What is management? An overview
My favourite definition of management is “achieving things through other people”. The manager’s job is to produce the results, achieve the task, using the resources of time, staff and equipment.
Managers need to specify the resources required to achieve the task, and part of their role is to requisition new resources as required, ensuring they have the right people, with the correct equipment, and enough time, to achieve agreed targets and goals.
An analogy I like is that of a ten pin bowling alley. The ball sets off down the lane, and if badly bowled, will fall into the gutter, the trenches on either side of the lane. When children or beginners are learning to bowl, you can use buffers that lie in the gutters and stop the ball falling into them. They deflect the ball back, keeping it in the lane.
This is an analogy for the role of the manager. They stand on the side lines, watching the team performance, encouraging them to make a strike. If they see the ball deviate from the perfect path down the middle of the lane they will adjust it, and they should certainly prevent the ball going into the gutter, by correcting performance.
So managers need a mechanism for checking progress, so they can make adjustments if necessary.
Depending on the size of the task or project, different measures can be deployed.
If the task is a short cycle e.g. picking and packing products, then measures such as hourly and shift targets will be deployed, ideally both for quality and quantity. Reports will be produced hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and bonus or earnings may be directly related to achievement.
For a longer task however, such as a construction project, production of a website, or magazine, project management principles are needed .Milestones should be set and reviewed regularly.
Action Centred Leadership
John Adair’s theory of Action Centred Leadership (ACL) says that the manager has three overlapping areas of responsibility
To achieve the task, manage the team, and develop the team members.
We will discuss this theory in detail in another lesson on leadership, but for now let’s have a quick look at these three aspects of the role
Achieving the Task
This is the most obvious and visible part of the role in most situations. The manager often appears to be entirely focused on achieving the task in hand, correctly so, because this is how the profit will be generated for the organisation, assuring its continuity, and is the reason for its existence.
What tools do managers use to enable them to achieve the task? Almost all managers will use some form of project planning and management.
Planning and management
We will consider project planning and management in more detail in another lesson, but here is a quick overview, which applies to any project, be it planning a wedding, agreeing a contract for construction of a house, or delivering a piece of work to another department.
- The specification for the project is agreed or negotiated
- The project is planned out, allocating resources and budgets. This is the stage at which the milestones are inserted.
- Project is discussed with the team
- Roles are agreed
- Project launched
- Progress is monitored and reviewed
- Project completed
- Follow up with debrief, training, lessons learnt
This is easy to understand and appreciate if the project has a specific start and end date. The same principles do apply to any management activity, even if activity is ongoing, such as buying for a retail company, working in a store, producing and editing video.
In the case of an ongoing task there are seasons, months, or annual programmes, or new products. These milestones naturally form time bound targets.
Very few departments do the same thing day after day. So the process will apply in almost all situations, and plans will be made and reviewed, targets set.
The role of the manager is to oversee the process, scope out the project, ensure they have adequate resources, and deliver on time and within budget.
Managing the team
This does overlap with “achieving the task” as the team are one of the resources the manager is allocating.
The manager must allocate roles, re-allocating them if required, to meet performance targets if necessary, ensure the team work well together, and deal with any performance issues.
They also need to ensure each team member clearly understands their role and responsibilities, and what is expected of them for the team task to be achieved. All this helps to ensure the task is achieved according to the agreed specification.
Develop the team
In the process of managing the team, and achieving the task, the manager will work with each team member and should be able to identify any developmental needs.
This may be task specific skills, such as learning a new coding language, using a piece of software, or learning an internal process.
Or it may be “Soft Skills “such as communication, time management, decision making, problem solving or leadership.
Or perhaps a skill that will help a team member to advance such as Negotiation skills, or Presentation skills.
Usually developmental needs will be discussed at an annual review, but they can be dealt with as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Coaching by the manager
It may be that the skill required is something the manager can develop in the team member. For example, the manager notices that a team member is not good at problem solving – as soon as a problem arises, he presents it to the manager to solve.
The manager would prefer the team member to attempt to solve the problem, at least in the first instance. He is happy to help solve more difficult problems, but wants to encourage the team member to resolve simpler problems on his own.
So he decides to tackle the problem.
The team member approaches him and presents an issue.
The manager does not by tell him how to solve the problem. Instead he asks a series of questions “have you done this, have you asked that, have you checked the other?”
He sends the team member away to get the required information.
The next time he has a problem, exactly the same thing happens. And the next time, and the next.
Then one day the team member has a problem and he is about to take it to his manager when he realises the manager is going to ask him if he has collected certain information. So he does that before he goes to the manager.
He presents the problem to the manager, together with the information he has collected. The manager asks him another series of questions, requiring more information.
When he comes back with those responses, he asks him another series of questions, designed to make him use the information to deduce the solution himself.
So the manager has succeeded in making him think for himself. Next time there is an issue, the team member will try to solve it himself.
There is a fine balance here. The manager needs to make it clear that he is happy to help with difficult problems, but expects the team member to take the problem to a certain level before he hands it on.
What he doesn’t want is a culture where team members are not open about problems and issues and try to cover them up, because they think the manager won’t solve them.
So he needs to encourage a situation where the team member collects the information, takes it to the manager, and proposes a solution for approval by the manager.
This requires a lot of patience on the manager’s part, but is a worthwhile investment, and part of his role to develop his team.
So to summarise, management is “the art of achieving things through other people”. The manager’s role is to achieve the designated tasks, mange the team and develop its member’s skills and abilities.
In a commercial enterprise the role is to make the department as profitable as possible. In a non-commercial company there will be other objectives, and the role is to achieve the stated objectives.