What do you think you manage?

BLog post 2One of the interesting misconceptions that senior executives have about their job descriptions revolves around what it is they think they manage. During my 20 years of consulting work with senior executives, I have often asked them: “What do you, as managers, ‘manage’?” Their answer, 99% of the time, is “people”.

“Not so,” say I!

“Oh?” they reply.

“What then?” they ask.

“Here’s what people in organisations really manage,” I reply. Staff manage things. Middle managers manage people. Senior managers manage processes. In fact, one could view the hierarchy of management responsibility as shown in Figure 1.

People Who Manage Things

These people are the operators, mechanics, pipefitters and electricians found in a manufacturing company, or the clerks and administrative staff found in a white-collar area or in service industries. Their role is to get things done, to get the product out the door. Operators manage tools and production machines. Administrative people manage computers or ATMs. They attempt to keep these ‘things’ in good working order so that they can obtain the best yield and productivity from them.

People Who Manage People

These people are usually found in the middle section of the pyramid. They are usually referred to as supervisors, foremen, superintendents in a manufacturing environment, or section/department heads. They manage people because it’s their role to schedule employees’ time and shifts of work, handle their workloads, resolve their conflicts, and ensure that they are generally happy in their work. These middle managers are concerned with logistics, scheduling and relationships.

People Who Manage Processes

These people reside at the zenith of the organisation. Contrary to popular belief, these senior managers are not responsible for managing other people but rather for managing processes. Senior executives are responsible for choosing and putting into place the processes, systems, and/or methods that will get the people in an organisation to behave as the organisation wants. These systems include:

Product Development
Test Marketing
Performance Review
Job Classification
I have often said to clients: “if you want to change the behaviour of people, put it into the ‘system’”.

We believe that it’s also management’s responsibility to choose and put into place the thinking processes that they need to use in their organisation. These are the processes of:

Strategic Thinking
Innovative Thinking
Decision Making

An extract from one of DPI’s books ‘Product Innovation Strategy – How Winning Companies Outpace Their Competitors’.