Unlocked subscriber content: Time for focus on management and getting things done pt1

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Written by Steve Macaulay on 23 September 2020 in Features
Features

In the first of a two-parter for subscribers, Steve Macaulay looks at effective management for the future. 

Delivering the goods and sound management have had a lot of attention recently during the pandemic. In the retail sector, solid management skills have been required to meet significantly changed customer needs, whether they are huge new demand for toilet rolls or pasta, in-store or online, and keep the business on track.

Widespread critical attention has been focused on the millions of pounds spent and delivered on PPE, drugs, equipment and testing processes. Out of the bright lights of publicity, hospitals have handled major capacity, resources and staffing challenges with understated expertise. All thanks to in-depth management experience and skill, even though at the same time facing enormous pressure and stress.

To ensure delivery of products and services, you need good forecasting, planning, logistics, and supply chain management skills, for example. This article is about management in particular: I believe many have simply forgotten what a critical role that management plays.

Middle managers are often quiet implementers of new ideas, developing creative improvements ‘below the radar’, and assisting others to put good ideas into action.

It will focus on setting out the important skills of management and getting things done, an area sometimes neglected in favour of more appealing leadership strategies and visions.

The pressures on managers

There is certainly plenty of need to respond successfully in today’s unpredictable, tough times. New methods and approaches may well need to be implemented as managers try to continue to work effectively in changed circumstances in the future.

In delivering a product or service, managers may be subject to many pressures and they therefore need a robust understanding of the principles and practices of management. But middle managers are often quiet implementers of new ideas, developing creative improvements ‘below the radar’, and assisting others to put good ideas into action.

Research suggests middle managers in particular are facing huge pressures, such as unpredictable work patterns, long hours, tight deadlines against time pressures and squeezing more from limited resources.

What support do managers need? Managers frequently mention good communication, timely business information, streamlined decision-making, information-sharing which not constrained by organisational barriers; good teamwork, and adequate resources.

 

There is a case to be made to strengthen the role of managers and giving them more discretion, yet in many organisations management jobs are being cut.

Managing is not by algorithm

One of the founding fathers of management, Henri Fayol, a century ago, said that a manager’s key task is to plan, organise, co-ordinate, command and control.

For effective management, an essential part of getting things done is to define operationally what resources, capabilities and processes are required to achieve results, then monitoring, measuring and delivering the results. Especially critical today, operational plans need to be highly tuned to adapt to changing customer needs.

It is a key management skill to apply the right elements in the right direction to achieve results. In a research study of middle managers, managers often had no administrative assistance, support staff were often part-time, and those services were likely to be shared by several managers.

Core management skills are not static, they require flexibility and attention to organisational culture, individual and group attitudes and motivations as well as active management of measures and processes.

Good management shows in business results

The London School of Economics and consultants McKinsey published an insightful major study in 2005 on management practices, and how these differ between sectors and countries. Their aim was to demonstrate that best management practice did make a difference to bottom line performance - even in such sectors as healthcare. 

They divided management practices into four main areas and posed these central questions:

  • Shop-floor operations. Have companies adopted both the letter and the spirit of agility and improvement?
  • Performance monitoring. How well do companies track what goes on inside their organisations?
  • Target setting. Do companies set the right targets and track the right outcomes?
  • Incentive setting and people priorities. Are organisations hiring, developing and keeping the right people and providing them with the environment to succeed?

The study concluded that sound management was directly correlated with business results and that poor management showed in poorer outcomes.(Sound management was measured using a total of 18 defined management practices and business results were those with measurably higher levels of productivity, profitability, growth rates and market values).

Subscribers can read the second part later this week.

 

About the author

Steve Macaulay is an associate at Cranfield University’s centre for executive development; he can be contacted by email on: s.macaulay@cranfield.ac.uk.

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