Mintzberg and his analysis from observation of managerial work (updating from 1916 to 1971)
After a weekend at a hectic pace, I want to recall a comment to my last post by my fellow blogger David, an economist from Barcelona. I was talking of management and he referred to an analysis made by Mintzberg in October 1971. This analysis was important in its moment because it wided the scope on management and addressed the problem of defining what a manager really was.
Minzberg started out with from Henry Fayol’s first definition of manager dated from 1916: managers plan, organise, coordinate and control. Mitzberg wanted to test if that 50-year-old definition still stood.
He decided to conduct a research study seeking to identify what managers actually did.
He used a method he called structured observation: he observed for one week periods the whereabouts of executives from five organisations, ranging from middle-sized to large: a consulting firm, a school, a technology firm, a consumer goods manufacturer and a hospital.
The results are still interesting 36 years later. I’ll write about my interpretation in the next post, right now I just want to make them available to you.
These are the characteristics that Mintzberg identified for managers:
- The manager performs a great quantity of work at an unrelenting pace. That means no rest at all and no scape from a managerial mindset, even during off hours. They’re always managers, seeking for new opportunities.
- Managerial activity is characterised by variety, fragmentation and brevity. He observed that managers preferred low-duration tasks and even encouraged interruption. They even alternated trivial and significant activity with no identifiable pattern.
- Managers prefer issues that are current, specific and ad hoc. The non-programmed issues went straight forward and the routine reports were left behind. There was a preference for everything out-of-family and new interesting or unexpected things. Not a lot of attention for the weekly report though.
- The manager sits between his organisation and a network of contacts. The idea of networking is not new at all. Mintzberg already observed its importance 36 years ago. They were also nodes in a great network, sometimes linked to busier nodes they relied upon.
- The manager demonstrates a strong preference for the verbal media. He observed how the documents that finally made it to the managers were highly routinised, so they relied more upon verbal forms of communications such as informal chats and structured meetings, where there was an important flow of informal communication too.
- Despite the preponderance of obligations the manager appears to be able to control his own affairs. Apparently, specially from a formal point of view, the manager would be moving towards completing requests from others, but in fact, he exploits those situations towards his goals, transforming problems into chances. (If he is not engulfed by them)
About the roles a manager takes he identified a few interpersonal roles:
- figurehead: as a symbol, both inside and outside the organisation
- leader: related to their subordinates, the leadership role
- liaison: putting in contact separated parts of the organisation
- disseminator: transferring information within and with other organisations
- nerve center: connecting the different parts of the organisation, by formal and informal channels, and interchanging defined and also ambiguous information
- disseminator: in this case referring to communication from the top down. Values, ideas, preferences to the organisation.
- spokesman: from the organisation to outside.
And decisional roles, related to strategy-making:
- entrepreneur, the manager as an initiator and an instrument of change in his organisation.
- disturbance handler, this is not focused on voluntary change but on changes, sometimes contingencies or even emergencies, that just appear and need to be handled.
- resource allocator in several ways: his own work, his subordinates’ work, the organisation resources. That means a wide range of activities: from delegating, designing the structure of work, to supervising or authorising relevant decisions. (Even deciding what’s relevant and what’s not)
- negotiator, inferred from his different roles in the organisation, he will have to negotiate (inside the organisation, outwards with the different stakeholders, and so on)
And about the task of preparing managers, he held an opinion not very different than the one exposed in the previous post that he still holds today: the manager can learn more about his roles in the organisation, those that are exposed above, by means of reviewing all of them and trying to improve the way they are performed, improving his skills and acquiring new ones. He didn’t explicitly said so but his practical approach to the subject was an indication that a lot of practice would be needed for a manager before attaining new skills.