Does It Matter What Managers Do?
After half a century of research, we now have a fair idea of what managers do. This differs both from the “heroic selfimage” idealisation and from the sanitised “management science” idealisation. Despite IT and all the talk of empowerment, management as a profession in its own right is, if anything, becoming more, not less, widespread. What managers do therefore matters simply because so many people are doing “management” as their main role. But does what managers do matter in terms of its effects on the people being managed, and, if so, how? The answer is obviously yes, but the central message of this article is how little we know through systematic research about this – particularly given how much preaching there is on how to do it well.
We now have a reasonably clear picture of what managers do. But does it matter what they do and, if so, why? The cynical, not to say nihilistic, tone of this question should not detract from its importance. Unless we believe that managers’ behaviour is intrinsically interesting or self-evidently relevant, what
Business Strategy Review © London Business School
matters is its effects. Much research has been devoted to organisational structures and to managers’ decisions and decision-making processes, as well as relating performance measures to outcomes that are essentially financial. There is, however, surprisingly little research on the effects of managerial behaviour on the people being managed. Throughout this article, when we refer to the effects of what managers do, it is these effects on the people being managed that we are concerned with. What Do Managers Do? Some Answers Half a century of research has given us a coherent and illuminating body of evidence on what managers do. The activities common to all or most managers are:
Acting as figurehead, representative or point of contact for a work unit. Monitoring and
References: Clark, A. (1961) The Donkeys, London: Pimlico. Dopson, S. and Stewart, R. (1990) What is Happening to Middle Management? British Journal of Management 1(1): 3-16. Drucker, P. (1988) The Coming of the New Organization, Harvard Business Review, Jan/Feb: 4553. Entenman, W.F. (1993) Managerialism: The Emergence of a New Ideology, University of Wisconsin Press. Gordon, D. (1996) Fat and Mean: The Corporate Squeeze of Working Americans and the Myth of Managerial Downsizing, New York: Free Press. Grey, C. (1999) “We Are All Managers Now”; “We Always Were”: On the Development and Demise of Management, Journal of Management Studies 36(5): 561-586. Hales, C.P. (1986) What Do Managers Do? A Critical Review of the Evidence, Journal of Management Studies 23(1): 88-115. Hales, C.P. (1999) Why Do Managers Do What They Do? Reconciling Evidence and Theory in Accounts of Managerial Work, British Journal of Management 10: 335-350. Hales, C.P. (2000) Management and Empowerment Programmes, Work, Employment and Society, 14(3): 501-519. Hales, C.P. (2001) Managing Through Organisation, London: Thomson. Handy, C. (1989) The Age of Unreason, London: Hutchinson. Hecksher, C. and Donnellon, A. (eds) (1994) The PostBureaucratic Organization: New Perspectives on Organizational Change, London: Sage. Hilmer, F.G. and Donaldson, L. (1996) Management Redeemed: Debunking the Fads that Undermine Corporate Performance, Sydney: Free Press. Kanter, R. M. (1989) The New Managerial Work. Harvard Business Review, November/ December: 8592. Koch, R. and Godden, I. (1996) Managing Without Management: A Post-management Manifesto for Business Simplicity, London: Nicholas Brearley. Mintzberg, H. (1998) Covert Leadership: Notes on Managing Professionals, Harvard Business Review, 76(5): 140-147. Pfeffer, J. (1995) Competitive Advantage Through People, Harvard Business School Press. Business Strategy Review