Week 1 What do managers do? Readings 1 and 2

Reading 1 – Chapter 1: What do managers actually do? What do managers actually do?


Management is the planning, organising, leading and controlling of human and other resources to achieve organisational goals efficiently and effectively.

As a new manager, you may feel that you are responding to a range of demands (being reactive) without being in as much control of your work as you would like. 

One of the most well-known definitions of what management is and what mangers do was given by Henri Fayol, a French mining engineer, in a book on management published in 1916. He defined management as a process involving:

  • forecasting and planning,
  • organising,
  • commanding (leading),
  • coordinating,
  • controlling.

The most effective way to measure your managerial effectiveness is how well you help your organisation achieve its aims and objectives. Therefore it is very important that as a manager you know the goals of your organisation and what is expected of you. 

Among many, we will consider two approaches to explaining the purpose of a job:

  1. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Setting KPIs is often an organisation-wide process and one version of this process is Management by Objectives. Management by Objectives aims to identify key areas in a person’s work and to set targets against which his/her performance (or effectiveness) may be measured. 

Peter Drucker, a well-known writer on management, suggests that effective managers follow the same eight practices. They:

  1. ask “what needs to be done”,
  2. ask “what is right for the enterprise”,
  3. develop action plans,
  4. take responsibility for decisions,
  5. take responsibility for communicating,
  6. focus on opportunities,
  7. run productive meetings,
  8. think and say “we” rather than “I”.

The first two practices give managers the knowledge they need. The next four help them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensure that the whole team or organisation feels responsible and accountable. 

At least four sets of factors influence your managerial effectiveness:

  1. You: your knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and experience.
  2. Your job: how well are your skills, experience, etc matched with your job?
  3. The people you work with. One measure of managerial effectiveness is the extent to which a manager can motivate people and coordinate their efforts to achieve optimum performance. 
  4. Your organisation. How the organisation is structured and your position in it affect your authority and your responsibilities, and impose constraints on what you are able to achieve. 

Effectiveness, then, does not come from just learning a few management techniques. Though techniques are important and necessary, it will be influenced by the factors mentioned above. 


  1. Do you feel that you are responding to demands instead of being in control?
    1. Yes, I do feel like that most of the time. 
  2. Do you follow any of Drucker’s eight practices of effective managers?
    1. I think I follow few of them. But now that I see them now, I will be actively thinking about them on a daily basis. 
  3. How much do you think your effectiveness depends on you, your role, the people you work with and your organisation?
    1. A lot. I find that I spend most of my time trying to motivate a team of unmotivated or immature developers and I also feel limited by the structure of the department. 
  4. How important is each of these four elements in the effectiveness equation?
    1. I think they are all equally important as they each can substantially affect the outcome of your work. 

Reading 2 – Chapter 1: What do managers actually do? Your job


In an article in the Harvard Business Review untitled ‘What effective managers really do’, John P. Kotter found that effective managers spend 70% or more of their time in the company of other people, sometimes with outsiders who seem to be unimportant. They hold lots of brief conversations on seemingly inconsequential matters, often unconnected with work, and they do a lot of joking. They ask many questions but rarely seem to make any ‘big’ decisions during their conversations. They seldom tell people what to do. Instead, they ask, request, persuade and sometimes even intimidate.

Kotter says this behaviour is ‘less systematic, more informal, less reflective, more reactive, less well-organised, and more frivolous’ than a student of management would ever expect. However, he says the behaviour can be explained. He suggests that the two main dilemmas in most senior managers job are:

  • working out what to do despite uncertainty, great diversity, and an enormous amount of potentially relevant information,
  • getting things done through a large and diverse set of people despite having little direct control over most of them. 

Thus, the seemingly pointless and inefficient behaviour is, in fact, an efficient and effective way of:

  • gathering up-to-the-minute information on which to base decisions,
  • building network of human relationships (networks that are often very different from the formal organisation structure) to enable them to get their decisions implemented. 

Besides Kotter’s explanation and various others, there are two to other ways to make sense of the manager’s job::

The ‘job description’ approach:

One way of gaining a clearer picture of what you do as a manager would  be to list all your activities (not your role) in a giant description table. Example: Make forecasts, prepare plans, schedule activities, etc. 

The role of a manager:

Henry Mintzberg in 1971, studied a number of Chief executives and concluded that managerial work had the following six characteritics:

  1. The manager performs a great quantity of work at an unrelenting pace.
  2. Managerial activity is characterised by variety, fragmentation and brevity.
  3. Managers prefer issues that are current, specific and ad hoc.
  4. The manager sits between his organisation and a network of contacts.
  5. The manager shows a strong preference for verbal communication. 
  6. Despite his heavy obligations, the manager appears to be able to control his own affairs. 

Mintzberg identified 10 different roles into which he was able to fit all the activities he observed. He grouped the 10 roles under three broader headings on the grounds that, whatever they were doing, they were doing invariably doing one of three things: 1) making decisions, 2) processing information, or 3) engaging in interpersonal contact. 

  • Interpersonal roles:
    • Figurehead: they are figureheads because of their formal authority and symbolic position representing the organisation.
    • Leader: they have to consider the needs of an organisation and those of the individuals they manage and work with.
    • Liaison: this role deals with the ‘horizontal’ relationships which studies of work activity have been shown as important for a manager. 
  • Informational roles:
    • Monitor: they monitor what goes on in the organisation, and seek and receive information about both internal and external events
    • Disseminator: they transmit the information collected to others. 
    • Spokesperson: A manager has to give information concerning the organisation to staff and outsiders. 
  • Decisional roles:
    • According to Mintzberg, making decisions is the most crucial part of any managerial activity, and the four roles are:
    • Entrepreneur: managers make decisions about changing what is happening in an organisation. They may have to initiate change and take an active part in deciding exactly what is done – they are proactive. 
    • Disturbance handler: manager make decisions arising from events that are beyond their control and which are unpredictable. 
    • Resource allocator: this role is central to much organisational analysis. A manager has to make decisions about the allocation of money, equipment, people, time and other resources. In doing so a manager is actually scheduling time, programming work and authorising actions. 
    • Negotiator: the manager has to negotiate with others and in the process be able to make decisions about the commitment of organisational resources. 

All the above roles will not be equally present in any one manager and one might be more dominant depending on the job and time. 

 To do:

As you read, consider the main day-to-day tasks in which you are engaged. Then take note of how Mintzberg categorises managerial activities into roles.

  • Which roles are dominant in your job, or do you perform them equally?
    • Currently the dominant roles in my job are resource allocator, disturbance handler, entrepreneur, negotiator, figurehead, and leader. The remaining roles are less significant at this point. 
  • Are there any roles that you don’t perform?
    • The information roles are limited to internal communications with the employees that I manage and work with. No external communication. 

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