What Is Management?

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Congratulations! You made it to the point in your career when you are managing other people now. Now What? Going from an individual contributor to managing other is a huge leap. Bridging that gap is no small feat. So, here we are, trying to help make that happen.

First things first –

What is management?

The fast definition is that management is an arbitrary, fluid combination of art and science with a goal of getting others to engage in tasks that lead the whole group to some objective. Satisfied? Of course not. That’s an underwhelming answer that doesn’t really help anything. To really nail down what management is, we need to establish more context, dive into more depth, and then come back to a more satisfying definition. There are not shortcuts to success as a manager.

Management dates back to antiquity; it’s one of the oldest activities known to human beings. The ability to organize a group of people to work together was a significant reason early humans survived in harsh environments around the world. Farmers, families, religious groups, and militaries, as a few examples, all require coordinated efforts to operate together. Looking backwards, we can observe ancient recordings of management theory, e.g. Egyptians limiting the number of people a single master could control (roughly 200 in total) during the building of the Great Pyramids, Hammurabi’s Code detailing how a person ought to behave (and subsequent consequences for misbehavior) circa 1750 BCE. However, for our purposes, we’ll start a little closer to modern times. We’ll dive into the history of management starting in the early 1900’s. The value in understanding the foundations of management comes from the fact that solving problems is easy, but implementing the solutions is much harder. To change the way someone behaves or change the way someone operates takes a great deal of management skill.

A list of things that managers do:

Make sure the activities people in the business are engaging in are in line with what the company does.

Make sure the amount of money coming into the business is more than going out.

Make sure that the number of people, dollars, and other resources needed to provide the service or product that your company offers are in line.

Physical product companies require managing inventory.

Coach people to be better at their jobs.

Help people understand what their health insurance and retirement benefits actually are. (or move this to HR if there is an option)

Make sure people are doing what they were hired to do. Upholding basics like showing up on time and not spending all day on facebook.

Measure things. revenue, costs, KPIs etc.

Measure individuals and hold them to a standard. Fire those that do not meet standards.

Hire people when there are not enough people there.

Weigh and Value everyone’s opinions.

Client management. Clean up client issues that people on your team created.

Be available before and after work hours in case someone is sick or has some kind of issue pop up that will affect work.

Make sure everyone on your team is getting along; conflict resolution is a big one.

Celebrate birthdays. Celebrate wins.

Discipline those who need to be disciplined. Those who are late or not performing well. Those who made some kind of bad decision.

Uphold a level playing field for everyone. no picking favorites.

Find ways to make the business run more smoothly. New processes. remove processes. new product lines. eliminate product lines.

Be an economic savant. Know how macro trends effect your business. What about local laws and changes.

Come up with ways to compete with other businesses in your market

Collaborate and work with other departments.

Manage projects.

Manage risk. economic risk, personnel risk, product risk, etc.

Now, to take a look at what some great thinkers who came before us have defined management as:

Henri Fayol: there are five elements of management;

  1. Planning – Generating action plans to meet desired goals
  2. Organizing – Ensuring there are enough resources (people and equipment) to meet goals
  3. Commanding – Identifying what needs to be done and getting others to do it
  4. Coordinating – Keeping everyone and everything operating towards the goal
  5. Controlling – Making sure progress has kept up with the plan

Mary Parker Follet: “The art of getting things done through people”

Peter Drucker: “Management is a multi-purpose organ that manages business and manages managers and manages workers and work.”

Andy Grove: “As a middle manager, you are in effect a chief executive of an organization yourself… As a micro CEO, you can improve your own and your group’s performance and productivity, whether or not the rest of the company follows suit.”

So, now is it crystal clear what management is? Unfortunately, the answer is still no. The answer is no because it depends heavily on your exact role within your specific company. To really define mangement, you’ll need to do some homework. Start with this:

The purpose of my company is to: _________________________________________________

The purpose of my department is to: _________________________________________________

The purpose of my team is to: _________________________________________________

My purpose on this team is to: _________________________________________________

The specific things I can measure are: _________________________________________________

The squishy stuff I am responsible for is: _________________________________________________

Now, you might be tempted to go back to the beginning and adopt a clever expression, like “management is the function of coordinating people and resources to meet a specified objective” but that won’t help much in your day to day.

To get a definition that really helps you focus your day to day work, combine the above homework with the below:

Today, the best use of our time is to: _________________________________________________

By doing _________________________________________________, we will make progress on our goal.

The people on my team need _________________________________________________ to hit their goals.

I can support the people on my team by doing _________________________________________________.

If the purposes defined above are in line with the action items defined here, you will find yourself with a much clearer definition of your role as a manager. What is hard, though, is that tomorrow, and next week and next month, this will be different. Management is fluid. It’s a constant changing of ideas, actions, contexts, etc. Take this exercise, though, and revisit it every 5-10 days until you have it down enough to do in your head.

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