6.4 The Management Process
Once we have gained a strong understanding of the company’s foundation, direction, and intended strategy, the effective performance of your business will require solid management: the process of planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. A plan enables you to take your business concept and/or strategy beyond the idea stage. It does not, however, get the work done. For that to happen, you have to organize things effectively. You’ll have to put people and other resources in place to make things happen. And because your note-taking venture is supposed to be better off with you in charge, you need to be a leader who can motivate your people to do well. Finally, to know whether things are in fact going well, you’ll have to control your operations—that is, measure the results and compare them with the results that you laid out in your plan. The management process below summarizes the interrelationship between planning and the other functions that managers perform. This chapter will explore planning, leading, and controlling in some detail. Organizing is an especially complex topic and deserves its own chapter.
Without a plan, it’s hard to succeed at anything. The reason is simple: if you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t move forward. Successful managers decide where they want to be and then figure out how to get there; they set goals and determine the best way to achieve them. As a result of the planning process, everyone in the organization knows what should be done, who should do it, and how to do it.
Coming up with an idea—say, starting a note-taking business—is a good start, but it’s only a start. Planning for it is a step forward. Planning begins at the highest level and works its way down through the organization. In the first section of this chapter, we answered the question ‘Why do we exist?’. In the second section we answered the questions ‘What business are we in?’ and ‘What are our objectives?’. Then finally, we examined ‘What are the company’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities to develop a strategy?’. Sam Walton posed these questions in the process of founding Wal-Mart: his new chain of stores would exist to offer customers the lowest prices with the best possible service.
A second key function of managers is organizing, which is the process of coordinating and allocating a firm’s resources in order to carry out its plans. Organizing includes developing a structure for the people, positions, departments, and activities within the firm. Managers can arrange the structural elements of the firm to maximize the flow of information and the efficiency of work processes. They accomplish this by doing the following:
- Dividing up tasks (division of labour)
- Grouping jobs and employees (departmentalization)
- Assigning authority and responsibilities (delegation)
These and other elements of organizational structure are discussed in detail elsewhere. In this chapter, however, you should understand the three levels of a managerial hierarchy. This hierarchy is often depicted as a pyramid, as in Figure 6.3: “The Managerial Pyramid”. The fewest managers are found at the highest level of the pyramid and are called top management, as they are the small group of people at the head of the organization (such as the CEO, president, and vice president). Top-level managers develop strategic plans and address long-range issues such as which industries to compete in, how to capture market share, and what to do with profits. These managers design and approve the firm’s basic policies and represent the firm to other organizations. They also define the company’s values and ethics and thus set the tone for employee standards of behaviour. For example, Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, was a role model for his managers and executives. Admirers say that he had an extraordinary capacity to inspire hundreds of thousands of people in many countries and he could change the direction of a huge organization like General Electric as if it were a small firm. Following his leadership, General Electric’s executives turned in impressive results. During his tenure, General Electric’s average annual shareholder return was 25 percent.10
The second and third tiers of the hierarchy are called middle management and supervisory (first-line) management, respectively. Middle managers (such as division heads, departmental managers, and regional sales managers) are responsible for beginning the implementation of strategic plans. They design and carry out tactical plans in specific areas of the company. They begin the process of allocating resources to meet organizational goals, and they oversee supervisory managers throughout the firm. Supervisors, the most numerous of the managers, are at the bottom of the managerial pyramid. These managers design and carry out operational plans for the ongoing daily activities of the firm. They spend a great deal of their time guiding and motivating the employees who actually produce the goods and services.
The third management function is leading—providing focus and direction to others and motivating them to achieve organizational goals. [Yes, ORGANIZING was skipped as it has the option of coverage in an additional chapter]. As owner and president of Notes-4-You, you might think of yourself as an orchestra conductor. You have given your musicians (employees) their sheet music (plans). You’ve placed them in sections (departments) and arranged the sections (organizational structure) so the music will sound as good as possible. Now your job is to tap your baton and lead the orchestra so that its members make beautiful music together.Don’t appreciate the conductor metaphor? What metaphor would you use to describe the process of leading?
As a conductor, it’s fairly easy to pick up a baton, cue each section, and strike up the band; but it doesn’t mean the music will sound good. What if your cues are ignored or misinterpreted or ambiguous? Maybe your musicians don’t like your approach to making music and will just walk away. On top of everything else, you don’t simply want to make music: you want to inspire your musicians to make great music. How do you accomplish this goal? How do you become an effective leader, and what style should you use to motivate others to achieve organizational goals?
Unfortunately, there are no definitive answers to questions like these. Over time, every manager refines his or her own leadership style, or way of interacting with and influencing others. Despite a vast range of personal differences, leadership styles tend to reflect one of the following approaches to leading and motivating people: autocratic, democratic (also known as participative), or free rein.
- Autocratic style. Managers who have developed an autocratic leadership style tend to make decisions without soliciting input from subordinates. They exercise authority and expect subordinates to take responsibility for performing the required tasks without undue explanation.
- Democratic style. Managers who favour a democratic leadership style generally seek input from subordinates while retaining the authority to make the final decisions. They’re also more likely to keep subordinates informed about things that affect their work.
- Free-rein style. In practising a free rein leadership style, managers adopt a “hands-off” approach and provide relatively little direction to subordinates. They may advise employees but usually give them considerable freedom to solve problems and make decisions on their own.
At first glance, you’d probably not want to work for an autocratic leader. After all, most people don’t like to be told what to do without having any input. Many like the idea of working for a democratic leader; it’s flattering to be asked for your input. And though working in a free rein environment might seem a little unsettling at first, the opportunity to make your own decisions is appealing to many people. Each leadership style can be appropriate in certain situations.
To illustrate, let’s say that you’re leading a group of fellow students in a team project for your class. Are there times when it would be best for you to use an autocratic leadership style? What if your team was newly formed, unfamiliar with what needs to be done, under a tight deadline, and looking to you for direction? In this situation, you might find it appropriate to follow an autocratic leadership style (on a temporary basis) and assign tasks to each member of the group. In an emergency situation, such as a fire, or in the final seconds of a close ball game, there is generally not time for debate – the leader or coach must make a split-second decision that demands an autocratic style.
But since most situations are non-emergency and most people prefer the chance to give input, the democratic leadership style is often favoured. People are simply more motivated and feel more ownership of decisions (i.e., buy-in) when they have had a chance to offer input. Note that when using this style, the leader will still make the decision in most cases. As long as their input is heard, most people accept that it is the leader’s role to decide in cases where not everyone agrees.
How about free rein leadership? Many people function most effectively when they can set their own schedules and do their work in the manner they prefer. It takes a great deal of trust for a manager to employ this style. Some managers start with an assumption of trust that is up to the employee to maintain through strong performance. In other cases, this trust must be earned over a period of time. Would this approach always work with your study group? Obviously not. It will work if your team members are willing and able to work independently and welcome the chance to make decisions. On the other hand, if people are not ready to work responsibly and to the best of their abilities, using the free rein style could cause the team to miss deadlines or do poorly on the project.
The point being made here is that no one leadership style is effective all the time for all people or in all corporate cultures. While the democratic style is often viewed as the most appropriate (with the free rein style a close second), there are times when following an autocratic style is essential. Good leaders learn how to adjust their styles to fit both the situation and the individuals being directed.
Theories on what constitutes effective leadership evolve over time. One theory that has received a lot of attention in the last decade contrasts two leadership styles: transactional and transformational. So-called transactional leaders exercise authority based on their rank in the organization. They let subordinates know what’s expected of them and what they will receive if they meet stated objectives. They focus their attention on identifying mistakes and disciplining employees for poor performance. By contrast, transformational leaders mentor and develop subordinates, providing them with challenging opportunities, working one-on-one to help them meet their professional and personal needs, and encouraging people to approach problems from new perspectives. They stimulate employees to look beyond personal interests to those of the group.
So, which leadership style is more effective? You probably won’t be surprised by the opinion of most experts. In today’s organizations, in which team building and information sharing are important and projects are often collaborative in nature, transformational leadership has proven to be more effective. Modern organizations look for managers who can develop positive relationships with subordinates and motivate employees to focus on the interests of the organization. Leaders who can be both transactional and transformational are rare, and those few who have both capacities are very much in demand.
Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on the management functions that we’ve discussed so far—planning, organizing, and leading. As founder of Notes-4-You, you began by establishing plans for your new company. You defined its mission and set objectives, or performance targets, which you needed to meet in order to achieve your mission. Then, you organized your company by allocating the people and resources required to carry out your plans. Finally, you provided focus and direction to your employees and motivated them to achieve organizational objectives. Is your job finished? Can you take a well-earned vacation? Unfortunately, the answer is no: your work has just begun. Now that things are rolling along, you need to monitor your operations to see whether everything is going according to plan. If it’s not, you’ll need to take corrective action. This process of comparing actual to planned performance and taking necessary corrective action is called controlling.
A Five-Step Control Process
- Set the standards by which performance will be measured.
- Measure performance.
- Compare actual performance with the standard and identify any deviations from the standard.
- Determine the reasons for the deviation.
- Take corrective action if needed.
You can think of the control function as the five-step process outlined above. Let’s see how this process might work at Notes-4-You. Let’s assume that, after evaluating class enrolment, you estimate that you can sell one hundred notes packages per month to students taking a popular first-year geology course. So you set your standard at a hundred units. At the end of the month, however, you look over your records and find that you sold only eighty. In talking with your salespeople, you learn why you came up twenty packages short: it turns out that the copy machine broke down so often that packages frequently weren’t ready on time. You immediately take corrective action by increasing maintenance on the copy machine.
Now, let’s try a slightly different scenario. Let’s say that you still have the same standard (one hundred packages) and that actual sales are still eighty packages. In investigating the reason for the shortfall, you find that you over-estimated the number of students taking the geology course. Calculating a more accurate number of students, you see that your original standard—estimated sales—was too high by twenty packages. In this case, you should adjust your standards to reflect the expected sale of eighty packages.
In both situations, your control process has been helpful. In the first instance, you were alerted to a problem that cut into your sales. Correcting this problem would undoubtedly increase sales and, therefore, profits. In the second case, you encountered a defect in your planning and learned a good managerial lesson: plan more carefully.
Benchmarking could be considered as a specialized kind of control activity. Rather than controlling a particular aspect of performance (say, defects for a specific product), benchmarking aims to improve a firm’s overall performance. The process of benchmarking involves comparisons to other organizations’ practices and processes with the objective of learning and improvement in both efficiency and effectiveness. Benchmarking exercises can be conducted in a number of ways:
- Organizations often monitor publicly available information to keep tabs on the competition. Annual reports, news articles, and other sources are monitored closely in order to stay aware of the latest developments. In academia, universities and colleges often use published rankings tables to see how their programs compare on student satisfaction, salaries of graduates, and other important dimensions.
- Organizations may also work directly with companies in unrelated industries in order to compare those functions of the business which are similar. A manufacturer of aircraft would not likely have a great deal in common with a company making engineered plastics, yet both have common functions such as accounting, finance, information technology, and human resources. Companies can exchange ideas that help each other improve efficiency, and often at a very low cost to either.
- In order to compare more directly with the competition without relying solely on publicly available data, companies may enter into benchmarking consortiums in which an outside consultant would collect key data from all participants, anonymize it, and then share the results with all participants. Companies can then gauge how they compare to others in the industry without revealing their own performance to others.