Ever since Frederick Winslow Taylor’s efforts in the 1880s, academics have been trying to define the role of managers and identify the key skills and competencies that managers should possess. While there are some consistencies, there are also many variations among academic conceptions of management. The management conceptions of some of the most well respected academics will be discussed, and their variations illustrated.
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In order to implement effective management development (MD), organisations must recognise that management is contingent by nature, and that no single statement about management is applicable to all managers in all organisations. The main implication of this is that MD must be built upon a definition of effective managerial behaviour that is specific to the particular organisation and role. Three major contributors to modern conceptions of management have been Rosemary Stewart, Henry Mintzberg, and John Kotter.
Stewart (1976) studied hundreds of managers and identified the main features of their daily activities. She noted that the daily activities of managers are not organised and predictable, but characterised by brevity, variety, and fragmentation. She found that managers worked at a brisk and continuing pace, with little time for breaks. Mintzberg (1973), who focused his studies on a smaller group of chief executives, found similar patterns but also went on to identify what he believed to be common roles that were split into three groups – interpersonal roles, informational roles, and decisional roles.
Kotter (1982) confirmed the findings of Mintzberg and Stewart but also introduced a new and significant concept – that seemingly inefficient behaviour was sometimes very effective. He found that unplanned and accidental interactions and experiences would often turn out to be useful. One of the patterns that emerges from the research of these three scholars is that the work of managers is mostly unplanned, varied and unpredictable.
This characteristic of managerial work presents a challenge for management development which will be discussed in more detail later. Colin Talbot (1997) conducted a study that aimed to develop a model of different, contradictory, and even paradoxical, trends and approaches to management development. “It is hardly surprising that in combining a disputed process (development) and a contested object of that process (management), the outcome (management development) is perhaps less clear than it could be” (Talbot, 1997, pg 119).
The previous paragraph discussed the nature of managerial work and what it is that managers do, but equally important to management development is the question of what skills and competencies a person needs to be able to do these things and be an effective manager. Despite various attempts, nobody has been able to produce a generic competence framework that applies to all managers in all organisations. Many scholars doubt that this is even possible, especially given the growing diversity of managers (Miller, Rankin ; Neathey, 2001).
One of the key contributors to this area of management theory is Richard Boyatzis. Boyatzis (1982) conducted a comprehensive study involving 2000 managers at different levels of different organisations, and identified 18 competencies that he thought all successful managers have in common. This study sparked a “competency movement” which led to which led to a better understanding of what a manager needs to be able to do.
Boyatzis made an important point that there would be variations on the competencies that managers need in different organisations, and stressed that organisations should develop an understanding of the characteristics that apply to their own organisations. This point has major implications for management development. Having illustrated the various conceptions of management one of the most important conclusions that can be drawn is that managerial work is contingent by nature. There is no “one way” of managing that is superior.
The implication of this for management development is that any development efforts must be tailored to suit the specific organisation and what it is trying to achieve, and cannot be based purely on what applies to other organisations. Mumford ; Gold (2004) insist that having a contingent definition of effective managerial behaviour is one of the key determinants of effective MD. This is illustrated in their “Triangle of Effectiveness,” which also includes “development focused on effectiveness” and “effective learning process” (Mumford ; Gold, 2004, p.
89). For MD to have any purpose in an organisation, it should be linked and driven by the organisation’s strategy (Mumford & Gold, 2004). The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2002) has undertaken extensive research on the subject and has constructed a management development audit (MDA) tool for organisations wishing align their management development efforts with their business performance objectives.
The tool proposes six key steps, and in summary they are: analyse and review the business – identify key business issues/challenges; establish the performance benefits required; consider the organisation and people capability outcomes that will be preconditions for success; agree priorities for action; develop ‘master plans’ that enable resource requirements to be identified; set up processes for how progress will be managed and assessed.
Using resources such as this is a way that organisations can make management development more meaningful and useful for their specific goals and needs. “Enhancing the outcomes of management development is within the hands of the organisations themselves and the way they organise and prioritise their management development processes and systems” (Mabey & Thomson, 2000; p. 12). Management competencies are used to measure management performance. Accurate competency frameworks can be valuable resources for the management development efforts of an organisation.
A competency model describes all of the behaviours, attributes, and skills needed to perform effectively in a specific role. However, for a competency framework to have any useful purpose, it must be accurate in its description of the necessary qualities required for a role. As mentioned earlier, theorists have been unable to construct a generic competency framework that is applicable to all managers, therefore in order to maximise the benefit to MD, competency frameworks must be specifically developed for the intended organisation and role.
Competencies chosen to be in the model should be those that align individual performance to business strategy and desired workplace culture. Briscoe & Hall (1999) explain three different approaches that organisations can use to develop competency frameworks: research-based, which relies on behavioural research on high-performing executives; strategy-based, which forecasts competencies deemed to be strategically important based upon an anticipated future; and values-based, which makes competency selections based upon organisational norms and cultural values.
While each of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages which organisations must consider, it is clear that accurate competency frameworks that are customised for their specific purpose are an important management selection and development tool. Management theorists have been unable to develop a cohesive classification of what makes an effective manager that applies to all managers in all organisations. This is because management is contingent by nature and is largely affected by organisational and role specific circumstances.
This means that in order to implement effective MD, organisations must first develop an understanding of what a manager needs to be able to do to be effective in his specific role. There are various ways organisations can achieve an understanding of their specific needs which have been discussed, including MDAs, and the use of competency frameworks which can be a valuable resource if developed effectively. A contingent understanding of effective managerial behaviour is the foundation upon which an organisation can build effective management development initiatives.