In the Beginning There is a Manager - by Barry Johnson


Perhaps you are some rungs up the slippery pole or perhaps your aim is to make the first steps to being a manager. Do you want to be a manager? We don’t suppose there is a single answer to such a question. If, like us, you have worked in a number of organisations you will have noticed some organisations are radically different from others. In those different organisations, managers operate differently. Why should that be then? Surely they all should have the same job. In an odd sort of way they have but the way that they do the job can be very different.

Over this year, each month, we will write short articles that relate to the skills of being a manager. Below is a brief introductory article. What is a manager?

We have worked in high tech manufacturing companies where in the research wing the atmosphere is like a university, and the managers are like university professors managing a few very highly academically qualified staff. The design and development units have teams of highly qualified engineers, technologists and technicians looking to the future for the next innovation to meet the customers needs that many of the customers have not even thought about yet. Or the teams are working on current products and building in modifications so that the customers can achieve what they need to achieve in their market. Skilled and semi-skilled people in large teams in a different part of the organisation are producing the products that the sales teams will sell. The very nature of the people and the way they work dictates they are managed differently.

Equally we have worked in simple historically based organisations and over the years registered massive changes to the way people are managed.

Then there is the organisational culture and its value systems. We may look at two teams in similar units. The mix of personalities may dictate they need to have differences in the way managers manage them. Then there is you, a manager or potential manager, your personality, your background, your experience, your….

On how well managers manage depends the success of the organisation whether it is a charity, a unit in the army, the ward of a hospital, the production unit of a manufacturing business, the… So what are the common factors? Are there any common factors? Well yes, there are. To be a manager means sharing the responsibility for the results of the organisation. How? A manager managing the human resources in his or her care and through those human resources managing the other operational resources to achieves results.

We suppose it is useful to define a manager. Perhaps that may give us a start point. Let us explore what the late Professor Elliott Jaques said. “A manager is a person who is accountable for more work than he or she can do alone and who gets some or all of it done through the people in his or her care.” (Brown and Jaques). He also said, "Management is in the same state today that the natural sciences were in during the 17th century," at a talk at MIT's Sloan School of Management. We have sometimes thought that of some of the organisations we have worked in, but other organisations have seemed shatteringly brilliant.

Others have outlined the key managerial elements. Elliott Jaques suggested that all managers have five fundamental rights and responsibilities. They may have many more. These basic five distinguish the manager from the supervisor or individual contributor. The five are Resourcing, Organising, Training, Rewarding and Removing.

Managers resourcing their departments have a responsibility to select people who meet the requirements of the job, role, the norms and the values of the organisation. They have the right to refuse to take into their department who they choose to refuse within the law, e.g. they cannot discriminate on race but they can refuse to accept the CEO’s ‘niece’.

Managers have the right to organise their department as they choose in order to meet the outputs required. They decide on the work assignments of the employees in their care within the terms and conditions of employment and such legislation as may apply, e.g. Health and Safety. Peter Drucker, perhaps the most quoted person on management, suggests that managers set the objectives for his or her department in accordance with the organisations requirements.

Managers have a responsibility to ensure that the employees in their care have the skills, knowledge and attitudes to meet the requirements of their jobs and roles (Training). (Note, Jobs are what the person does, roles are the way the person does it.) Individuals in a modern organisation are responsible for their own development. Managers usually have a responsibility to assist people in their care to realise their potential. Note the distinction between training and development implicit in this approach. Drucker also emphasises that this requirement is perhaps the most under emphasised elements in any modern organisation and is probably the most important. Just to emphasise why we point this out is the rate of change of technology, the rapid changes in organisations and the growth of knowledge workers. There is also the growth and decline of products as technology and demand changes, the pressures of competition and not least the demand from more highly educated employees to be at the forefront of the changing skills requirements.

Managers have a right to participate in changes to the financial rewards of their staff within the rules, procedures and limitations of the organisation. They have a responsibility to use intrinsic and extrinsic reward processes for the motivation and retention of their staff. Peter Drucker linked the managers’ reward rights to the motivation of employees. Modern organisations emphasise non-financial motivators linked to the way employees are managed.
Managers have a responsibility to ensure the standards and behaviour required by the Company. Managers have the right and responsibility to initiate processes for the removal of employees from their departments in accordance with employment legislation and the standards and requirements of the organisation. We add that most well run modern highly productive organisations have a set of values often related to ethical behaviours. These are the foundation of the organisational culture and have a major impact on the management of employees and the relationship with customers and suppliers.