Managing the Management
Updated: Jan 21
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I believe that management is the most important skill which humans have invented. The ones that are managing things, are the ones that are shaping the world. From the corporate sector to public sector – those who have „presented“ themselves as competent, have usually achieved to become leaders and managers – are the ones which have the most power. In a world full of passive humans, those who organise themselves and others usually take control.
I’ll start with a basic building block of any company and management - a process - processes are created by having someone "more" smart who then created some workflow of tasks which is what process is - and helped someone who is "less" smart to do their job, reduce mistakes, be faster, know what to do etc. A process is a series of steps and decisions involved in the way work is completed. We may not realize it, but processes are everywhere. Processes are management of those steps (tasks).
This is important for any organization because employees are not required to constantly innovate (because it is demanding for your carefree brains), but rather, they work within the process – at least until someone introduces a change in the process. For most jobs, this means some predictability, making sure steps are completed, and conforming with the rules (legal or internal or as I like to call them made-up rules).
With time, we have come to understand that things change, and processes need to change. So we invented all sorts of best management practices about managing processes or work ITSELF. Those practices are for example: total quality management, lean management, six sigma, agile, etc.
The process should result in some output, because the process is the sum of some actions (tasks) that execute something. And basically the processes are what? Ways to manage your organization and work. This is the best approach we know to ensure that a complex system as a company accomplishes some goals.
So the essence of "managing" is to ensure optimal process execution and output... but then there are many other layers of management.
Let’s take this example about running a company. The essence of a company is to get customers or buyers. To be able to get customers, companies need to provide something of value to the market -that could mean some kind of product or service.
Around that product or service and that value delivery companies create strategies. But who creates strategies? Management right? So meet leadership as a new term – leadership is the ability of company’s management to set and achieve challenging goals, make good decisions, outperform the competition, inspire others to perform well.
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To create a strategy it means to have a plan and a goal to position your product or service on the market - you can be the cheapest, most innovative, offer the fastest delivery... you can have the best customer service or something else could be your strategic advantage and approach to market, it usually evolves around your distinctive capabilities.
So now that you have customers you have a product or service which delivers value - you start having business transactions - each business transaction involves certain processes which need to be done based on the delivery of product/service your business model requires.
For example, if you have an iPhone application and you sell it on iTunes you have to set up certain processes and fulfill certain requirements from Apple that you can deliver that app to your customers. Each time customer buys an app you have to make sure the app is up and running (IT processes in place) you have to book revenue from that sale and you have to process that invoice into your accounting department. You have to have some kind of customer support in place – if a customer needs your support – your agents (or yourself) need to know how to solve customers problems. You want to make decisions based on data, so you implement all sorts of reporting systems which enable you to understand your customers and business. A variety of tasks will arise out of this simple iPhone app. And those tasks will sometimes create a process and lead to standardization of work.
If you sell bottled water you have to have some kind of production line or outsource someone who has one. You should make legal agreements with retailers or other venues where your water will be sold, you should have a warehouse and processes around how the bottled water is delivered, labeled, branded, stored. Then you should have some delivery system in place – or outsource some – how will this water be delivered to your buyers (retail outlets), etc. If you have your own delivery service, you should buy or lease trucks, optimize delivery routes, comply with all the regulation in that segment.. and the list of tasks goes on and on.
When you have all those systems within your company which enable you to do your business - all these systems need to be managed – this is how everything starts. We take initial task which then grows to 200 or 500 other tasks in order to produce something or deliver some service. Tasks can be joined into process to standardize the workflow and ensure similar quality is being delivered every time the process is repeated. Process is just a sum of several tasks. Each time a new employee joins, you can show them how the job is done based on the processes you have created. That all makes sense, right? That’s when the competition kicks in and shakes your world. If you do not adapt and improve to some new market players, you might go out of business pretty soon. Whose to blame for that? Well.. management or leadership of that business for failing to improve or change.
Hidden layers of Management
Management has many layers which should be addressed. We can start by asking - what’s the scope of management in general?
1. There is strategic management layer – as leadership has to define what are the products, services, markets and models by which you will try to achieve revenues and market success. It needs to ensure the long-term survival of your organization.
It guides the company to move in a specific direction. It defines organization’s goals and fixes realistic objectives, which are in alignment with the company’s vision.
It assists the organization in becoming proactive, rather than reactive, to analyse the actions of the competitors and take necessary steps to compete in the market, instead of becoming spectators.
It acts as a foundation for all key decisions of the firm.
2. Then there is organizational management layer - how are you going to structure your departments, what do you need to succeed or outperform the competition, how are you going to improve your processes under each department, who is responsible for what, what is the hierarchy of our organization and how you make decisions and at what speed. What are all the resources needed to ensure high-quality functioning of all departments and of course the big one: how do you manage change. This is the topic of bureaucracy and complexity and costs building up over time.
3. Then there's the process layer of management - so if we go on a lower level constructs – processes – managing the way of doing things and achieving results. Sometimes you have to have a process due to some regulation or to ensure quality at a certain standard. Or just simply not to have mistakes in your work.
Example - you have a process about purchasing things in your company. If every department has it’s purchasing logic it might get really inefficient for your company to separately order computers for each team at different point in time. If you don't have a purchasing department then a lot of the money could be wasted as well. So there's a process in place so that everyone in the purchasing department has the goal to optimize spending to make sure everything is done by the procedures and with minimum risk, that you buy from companies which are ethical, which will deliver you the service/product with good quality, that your company has the possibility to track what is being purchased and similar.
4. Then if we go down one additional layer there is task management. The task management should be aligned with company’s goals and projects and represent all the work that's needed to be done to achieve desired objectives. Management of tasks should lead to improvements in execution of tasks so for example if there is a strategic need that company decreases rate of return of it’s products from customers – then certain analysis should be done at task level and decisions about what can be done better, what can be invented or changed, which tools can help, where to buy those tools or develop them on your own, etc.
So task management aims to optimize how is work being done and the output it should produce.
This is very important segment as roles within the company or job descriptions - they are based on the tasks you need to do on that job, and what's important - based on the complexity of tasks you need to do, you need to have certain skills in order to be successful doing those tasks.
5. Then we come to the holy grail of management – the people management as additional layer which became extremely important. So why is people management so important these days? Firstly it's because the jobs are getting more and more complex and work done by people has higher impact on business success. When most relevant management theories were invented, people were less important to the overall business success. The complete industries have emerged only due to human inventions and creative power. I’ll discuss more about this topic in the next article.
As people are more important - there is a bigger impact to be achieved on other management layers - managing people leads to better task, process, organisational management layers. People are the biggest leverage in that sense.
6. Then you have decision-making management or how does company make decisions. Are they slow within that segment, are they fast, are they trying to improve the way they are producing decisions in each department? What kind of decisions can be done by who by what kind of managers or directors? How to define responsibilities in that context... It is very important concept because decisions can slow down the work, projects and processes and stop them from moving forward.
7. Then we have additional layer of managing investments and profit - the second most important business goal (after having customers).
So what are companies doing well and what they are not doing so well?
What companies do well:
they have organizational structure,
they have processes in place
they have defined job roles,
management systems in place which ensure data are collected and analysed,
they in general have higher level of security - you're not risking your life if you are doing some work at certain company.
they are good at managing administration and
they in general do well with the spread of responsibility across the organization. There’s always someone to blame for something.
What companies do poorly are the things which make them successful or not:
mainly struggle with innovation,
with people management, people development,
with managing the change,
with the speed of decisions they make,
with making work more simple and meaningful.
Majority of managers just come into that position by not having clear understanding that their level of impact is very high. From my experience, majority of new managers don’t even know what their job is. You take the responsibility with hopes you will “manage” yourself somehow. The support in many organizations is very weak, even despite of management development programs. In essence, you often learn from some other colleagues which haven’t learned what is management about and then they make their own interpretations and advice – which again you only adopt with partial understanding.
Of course there are many obstacles to becoming high-performing manager. You will have to struggle and fight for the resources, for the budgets, for the additional people in the team, for new tools you want to buy, for strategic initiatives, you will have to fight NOT TO GET additional work sometimes.. Not to mention you will have a tough time when the results become lower than planned, and it will happen by default. You can not avoid those periods. And this is why it is very important to understand all those layers of management within your organization. I would be happy if this made it a bit more clear and feel free to share this with your managers 😊
My final remark
I believe we have to CHANGE the managers' job description. There is just too much work and at majority of those tasks, we (humans) are very bad at. So let’s hope we'll invent some new management roles and models of managing work in the future.
Thanks for sharing, making an impact with your own example and creating a better workplace!
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