Managers manage people and processes. Management is the method by which they do so. However, these simple definitions belie the complexity of a manager’s role.
An examination of the management literature reveals a variety of constructs designed to allow an analysis of the functions of management and the roles of managers who perform the management task. These constructs can be broadly categorised into technical processes (with a scientific basis) and social processes (with a human relations basis).
This essay examines the technical and social processes of management by firstly defining each of the processes. This is followed by a discussion of the implications for practising managers of the relationships between the two.
It is argued that the best approach to management involves consideration of both the technical and the social processes of management and that neither is fully effective without the other. The role of the modern manager is to manage these two processes, and the interaction between them, simultaneously, and adapt for the context in which the interactions occur.
The technical processes of management are based around the metaphor of an organisation as a machine. Bolman and Deal (2003, p. 41) present four ‘frames’ or cognitive lenses to enable examination of situations from more than one angle. In this context, technical processes are the Bolman and Deal ‘structural frame’ through which the organisation is viewed as an environment based on management science, where rules, policies and procedures co-ordinate activities. Technical processes are exemplified by the classical management perspective (Davidson, Griffin, & Baxter, 2006, pp. 38-43) which advocates that the organisation can be engineered to be more efficient, just like a machine. Similarly, the quantitative management perspective (Davidson et al., pp. 49-50) is concerned with applying quantitative techniques to management and is also underpinned by a scientific or technical base. Many common management theories appear to have a technical basis or component.
Examples of technical processes abound perhaps because their logical, scientific nature is easy to define, to understand and to research. One such commonly used theory is management by objectives (MBO), coined in the 1950s by Peter Ducker (Cole, 2005, p. 30). In MBO, organisational objectives are created at a macro level them broken down into individual objectives by a process of distillation through the management structure. The purist engineer in this instance will be delighted to see every division and department and individual in the company with a set of tasks aligned to the company goals and will assume then that the parts of the machine will operate in unison towards the common goals. Managers consider that MBO will convert the ‘messy world of management’ of which Thomas (2003, pp. 2-4) writes to a well-ordered world through a process of segmentation. Just as technical processes present an ordered view of the organisation, they also provide a sound framework for internal and external communication of direction. The astute manager can use MBO to demonstrate to an individual how their task or work area is contributing to the greater good of the organisation. However without regard for psychological readiness of management within the organisation MBO may well fail (West, 1977, p. 33).
In contrast to the machine metaphor of technical processes, social processes are based around the metaphor of the organisation as a family or a jungle or a carnival (Bolman & Deal, 2003, pp. 14-15). These processes deal with the interactions between individuals. Bolman & Deal refer to these social processes under three of their four frames. Firstly, a ‘human resource frame’ has individuals as a focus and the challenge is to tailor the organisation to them. Second is a ‘political frame’ through which ‘bargaining, negotiation, coercion and compromise are a normal part of everyday life’. The third...
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