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Discovering management
Discovering management

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1.3.6 Postscript to the functional perspectives

The following overview of the ideas of Rosabeth Moss Kanter indicates some of the ways in which the classic approach to management functions is changing – and not necessarily making things any easier for either senior or middle managers.

The new managerial work

The perspectives above display a fairly traditional picture of discrete functional departments within organisations. Although this structure is still quite common in larger organisations worldwide, over the past 25 years there has been considerable merging of roles and more working across functional boundaries, some examples of which were illustrated in the stories you have just read. This inter-functional dependency is an important feature of contemporary organisations. The beginnings of these changes are evident in Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s article for the Harvard Business Review (1989), where she highlighted the rapid and fundamental changes taking place in managerial work in large organisations. She reported that they were struggling to create or maintain competitive advantage in industries that are being transformed by technological, social and market upheavals. Some implications of these changes include:

  • Functional departments are becoming involved in strategy formulation.
  • Direct inter-departmental contact and collaboration are replacing formal procedures and ‘clearance-seeking’ through the hierarchy.
  • The pace of change means jobs, departments and projects can seldom be precisely defined any more.
  • Suppliers who were once perceived and treated as adversaries, with whom you drove the toughest possible deals, are now allies, partners in long-term strategic alliances helping to formulate new plans.
  • Internal service departments have been turned into autonomous suppliers.
  • The number of middle managers has been significantly reduced and hierarchies have become flatter.
  • The complexity of the work being undertaken and the relationships involved create enormous pressures and overload.

For some managers this has resulted in a loss of power (assuming they had it in the first place) – status and seniority count for little when everything is up for grabs. They no longer feel in control of their staff. In getting things done, rank or position in the hierarchy is now less important than the networks we can tap into. Clearly defined management roles and stable organisational structures have been swept away and managers are having to re-learn what it means to manage.

Stop and reflect

How has managerial work in your organisation changed in recent years? Is the management structure of your organisation flatter? What impact has this had on the management task, for example, in terms of workload or span of control (number of staff managed)?

Task B Returning to your experiences

Continue to explore the knowledge you already have of these functional perspectives and ideas:

  • Think about your experiences and situations of management. Choose the one that seems most complex. Identify, as far as you can, ways in which ideas from each of the functional areas of management were reflected in those situations. Alternatively, consider how knowledge of each of the functions could contribute to the management of the situation you experienced.
  • If none of your experiences relate to your current work situation, consider how each of the functions impacts on the management of the situation in which you are currently working.
  • Without becoming too specific about the detail of different functions of management, in what ways do you envisage working and engaging with the ideas of these different functions over the coming months?

Discussion

Clearly much of the module will be based around working with the ideas, techniques, assumptions, approaches and language of each of the core functions. At this stage, it is worth noting some specific issues:

  • The different functions of management are not just clusters of specialist techniques for you to apply and learn about separately. They are more generally different languages that reflect different priorities and imperatives based on different beliefs on what is most important in the practice of management.
  • It is valuable for managers to appreciate that the knowledge and ideas of the core functions are all underpinned, not just by management theories, but by more general areas of knowledge – e.g., psychology, economics and maths.

The technical aspects of each function need to be approached on the basis of a more general appreciation of the perspectives as different ‘ways of seeing’ situations. Seeing the world through the eyes of the functional specialist is as important for the general manager as being able to manage a range of highly specialist operations, while at the same time having to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

You will find it helpful to revisit your work on the functions of management in the light of the next section, this time on stakeholders.