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Managing and managing people
Managing and managing people

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1 What do managers actually do?

In this course we provide a number of views on the nature of management and what managers actually do. Then we look at the kinds of problems and issues that you deal with in your management role: we hope you will see that they have a common thread, whatever your particular sector of work. We offer you a variety of ways of looking at your job to help you to view your work more systematically and analytically. We consider some of the factors that can influence your effectiveness as a manager. Finally, we look at some of the problems that can arise when you move into management and how you might deal with them.

No two organisations are the same. No two management jobs are identical. No two situations are ever precisely the same. This explains why there is no one ‘best way’ of managing. What is appropriate in one organisation, at one time, in one situation and for one manager may not be appropriate in another. Understanding how your organisation, situation and practices are different from others provides you with valuable insights and learning that few textbooks can provide.

What do we mean by management? Most writers on management in this part of the twenty-first century would agree that it is the planning, organising, leading and controlling of human and other resources to achieve organisational goals efficiently and effectively. If you can relate your activities to this description then you are a manager – even if the word manager is not part of your job title. You may have only one or two people for whom you are responsible, but if you work through them to achieve organisational goals, you are managing them together with the other resources you use. To manage requires certain aptitudes and skills. Often, however, the task of managing – especially if you are new to the role – may leave you with little opportunity to consider or analyse what you are doing. You may feel that you are responding to a range of demands without being in as much control of your work as you would like. Many new managers feel like this. At some stage, most managers feel ill-prepared for their role and wonder whether they are doing the ‘right’ things. Consider the following example.

Box 1 The world of management

Carly had to admit that being promoted to Section Manager wasn’t quite what she thought it would be. For her first review meeting with her line manager she had been asked to prepare an outline of her views on the job. Over the last three days, Carly had been making quick notes in her diary. As she read her list to her line manager she found it depressing:

  • Constant interruptions! I can never spend enough time on a task.
  • I always seem to be reacting to events and requests rather than initiating them.
  • Most of my time is spent on day-to-day matters.
  • I always have to argue about work responsibilities and resources.
  • I never have time to think – and decisions always need to be made immediately.
  • I seem to spend all my time talking to people and never actually doing anything.

When Carly finished speaking, she apologised. Her line manager laughed and said: ‘Welcome to the world of management!’

This confusing world has been the subject of much analysis by management writers who have tried to make sense of the contradictions and time pressures that characterise most management jobs. One of the most well-known definitions of what management is and what managers do was given by Henri Fayol, a French mining engineer who, in 1916, published a book on management. In it he defined management as a process involving

  • forecasting and planning
  • organising
  • commanding
  • coordinating
  • controlling.

The simple division of a manager’s job into these separate elements remains a powerful idea, although now we would refer to ‘commanding’ as leading.