There are a number of different definitions of management. The dictionary definition from Google is "the process of dealing with or controlling things or people." The Merriam-Webster definition adds that the process must be done "with a degree of skill." Management, therefore, is a professional discipline, one that can be studied, theorized about, and for which techniques can be developed and studied.
Management literature generally agrees with this core, but elaborates. The current practice and study of management have become highly fragmented in recent decades, such that there is no real study of generic "management," but rather specific study of different management subjects. Thus, we see "supply chain management," "human resources management" and "strategic management" as examples of studies in management. Yet at their heart, they all involve the core processes of organizing and controlling. Further study is focused on the distinction between management and leadership.
Boddy (2010), in contrast sees leadership as one of the functions of management. His view holds that the role of the manager is to plan, organize, lead and control. The organization's inputs are turned into outputs through all of these processes, therefore all form the core of the management function. There is merit to this argument -- leadership is simply another way of transforming inputs into outputs. This paper will examine the different roles of management, and how managers contribute to the organization's successes and failures.
The Tasks of Management
In practice, managers do tend to focus on a specific area of expertise. Compartmentalization and specialization in business today mean that there are few generalist managers outside of the smallest companies. Managers work with the resources of the organization, shepherding and directing those resources to achieve various organizational objectives. The complexity of most business functions today demands specialized managers. At a base level, they are all performing the same task of taking inputs through processes to achieve outputs. Managers use a wide range of tools to help manage the resources at their disposal and to measure the outputs of their group's activities (Ingram, 2012). Thus, in practice the management function tends to be specialized along the lines of functional expertise. Yet, the root actions of management do not change, no matter what the function might be.
The first function of management is planning. The planning function is evident at all levels of management. Shift managers anticipate demand in order to set employee schedules. Production managers anticipate demand when deciding how much volume of what products must be produced. Executives engage in environmental scanning in order to set the course of the company for the next year. All managers engage in planning in some form or another, and most follow a straightforward methodology for planning. Planning begins with understanding the company or unit's current situation. Thus, information gathering is the basis of the planning process. The more a manager knows about his or her current situation, the better the decisions for the future will be. Planning, therefore, is the result of careful and honest analysis of current conditions, combined with a vision that the manager has for the future. While some of the planning process can be highly formalized -- there are many models to help with environmental scanning, for example -- there is an element of skill involved even at this stage of the management process. The ability of the manager to interpret the information that has been gathered and match that with future plans and strategy is critical to the success of the organization. Some managers are better than others, so there is some skill in the planning process, to set out plans that accurately reflect the firm and market conditions to come.
The second major task in management is organizing. If the planning function results in a set of objectives, then the organizing function is where the manager decides how best to achieve those objectives. Every organization has a set of resources at its disposal. The plans should have been made with some understanding of these resources. The actual organizing function must take into account both organizational capabilities and organizational constraints. The manager directs the resources towards the activities that are most likely to meet the objectives of the organization. Managers rely on formal authority primarily in this function, because they have been entrusted with those resources to work in the interests of the plans that have been created.
The third component of management is leadership. There are different ways in the academic literature of looking at the issue of management vs. leadership. Leadership literature often refers to transactional leadership vs. transformational leadership, the former being closer to what would otherwise be understood as management (Bass, 1985). Yet, Boddy makes the case that leadership is fully a management function, rather than a distinct function. Real world experience seems to back this up -- there are few leaders who do not engage in some form of management. Most leaders within an organization hold very specific management roles. Whether a person is a leader of people or a marshal of resources is more a reflection of management style than an evaluation of whether they are truly a manager or not. Leadership is simply another process by which the resources of the organization are transformed into outputs.
The fourth component of management is control. This is a critical component of management that has received a lot of attention of late. Because management is concerned with converting resources into outputs, those outputs need to be measured in order to understand the effectiveness of the different management practices that have been utilized. One of the manager's most important roles, therefore, is to develop the systems for measuring firm outputs (Henri, 2005). Once the outputs are measured, then management needs to draw conclusions about the plans, the organizing and the leadership. It is through this system of feedback that some of the best management occurs. No organization exists in a state of frozen time -- the environment is constantly evolving, so the genius of a good management is to recognize what has been done well, but to also apply that knowledge to the changes that have been noted in the environment.
This understanding of the management functions highlights that there is a significant amount of data involved, but also uncertainty, and managers need to be able to interpret information not only with a high level of expertise, but translate those interpretations into concrete actions and policies. The Webster definition of management as a skill holds true when management is understood in this way.
The academic world tends to step back from the functional aspects of management and view it from a broader perspective. Peter Drucker has proven influential in the development of management as a discipline to be studied. Prior management theory often derived directly from practice, for example from Henry Ford or Frederick Taylor. Until that point, management was seen as a title as much as anything else, rather than a set of functions that could be trained and practice. His vision of management functions included setting objectives, organizing, motivating and communicating, establishing measurements of performance and developing people, the latter being an addition to the functions discussed above (No author, 2005). Drucker's vision of management as a discipline has given rise to the study of management and the aforementioned application of these concepts to a variety of functional disciplines (Byrne, 2005).
The idea of management was further expanded by later theorists like Henry Mintzberg and Peter Senge. Both understood the implication of the control function. The information provided by that function would lead the manager to make further changes in planning, organizing and other critical management functions. Thus, management is a permanent task. The managerial job is not akin to a project that has a set completion, but rather is an ongoing process. Senge's view of the organization as a learning organization flows from this. If management is a continuous, circular process with no end, surely the organization must build up knowledge over time. When managers are seen as individuals, independent of the organization as a whole, then they can have their own proprietary knowledge. The learning organization, however, wants to capture that knowledge and transmit it not only throughout the organization but to the other managers and future managers as well. It is a necessary function of management to share and disseminate information for the benefit of the organization. The organization, for its part, must incorporate learning into its organizational structure in order to continue to learn from the feedback loop of control and planning.
Our understanding of management, both from an academic perspective and from a functional perspective, continues to evolve. Management theories have long added depth and breadth to their understanding of what management is, and how it works. As the business world becomes increasingly complex, so too does the field of management. Beyond increased functional specialization, however, management as a science must continue to evolve. Latter management theorists have moved away from the Tayloresque understanding of management as…