The Manager’s Job:
Folklore and Fact
The classical view says that the manager organizes,
coordinates, plans, and controls; the facts suggest otherwise. Henry Mintzberg
question: What do managers do? Without a proper answer, how
can we teach management? How can we design planning or information systems for managers? How can we improve the practice of management at all?
Henry Mintzberg is the Bronfman Professor of Management at McGill University. His latest book is Mintzberg on Management: Inside Our Strange World of Organizations (Free Press, 1989). This article appeared originally in HBR July–August 1975. It won the McKinsey Award for excellence.
Our ignorance of the nature of managerial work shows up in
various ways in the modern organization—in boasts by successful managers who never spent a single day in a management training program; in the turnover of corporate planners who never quite understood what it was the manager wanted; in the computer
consoles gathering dust in the back room because the managers never used the fancy on-line MIS some analyst thought they
needed. Perhaps most important, our ignorance shows up in the inability of our large public organizations to come to grips with some of their most serious policy problems.
f you ask managers what they do, they will most likely tell
you that they plan, organize, coordinate, and control. Then watch what they do. Don’t be surprised if you can’t relate what you see to these words.
When a manager is told that a factory has just burned down
and then advises the caller to see whether temporary arrangements can be made to supply customers through a foreign subsidiary, is that manager planning, organizing, coordinating, or controlling? How about when he or she presents a gold watch to a retiring employee? Or attends a conference to meet people in the trade and returns with an interesting new product idea for employees to consider?
Somehow, in the rush to automate production, to use management science in the functional areas of marketing and finance, and to apply the skills of the behavioral scientist to the problem of worker motivation, the manager—the person in charge of the organization or one of its subunits—has been forgotten. I intend to break the reader away from Fayol’s words and introduce a more supportable and useful description of managerial work. This description derives from my review and synthesis of research on how various managers have spent their time.
What do managers do?
Even managers themselves
don’t always know.
In some studies, managers were observed intensively; in a
number of others, they kept detailed diaries; in a few studies, their records were analyzed. All kinds of managers were studied—foreman, factory supervisors, staff managers, field sales managers, hospital administrators, presidents of companies and nations, and even street gang leaders. These “managers” worked in the United States, Canada, Sweden, and Great Britain.
These four words, which have dominated management vocabulary since the French industrialist Henri Fayol first introduced them in 1916, tell us little about what managers actually do. At best, they indicate some vague objectives managers have when they work.
The field of management, so devoted to progress and change,
has for more than half a century not seriously addressed the basic
A synthesis of these findings paints an interesting picture, one as different from Fayol’s classical view as a cubist abstract is from a Renaissance painting. In a sense, this picture will be obvious to anyone who has ever spent a day in a manager’s office, either in front of the desk or behind it. Yet, at the same time, this picture throws into doubt much of the folklore that we have accepted about the manager’s work.
Article 3. The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact
planning and delegating and less time seeing customers and engaging in negotiations. These are not, after all, the...
References: 1. All the data from my study can be found in Henry Mintzberg, The Nature of Managerial Work (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).
Reprinted with permission from Harvard Business Review, March/April 1990, pp. 163–176. © 1990 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
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