Management Function: Critical Analysis of the role of a modern industrial manager
Today’s economic situation is one of increasing uncertainty and ambiguity. Foreign competition has grown and technological change has changed social fabrics in ways that require a new response to management (Accel-Team, 2010).
“There can be few who now doubt the importance to an organisation of the ability to identify where it needs to be in the future and how to accomplish the changes necessary to get there- though there is a great deal of dispute about how difficult or possible this is” (Burnes, 1994).
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It is this difficulty in defining universally applicable management principles that has resulted in the evolution of management theory to where it is today. To analyse the role of a modern industrial manager, it is necessary to trace though the significant periods in management fruition, from pre-industrialization to the present.
One of the earliest innovators of management function was Henri Fayol, who introduced “systematic management.” According to Fayol, the basic functions of any manager integrated planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating and controlling (Fayol, 1949). Fayol maintained that all activities involved with industrial projects could be separated into six sections; technical, commercial, financial, security, accounting and managerial. With little development in the approaches to management however, Fayol’s writings acted more as of a basis for ensuing research. It was the likes of Taylor, Follett, Barnard and McGregor that truly opened up the management field, placing the United Kingdom competitively on par with the rest of the world.
The Industrial Revolution created a need for modern thinking as new approaches to production surfaced and managerial roles were required (Wilson and Thomson, 2006). Management by function and control of resources was an offshoot of the industrial revolution, whereby employment in centralized workplaces became the norm (Pollard, 1965). This approach to management arose in an effort to provide a rational and scientific basis for the management of organizations, it is most commonly referred to as the “classical management movement” (Pindur et al. 1995).
The turn of the twentieth century brought new concerns about productivity. Businesses and capital were swelling, whilst labour was in short supply (Pindur et al. 1995). As a consequence, new methods to improve efficiency were sought after; management by function and organization became the orthodoxy.
The late 1800’s saw Frederick W. Taylor advocate “scientific” management; the careful specification and measurement of all organizational tasks. Taylor applied his principles to achieve greater productivity through “systematic soldiering”.
In 1913, Henry Ford’s team of production managers applied “Taylorism” principles to the car manufacturing industry, changing manufacturing practices forever (Kirby et al. 2000). The moving conveyor belt development pioneered technical progress within industry. Whilst Ford’s technical advances rocketed production, not all was well. The scientific management approach brought with it worker resentment towards the monotony of the moving conveyor belt (Maier, 1970). Hardy (1990) claimed that Taylorism was “eliminating the employees’ responsibility for their own work and concentrating it in the hands of a science-based managerial elite.” Not only did this statement ring true in Henry Ford’s plants, but other scholars began to pick holes in Frederick Taylor’s vision. Slack et al. (2009) concluded that strict application of “Taylorism” principles resulted in low motivation, frustration at lack of control over employees’ work, and alienation from the job. This was evident in Ford’s car industry, with high employee turnover and absentees (Lewis, 1927). It seemed that the personal needs of employees were not being met, a field that would soon bring an end to “Taylorism”. Henry Ford’s “quick fix” was to introduce a $5.00 daily minimum wage and reduce working hours. Whilst this greatly increased productivity, and still does, such radical and profit damaging wage incentives are not truly plausible in most of today’s modern industries.
It was around this time that developments were being made in structure and profit sharing within organizations. Charles Babbage wrote on the mutual interests that could exist between managers and workers. Babbage contended that profit-sharing should exist, whereby workers could yield from their productivity. Taylors principles did not adopt these ideas however, arguably the reason for its problems. Structure within organization was looked at by Henry Varnum Poor, incorporating a “top down report communications system” (Pindur et al. 1995). There would later be issues with these simplistic and mechanistic structures however.
The problem with the classical era was its deficiencies in addressing environmental and behavioural issues. It “assumes that each worker is an economic man” and will work harder to reap financial benefits (Osigweh, 1985). The reality of this is that not all employees will be motivated by monetary incentives; job security, a pleasant environment and cooperative manager are all motivators too (Furnham (1994) as cited by Billsberry (1996)).
The mid 1900’s gave more attention to individuals and their unique capabilities in the organization. Behaviour studies played a strong role in helping to understand the needs of workers and how the needs of the organization and its workers could harmonise. The “behavioural management movement” as described by Pindur et al. (1995) is primarily concerned with “human psychology, motivation and leadership, as differentiated from simple mechanical efficiency.” This era is usually classified into human relations and organizational behaviour.
Mary Parker Follett was an early favourer of human relations. She wrote on conflict, explaining how it should be identified and resolved through processes aimed at joint accommodation rather than imposed solutions (Naylor, 2004). Applying this concept was proposed to “contribute in a constructive way towards the attainment of organizational goals (Follett, 1941).” Follett further argued against the conventional idea of power; the idea of one person having it ‘over’ another. She argued that power should be “pooled”, built around transactions and mutual influence. Many of Mary’s contributions were considered as radical for her time, but are now considered as building blocks of modern management.
Elton Mayo was another important contributor to the human relations movement. Mayo and his colleague, Roethlisberger conducted the “Hawthorne” experiment. This opened up the understanding of internal, informal group dynamics and individual behaviours (Gillespie, 1991). Mayo discovered that the relationships between managers and employees had a stronger effect on productivity than financial benefits or the physical environment (Smith, 1998). From this, it was proposed that supervisors be behaviourally trained to manage subordinates in ways that elicit their cooperation and increase their productivity. Hellriegel and Slocum (1992), in addition to this, identified the (seemingly beneficial) reaps of “organistic” and informal relationships, as observed from the Hawthorn experiments.
Barnard (1938) expanded upon the role of informal communications of employees and managers. The importance here is that, contrary to common opinion, informalities between workers and their overheads is crucial to communication. As Barnard described, “an informal organization dealt with communication and relationships that the formal structure was not equipped to handle.” Indeed, managers prefer to communicate informally (Mintzberg, 1990), though this does have its disadvantages. Informal communication can result in ideas being “lost” or “forgotten;” with hard copies or follow-ups of such interactions being thwarted (Mintzberg, 1990).
Studies eventually turned to employee attitudes and how their behaviour affected managers. Douglas McGregor introduced theories X and Y based upon mangers conceptions on of employee behaviour. Theory X, founded on direction and control, suggested that managers were required to threaten in order to motivate. Theory Y, behaviour based, suggested that individuals are more receptive to the working environment (Pindur et al. 1995). McGregor related to Herzberg’s (1966) motivation theories and determined that the “since the higher-level social, esteem and self-actualization needs became the pivotal points, the workplace needed to reorganize in order to assist individuals in reaching them” (Pindur et al. 1995). Managers, whether knowingly or not, will deny knowledge of categorizing their employees into theory X or Y generalisations. The problem here is that managerial perceptions will affect employee treatment, and in turn, how employees react to management (Bobic and Davis, 2003). Ideally, managers should try to motivate employees, regardless of organization perceptions. Eden et al. (1990) however, went on to say that leadership training, may be unrealistic; that some managers “have it naturally and some do not, and those that do not cannot be trained, coaxed, or coached to have it.”
McGregors theories also apply to structure. Mechanistic structure typically rests on Theory X assumptions, and an organic structure typically rests on Theory Y assumptions. Whilst mechanistic structures are stable and efficient, change is difficult to make. Organic structures are more “fluid” with cross-departmental relations, encompassing the ideas of Follett (1941). In 1990, electrical company, Philips had to restructure its organization from mechanistic to organic to keep up with global competition (Karsten, 2009). The result was a huge success and Philips still stands as one of the biggest electronics companies today.
Quantitative management offers a systematic and scientific approach to problem solving and decision making in complex environments (Goodpasture, 2004). There are three major areas; management science, operations management and management information systems (Pindur et al. 1995). The discipline is characterised by a search for an optimal answer for a problem by using quantitative models. The use of mathematical models enables a decision maker to understand the problems of an organization and provides a tool for making informed and reasoned judgements. It is a tool for planning and controlling processes and requires the use of computers in decision support systems (Hellriegel and Slocum, 1992). A case study into the implementation of quantitative management in brokerage firm, Merrill Lynch has shown positive effects. Their development of models, budget systems and performance measurement, “translated into hard dollars and repeat business” (Anderson et al. 2008).
Quantitative management is not without its limitations however. For one, it cannot predict or explain human behaviour in organizations (Hellriegel and Slocum, 1992). In addition to this, the use of statistics to make decisions is widely accepted; however, quantitative management on its own is not enough to provide a basis for decision making (Anderson et al. 2008).
So far, these writings have been principally concerned with “pre-modern” managerial approaches. Essentially how managers should do their jobs: the behaviour they should influence, the methods to increase productivity and measuring of decision making to name a few. How managers do their jobs is another matter, one that has been more recently associated with the “modern management movement.” It should be noted that most of these principles are simply developments from the classical, behavioural and quantitative movements.
The picture of management from 50 years ago is vastly different to that observed now, and undoubtedly the same will be true in another 50 years. The “modern management” movement is accepted to have stemmed up around the 1960’s. The “modern” movement includes the process, systems, contingency, strategic, Japanese style and the excellence approaches.
The role of a manager has recently been under scrutiny by Henry Mintzberg. Mintzberg was concerned that previous definitions of management did not address management in practice. He devised ten roles of a manager and grouped them into three classes (Naylor, 2004).
Mintzberg (1975) ascertained that a manager’s activities are “characterized by brevity, variety, and discontinuity, and that they are strongly oriented to action, and dislike reflective activities.” Mintzberg’s roles strongly incorporate many aspects of management approach- from the systems approach, Koontz’s process approach and not forgetting the normative frameworks produced Fayol and Gulick. Whilst undeniably a great contributor to management, Mintzberg has himself been under scrutiny. For example, Mintzberg did NOT make reference to managerial activities as structuring, selection of managers or strategy (Koontz, 1980). This concludes that whilst Mintzberg’s managerial roles are a good frame of reference, they too are incomplete.
In studies by Koontz (1980), he referred to “the confusion among intelligent managers arising from the wide differences in findings and opinions in the field of management.” Koontz believed that each identified management approach offered something to management theory and argued that convergence, his process approach, was to “encompass everything that might have any relationships, no matter how remote, to the managerial job.” According to Koontz, the process approach, originally proposed by Fayol, views management as a process of getting things done through and with individuals who are operating in organized groups. This encompasses the idea of “teamwork” whilst also giving the individual a sense of identity. This sort of thinking is generally well accepted, and broadly implemented in modern management.
William Deming introduced the model for Japanese-style management. This model makes extensive use of statistics to for variability analysis in the production processes for improvements in product quality (Demming, 1982). Demming was concerned that with mounting focus on the organizations and their employees, did the focus on the customer lose sightWas quality in this respect compromisedThe quality of an organization lies with its managers, with up to 94% of downfalls resting with them (Demming, 1982 and Juran, 1988). Juran (1988) and Crosby (1979) claim that all managers require training in order to be effective. Whilst this statement is undoubtedly true in many situations, the writings of Eden et al. (1990) disagree. The modern workplace does however require managers to develop skills in inter and intrapersonal skills and leadership (Hogan and Warrenfeltz, 2003).
An important theory to have come out of the Japanese approach was Ouchi’s “theory Z.” This described the unique practices used in Japanese organizations. Theory Z corporations maintained close relationships with employees and even made long-term employment commitments to new hires. They also developed their employees’ talents and focused on teamwork through lateral job rotations and collective decision making (Ouchi, 1981). These principles are now the norm in most modern industries, with graduate schemes, contracts and the like. Ouchi was praised for taking the best attributes from Japanese and American organizations.
It is obvious to say that the field of management is a broad and confusing topic. The likes of Fayol and Mintzberg are commended for their studies of managerial roles. It is however scholars such as Taylor, Follett and Barnard that have truly addressed how managers should conduct their duties. The behaviour movement emphasises the importance for organizations to “nurture” employees; maximising output whilst producing happy workers. The quantitative movement highlights the requirement of implementing models to aid in decision making. Managers wishing to broaden their knowledge on principles may wish to use the “excellence approach” to compare with other industries; however, there is nothing to say that their principles will apply to them. In essence, management techniques may be “learnt” from a book, but it is experience and initiative that will define a good manager (Lawrence and Lorsch, 1969).
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