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Discovering management
Discovering management

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1.3 Functional perspectives on management

Henri Fayol (1917) suggested that all the activities that take place in organisations can be divided into the following groups:

  1. technical activities
  2. commercial activities
  3. financial activities
  4. security activities
  5. accounting activities
  6. managerial activities

Interestingly, at least three of these activities (1, 2, and 3/4) correspond directly with three of the four dominant, contemporary management functions – operations, marketing and finance/accounting. And the fourth function, organisational behaviour and human resource management (HRM), arguably falls within Fayol’s sixth category of managerial activity. Together with change and project management, these core functions of management, along with their respective bodies of specialist, professional and academic knowledge, still provide the accepted framework and focus for the general practice of management. Most business and management courses still underpin their learning with these core disciplines and functional perspectives.

Things are becoming more blurred. Although many large, traditional organisations may still have specialist departments dedicated to the management of these core organisational functions, most smaller and medium-sized enterprises have a much more flexible approach to the ways in which functional management is undertaken. The ability to manage effectively and integratively across functional boundaries is becoming a more usual requirement for both the specialist and the generalist manager.

Nevertheless it remains the case that any aspiring senior manager nowadays still has to be capable of working effectively across the full range of managerial activities represented by the classic functions. Managers must be able to bring to bear in their work many of the specialist skills, knowledge and languages associated with each of the core functions. When it comes to managing effectively within the network of stakeholders which shapes the work of all managers, being able to engage competently with all management specialisms and perspectives is a necessity and not an optional extra.

This section includes ‘insider’ accounts what each core function involves, offering a useful introduction to these key aspects of management.

Activity 2 Functional dimensions of management

The previous activity looked at management as a whole from very different perspectives – and in slightly abstract ways. Another way in which you will encounter different perspectives is rather more immediate – through the different functions into which management has traditionally been divided, e.g., finance or marketing. Not only do those functions represent major areas of management activity and, in many larger organisations, the way in which departments are structured, but they are also the focus for much of the research and knowledge base that informs management theory and practice.

Therefore, another way of working with management ideas is to study those core perspectives. Being able to ‘speak the language’ of different functions and see management problems from a different functional perspective are core management abilities.

Task A Functional perspectives on management

As you work your way through the different functional ‘accounts’ in this section try to see them as specialist ways of talking about a mix of elements that you will encounter in many complex management situations. At the start of each account is an audio introduction.

As you are reading, keep notes on the following questions:

  • Do these functions share the same underlying assumptions about the core purposes of management? Or do they reflect divergent views of what management is all about? What are those similarities and differences?
  • What knowledge and ideas do you already have that would enable you to hold an informed professional discussion (or maybe even negotiations) with a specialist manager from each of the functions?

Feedback follows Task B.