The three primary duties of a manager.
This is part one of a five part series describing the fundamentals of management and should be of particular interest to young people entering the work force or as a refresher for managers. Over the last forty years as a management consultant, I have learned a few things along the way. Hopefully, this will help newcomers entering the work force.
In order to effectively work within a company, it is necessary to understand some basic management principles so employees understand what is going on in the minds of their superiors. The better the employee understands the manager, and vice versa, the better they will be able to work together in harmony. This section, therefore, covers basic management concepts you will undoubtedly come across in business. If you comprehend these principles and are able to assimilate them in your work effort, this will have also served as a primer for your advancement.
There is an old joke whereby a new manager had been hired by a company to take over an operation. As the new manager was moving into his office he happened to bump into his predecessor who was preparing to leave. The new manager asked if there was any advice the former manager could offer on assuming his duties. The former manager said he had written down advice for his successor and placed them in three envelopes in the desk marked “1,” “2,” and “3”, and they should only be opened in the event of an emergency. The new manager laughed, shrugged it off, and went about his business thinking nothing about the envelopes.
The manager’s reign started off fine but inevitably ran into a problem for which he had no solution. Desperate, he happened to remember the three envelopes and opened Number 1 which offered the following advice: “Blame your predecessor.” The manager thought this was a clever way to get himself off the hook and used it to good effect.
Time went by until the manager was faced with another seemingly impossible hurdle. Not knowing what to do, he turned to envelope Number 2 containing a note that read simply: “Reorganize.” The manager thought this was a sound idea and set about reorganizing his operation. Organization charts were redrawn, job descriptions modified, and new office furniture and equipment obtained.
The reorganization overcame the manager’s problem but he eventually ran into a crisis taxing his abilities as a manager. At a total loss as to what to do, the manager turned in desperation to envelope Number 3 which included a note that read simply, “Prepare three envelopes.”
Laugh as we might to this anecdote, there is a bit of truth in it. Too often people rise above their level of competency to take on the job of manager. Being a manager is substantially different than the duties and responsibilities of the worker. Some people have the fortitude for it, others do not. While I have personally seen some very good managers who have excelled in their jobs, I have also seen people become physically ill from being elevated to a position of management. Being a manager, most assuredly, is not for everyone.
Management is not about numbers or technology, it is about getting people to perform specific work in the most productive means possible. Monitoring numbers and implementing technology to assist in our work effort is important, but we should never lose sight of the fact that projects and work assignments are performed by human beings who possess emotions and different levels of intelligence and interests. As such, the human dynamics of management is much more challenging than most people realize. There is a countless number of books on the subject of management alone. But for our purposes, perhaps the best way to think of “management” is simply, “Getting people to do what you want, when you want it, and how you want it.”
The Three Prime Duties of a Manager
A manager has three primary duties to perform: Provide Leadership, Establish the proper work Environment, and Produce/Deliver products or services.
As the field general for his department, the manager should be able to articulate the objectives of his area, and the strategy for conquering them. In other words, he has to have a vision and be able to effectively communicate it to his subordinates in order to instill confidence and provide a sense of direction. People like to know where they are going and appreciate some direction in their lives. As social creatures, we take comfort in knowing we are working in a concerted manner towards common objectives we deem important. As such, not only does a manager need a vision, he must be able to convince his workers of its necessity. If the workers believe in the manager’s vision and are confident in his ability to lead them, they will gladly follow him.
Following this, the manager must be able to develop practical project plans for the staff to follow. These project plans should be explained to the staff along with their rationale. By doing so, workers cannot claim they didn’t know the plan or what their role was in it. Think of the game of football where plays are called for the eleven players on the field; all are given assignments to perform towards a common objective. If any one player doesn’t know the plan, in all likelihood he will make a wrong move and cause the team to lose yardage. As my football coach was fond of saying, “A team is as strong as its weakest player.” Planning requires communications which ultimately leads to teamwork and harmony. To this end, managers should keep their project plans and calendars up-to-date and visible to everyone in the department.
In order for the manager to instill a sense of confidence in the staff, he must not only be able to demonstrate he knows what he is talking about, he must also express a high level of moral conduct. The manager’s word should be considered his bond. If he is caught in a lie, cheating, defrauding, back stabbing, or some other misconduct, this will be noticed by the staff who will no longer trust him. A true manager is a person of integrity.
Finally, beware of “reactionary” managers whereby they simply go from one problem to another as they occur. Under this scenario, the manager is not in control of his department’s destiny and has to dance to the tune of someone else’s fiddle. Some reactionary management will inevitably be necessary, but managers should take control over their environment and practice more “proactive” management as opposed to “reactive” management. Too often people are lulled into a reactive mode of operation or as I refer to it, a “fire fighting mode” of operating. As a manager, you are cautioned to beware of your chief firefighters, they are probably your chief arsonists as well. Also remember the old adage, “If you do not make the decision, the decision will be made for you.”
The astute manager will appreciate the need for cultivating the proper work environment. If a worker feels comfortable in his environment, he will feel amenable to working and will take a more positive view of his job. But if a “sweat shop” environment is provided, the worker will dread coming to work and put forth minimal effort to accomplish his assignments.
There are two dimensions for creating a work environment: logical and physical. The physical aspect is somewhat easier to explain and involves the facilities and equipment used in the business, both of which impact morale and attitudes towards work. How people behave in a clean and contemporary facility is noticeably different than those working under dingy and antiquated conditions. Whereas the former supports a professional attitude, the latter promotes a lackadaisical attitude. Basically, a clean and contemporary work place is saying to the employees, “I care about you and am willing to invest in you.” However, the economic reality may be the manager cannot afford the latest “state-of-the-art” facilities or equipment. Nonetheless, the manager should make an effort to keep the physical surroundings as clean and up-to-date as possible.
Whereas the physical aspects of the work environment are tangible and easy to assimilate, the logical aspects are intangible and perhaps harder to manipulate for it involves dealing with human perceptions, attitudes and emotions. Along these lines, there are three considerations:
A. The Corporate Culture.
B. Management Style – micromanagement versus worker empowerment.
C. Continuous Improvement – to constantly seek new and improved ways for producing superior work products.
Equal to Leadership and creating the proper Environment, is the manager’s duty of being able to produce the products or services he is charged to deliver. Even if you have the best plans and environment, if you fail to deliver your products or services, you have failed as a manager. To illustrate, one of President Lincoln’s first commanders of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War was General George B. McClellan, an extraordinary engineer and organizer, but a complete failure at execution. If you as a manager are convinced of a specific course of action, do not procrastinate, act. An opportunity rarely presents itself twice.
NEXT TIME: We will discuss types of organizational structures, The Five Basic Elements of Mass Production, and Understanding Productivity.
In the meantime, if you would like to discuss this article with me, please drop me a line at [email protected]
Keep the Faith!