, but will spend less time on the organization’s products and service offerings. Managers in accounting and finance are also concerned with controlling and with monitoring performance indicators, while human resource managers provide consulting expertise, coordination, and external contacts. The emphasis on and intensity of managerial activities varies considerably by the department the manager is assigned to.
At a personal level, knowing that the mix of conceptual, human, and technical skills changes over time and that different functional areas require different levels of specific management activities can serve at least two important functions. First, if you choose to become a manager, knowing that the mix of skills changes over time can help you avoid a common complaint that often young employees want to think and act like a CEO before they have mastered being a first-line supervisor. Second, knowing the different mix of management activities by functional area can facilitate your selection of an area or areas that best match your skills and interests.
In many firms, managers are rotated through departments as they move up in the hierarchy. In this way they obtain a well-rounded perspective on the responsibilities of the various departments. In their day-to-day tasks they must emphasize the right activities for their departments and their managerial levels. Knowing what types of activity to emphasize is the core of the manager’s job. In any event, we shall return to this issue when we address the nature of individual differences in the next chapter.