What should I be doing as a manager?

You’re in management if you have staff reporting to you otherwise you are likely to have a staff or operational role.

Peter Drucker the most important management thinker of the last century according to the Economist, said in his book Management (first published in 1974 and revised in 2008) that the management job has five main tasks:

  1. Setting objectives.
  2. Organising work.
  3. Motivating and communicating.
  4. Measuring.
  5. Developing people.

The main resource at a manager’s disposal is people in Drucker’s view.  As a management consultant I was taught that almost all organisational problems were, at heart, a people issue.  Moreover, many managers with whom I’ve worked have often said that their primary role was about people.

When you look at Drucker’s five management tasks closely, it is clear that each one has a major impact on people.  Objectives provide focus for action, organisation determines who works with whom, motivation and communication affects attitude and belief, accurate measurement produces rewards and development makes life a little easier in the long run.

All managers have to and arguably need to do other things other than just manage: meet customers, prepare and review contracts and other “operational” activities are some examples of these non-managerial activities.  The problem is that in too many cases the operational takes precedence over the managerial to the extent that the management job does not get done or at least it gets scant and inadequate attention.  If this happens the outcome all too often is confusion, muddle and poor results.

Most things in life are neither black nor white.  All management and no operational work is just not going to work and is at odds with the real world.  So, what’s the right balance to be struck?  It probably depends on your organisation.  Smaller organisations will require managers to take on more operational work larger ones may have the luxury of managers being able to spend more time on pure management work.

Short termism probably plays a part in the management job being overlooked and placed in second place as many of the pure management tasks are, by nature, more medium to long term eg. the development of people.

To conclude, managers should be striking a balance between the operational and the managerial as defined by Drucker.  As a manager you need to find a happy balance between your operational commitments and the pure management role.  If you are a manager, ask yourself how much time do I devote to my management role and is it sufficient?

David ShawDavid Shaw

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