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How should managers ‘get things done

I always find it interesting that participants attending a Management Development Programme (and specifically the General Management module) always ask the same question: “How should I get things done in my organisation?” The question normally arouses lively discussion and participation in the group. Although they always mention the obvious, such as managerial competency, roles and managerial functions, they hardly ever refer to the importance of managers’ approaches as a means of getting things done.

Since the Second World War, researchers have tried to find answers to questions such as: ‘Who are managers?’, ‘Where do they work?’, ‘What do they do?’ and ‘How do they get things done?’, and their research findings have been published in numerous journals and books on management. Based on their findings, a working definition of management could be described as ‘a process of getting things done through and with people to achieve specific goals’. The process of management also refers to the transformation of resources (people, finance, raw material and equipment information and technology), through planning, organising, leading and controlling, to performances, the final product or service rendered. However, in Reinventing Management, Birkinshaw argues that although the concept of management has stood the test of time it should be reinvented and given new meaning.

The management approach
In addition to being equipped with specific management skills, roles and competencies, managers have to be able to get things done by using a specific management approach. But, which management approach will be the best to get things done in any business or organisation? Will it be one of the classical approaches, for example the scientific, process, quantitative or bureaucratic management approach? If this is the case, the focus could be placed on the product or task performed without taking the person performing the task or function into consideration. If the focus is on the behavioural management approaches only, it could create a situation where too much emphasis is placed on the people and their well-being, but the productivity might be low. This situation could lead to high morale and low productivity in the business. The contemporary management approaches could contribute towards a more balanced understanding of how an organisation or business functions.  

An inclusive combination
It is clear that there is no one fit-for-all management approach to be used for the aim of efficiency in business. Rather, a combination of the above-mentioned management approaches should be applied. In doing so, one takes cognisance of the situations, circumstances and competition in which the organisation or business functions – and one achieves an inclusive combination in terms of both the task to be performed and the people performing the tasks and functions. 

As a matter of fact, programme participants engage enthusiastically during discussions and practical sessions related to this combination of management approaches to resolve management challenges in class. They accept the challenge to describe a ‘new’ or more contemporary management approach in their assignments, based on a combination of the classical, behavioural and contemporary management approaches. What is encouraging is that they seldom describe the same combination of management approaches. On the contrary, they succeed in identifying and describing different combinations of management approaches to ‘get things done’ in their organisations or businesses in the ever-changing management environment. 

In fact, Drucker already in 1973 predicted that management’s slogan for the late 20th century would be “that the management boom is over; the time for management performance has arrived”.  By implementing a new combination of management approaches, the management performance of managers should improve and this new combination of management approaches could contribute towards reinventing management – a challenge also illuminated by Birkinshaw. 

Dr Liano Greybe is a facilitator on USB-ED’s Management Development and Senior Management Development Programmes. His areas of expertise include General Management, Business Management and Business Strategy.

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