A manager is not a person who can do the work better than her people;
She is a person who can get her people to do the work better than she can. 1
– Frederick W. Smith
A manager is any person who provides directional and operational inputs to several groups of people, and is held accountable for the quality and quantity of their collective output.
The process of management involves the use of knowledge and skill, in the exercise of judgment and decision-making. Judgment may be about reality (assessment of the facts in a situation), or about the value (the significance of those facts).
Managers reside at the third rung of the hierarchy of accountability. They direct the operations of a functional area or regional unit. In doing so, managers are expected to integrate their respective activities with the mission and vision of the larger organization.
Managers navigate the interaction between the situational variables, in order to achieve the planned output. A manager works at peak effectiveness when the overall performance of the work-unit moves close to its full potential.
Managers are tasked with generating progressively increased output from the deployment of minimal resources. They balance and utilize the available resources, and also develop systems, processes, and procedures that enable the most productive accomplishment of work. People development is also an integral feature of managerial work.
Effective operational work-units are marked by a resolve for excellence, tremendous energy, rapid learning and quick-paced problem solving. In practice, these favourable conditions usually occur only when the system is faced with an extraordinary challenge such as the development of a new product offering or the commencement of a new operation. The managerial ideal is to achieve such efficacy even under the normal, day-to-day conditions of organizational functioning.
The Challenges of Managerial Work
Managers solve challenging problems that are usually operational and concrete in nature. Since real-time access to operational data is slowly becoming the norm, managerial performance is closely monitored by senior management.
This reduces the autonomy available to the manager, and adds to the complexity of the work at the same time. The stress and challenge of the managerial role are also increased due to an imbalance between the high expectations and the relatively low degrees of freedom available.
While the supervisors, team leaders and other Stratum II role holders that assist a manager are usually capable and competent, they sometimes work reactively. With increasing levels of professional expertise, these employees also prefer to focus on their narrow individual domains. They display initiative, but only in the areas of their personal interest.
Also, employees often resist managerial efforts to integrate their work with that of their other colleagues due to the unfounded fear of losing autonomy. Further, people typically become defensive when confronted with issues and concerns.
The composite impact of these factors is that the manager needs to unceasingly follow-up with colleagues within and outside the system, in order to secure timely results.
Since the managerial tasks are complex, specialized and inter-related, a diverse group of people comes up with better solutions. Managers must, therefore, co-operate with peers who are in charge of other functions.
Of course, they have also to secure the enthusiastic co-operation of their immediate colleagues in the work unit. This becomes possible only when the individual interests of the people have been synchronized with the collective needs of the function/region in a “win-win” fashion.
Residing as they do at the middle level of the spine of accountability, managers feel squeezed in from all sides. They work with a perennial sense of the “lone ranger” pushing uphill. Despite strenuous efforts, achievements do not come by easily. There persists a significant gap between their potential capacity and the actual performance.
The Development of Managerial Efficacy
Managerial efficacy is the capacity to deliver the optimal output by synergizing between the effective achievement of tasks and the building of constructive relationships. Through the judicious use of all the available inputs, managers help the organization to deliver more with less.
The key to managerial efficacy lies in recognizing that high task productivity is not necessarily in opposition to the development of meaningful relationships. These are complementary values that are actually symbiotic in nature, much like the two sides of the same coin.
An ancient proverb holds that “Whatever we pay attention to, grows”. This perspective is key to the development of a constructive managerial approach. Managers fully leverage the available strengths and talents. Successes are celebrated, before the manager moves to resolve any outstanding issues and concerns. The managerial goal of optimization is achieved through an active progression across a three-step cycle of stakeholder engagement. The stages are named as Affirmation, Amalgamation, and Accomplishment.
The Managerial Efficacy Framework
The three stages of Affirmation, Amalgamation, and Accomplishment operate concurrently across the affective, cognitive and behavioural dimensions of the human personality.
On the cognitive plane, the individual sense of purpose (a desire to achieve something important and satisfying) gets crystallized into a common goal (a measurable end result) that culminates in the development of aplan (a forward-looking process of deciding in advance what, when, where, how and by whom things are to be done).
At the behavioural level, managerial efficacy progresses through the identification of strength (a natural capacity for behaving or thinking in a particular way) that determines the appropriate assignment of individual roles (the function that each person performs within the group as a whole) that eventually results into achievement (carrying an initiative through to successful completion).
With respect to the affective dimension, managerial efficacy commences with the articulation of individual values (fundamental principles that act as the yardstick by which particular actions are judged as appropriate). These shape the development of progressive norms (shared beliefs that indicate acceptable ways for people to interact and behave in a social setting), leading to optimization (the process or methodology of progressively making a system or decision as perfect as possible).
Articulating a meaningful sense of purpose is the starting point of the managerial journey. Appropriate role allocation, which requires the selection of the right person for the right job, is the crux of the managerial endeavor. Optimization of results is the summum bonum of managerial accountability.
The Affirmation Phase
In the Affirmation Phase, individual colleagues are acknowledged, regarded and respected as human beings in their own right. Managers explore the best of “what is”, through affirmative conversations around the strengths, values, and sense of purpose of each of their direct reports, within the overall context of the organizational mission and vision.
The intent is to discover the unique facets that characterize the individual’s personality, and also develop an emotional connection with the colleague. People report a feeling of stimulation, excitement, and delight at being provided with a chance to articulate and share their personal aspirations, values, and peak experiences with a fellow human being.
Strength is the natural capacity for behaving, thinking or feeling in a way that allows for optimal functioning in the pursuit of valued outcomes. 2
Strength is in evidence when a specialnatural ability or aptitude is combined with associated knowledge and skills, so as to yield consistent, near-perfect performance in an activity. 3
People experience stimulation, rather than exhaustion, when using their strengths. Further, people grow most in the areas of their greatest strength.
Value is any instrumental principle, code, belief or ideal that a person considers emotionally significant, and as an end in itself. Collectively, values refer to a set of consistent principles and fundamental convictions that constitute the standard by which particular actions are judged as good, appropriate or desirable. 4
Values represent a person’s enduring beliefs about how things should be accomplished. 5They are the cognitive and affective processes that help people to decide what to do, or not do. In this manner, values are the deep-seated, pervasive standards that set the parameters for human decision-making.
Values are also a social agreement about what is right, appropriate and good. They enable the self-regulation of impulses that would otherwise bring individuals in conflict with the society. Values help to facilitate the interpersonal interactions that enable individuals to achieve collective goals in a social system.
A sense of purpose is a generalized intention to accomplish something that is meaningful to the self, and is also of consequence to the world beyond. 6 It is about recognizing and fulfilling one’s highest potential. A clear sense of purpose keeps people motivated, provides them with energy and confidence, and facilitates coping with difficult circumstances.
Every human being is driven by an internal sense of purpose, which may be about what she wants to do or the kind of person she wants to become. A sense of purpose helps the person to find a direction in life, while its absence can leave one in a rudderless and confused state.
The Amalgamation Phase
The term “amalgamation” refers to the act of helping a group of individuals to join together into an organic whole, without sacrificing their sense of individuality. This is similar to a set of luminous stars coming together to form a majestic galaxy.
The manager helps to crystallize the individual and collective achievements that her colleagues aspire for. Sharedwork goals are formulated, within the context of the organizational mandate. Individual abilities and competencies determine the allocation of specific roles that individuals must play towards achieving the common mandate. An alignment of strengths results in the creation of collective capability, such that individual weaknesses become irrelevant.
The manager also works to create standards of conduct that people agree to commonly abide by. A set of implicit or explicit norms of behaviour and performance are formulated, in order to guide individual conduct in different situations.
A goal is an observable and measurable end result that is comprised of one or more objectives to be achieved, within a relatively fixed timeframe. 7
A goal describes what the work-unit is striving to accomplish, and why. It helps people to connect their everyday work with the larger organizational mission.
A true goal has four essential characteristics. Firstly, it reflects the core purpose of the work unit. Secondly, it is compatible with the requirements and expectations of the workgroup’s internal customers. Thirdly, the goal is commensurate with the internal capabilities of the workgroup. Finally, the goal is challenging enough to stretch and draw the people out of their comfort zones.
In social structures, every individual is required to perform a certain function. This is known as the role that is played by the person. The best way to structure the functioning of a human system is to assign unique roles to each member. Each person then knows what to expect from one’s own self, as well as from the other colleagues.
Research has consistently found that the difference between the success and failure of a group is not so much a function of individual talent. The efficacy of a team depends more saliently upon the balance of the roles that are collectively played by its members. Roles may be assigned based on the individual strengths of the unit members, or may be rotated periodically.
If a role does not allow the person to use her competence, it shall be less effective. On the other hand, a person must have the requisite knowledge, skills and the capability required for the role. Role efficacy comes about when the person is able to contribute to the evolution of the role.
Norms are a set of shared beliefs that indicate acceptable ways for people to interact and behave in a social setting. Group Norms are the (usually) unwritten codes that create expectations, set standards, and provide guidelines with respect to the acceptable behavior. 8
Norms are different from rules. While rules are imposed and mandatory, norms are voluntarily agreed upon. Rules draw clear lines, while norms have a wide range of acceptability. Nevertheless, norms usually provide explicit cues towards how people may get the job done, what their level of output should be, and even the acceptable level of tardiness. 9
Most norms develop in one or more of four ways: (a) explicit statements by supervisors or co-workers; (b) critical events in the group’s history; (c) primacy, or by virtue of their introduction early in the group’s history; and (d) carryover behaviors from past situations.
The Accomplishment Phase
Accomplishment relates to the completion of something in an admirable and agile manner.
The Accomplishment Phase thus commences with detailed planning that facilitates the achievement of aims and objectives, followed by the iterative refinement and optimization of the work activities.
The manager begins by creating a detailed plan for achieving the articulated objectives. This includes defining the deliverables, measures, cost and quality standards, timelines, strategy, and the operational tactics. The progress made towards its implementation is closely monitored. This facilitates the achievement of stipulated goals. Systems and procedures are then analyzed, modified or redesigned so as to progressively optimize the performance of the work-unit.
Planning is a forward-looking process of deciding in advance what, when, where, how and by whom things are to be done. It helps to bridge the gap between the present state and the desired future.
The primary step in planning is to establish definite and measurable objectives. Then, the major premises or situational assumptions upon which the plan is based are specified. The next process is to determine several alternative courses of action, and then evaluate these for optimality.
The penultimate step is to select a course of action from among the different options. The timing and sequence of activities are carefully arranged, such that priority is given to critical tasks. Finally, the plan is communicated to stakeholders within and outside the work unit.
Planning is instrumental towards proper resource utilization.
Achievement refers to the act of carrying an initiative through to successful completion. It involves doing the “right” things as (usually) defined by an external standard. Achievement requires the organizing, harmonizing, and monitoring of multiple resources and efforts, as well as paying careful attention to “detail” without losing sight of the “big picture.”
Organizing alludes to the act of arranging and systematizing elements, activities, and procedures. It is the process of bringing together all the required resources for the achievement of desired goals.
Harmonizing refers to the facilitation of constructive relationships amongst the people, such that they are able to leverage the collective strengths in the service of goal attainment.
Monitoring implies the regular measurement of delivered performance against the standards. Keeping a close track of the actual activities allows for the deviations to be spotted and swiftly rectified.
Optimization is the act, process, or methodology of making a design, system, or decision as perfect and functional as possible. 10 It is concerned with leveraging the existing resources to their highest potential, in order to facilitate the maximization of output.
Optimization results from the concurrent maximization of resource efficiency (input/output ratio), effectiveness (match between the actual and intended outcome) and utilization (available time versus the duration of actual deployment). 11 The efforts of all the systemic components are combined, and their effects are orchestrated, in order to obtain the targeted output.
Optimization helps to improve the overall product and service delivery in a tangible and sustainable way. The associated costs are reduced at the same time. The goal of any optimization initiative is to obtain the best results possible, subject to any imposed restrictions.
In practice, there is a continuous and iterative interplay between the three dimensions of Plan-Achieve-Optimize. This is because all three of them are concerned with the actual execution of the organizational intentions. In modern times, agility is the key to successful execution.
Managerial agility is the strategic and operational capacity of a manager or an organizational system to identify, capture and service the opportunities more quickly than others do. It is a way of constructively utilizing external and internal dynamism, in the service of organizational success.
Agility represents the ability to quickly transform information into insight, in response to external movements. It mandates the reduction in the cycle time for managerial action. This can be broken down into three components: a) sense, b) decide, and c) respond.
“Sense” refers to how long it takes to register a change in needs or conditions. “Decide” is concerned with how long it takes to make a decision. “Respond” refers to the length of time that is required to make the necessary change, and thereafter validate the outcome of the change.
Agility is broadly marked by six characteristics: a) 24×7 availability, b) qualitative out-performance, c) proactive anticipation of changes and crises, d) speed of response, and e) causing minimal disruption, and f) continued communication and teamwork.
- Frederick W. Smith Quotes [Internet]. BrainyQuote. [cited 25 June 2018]. Available from: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/frederick_w_smith_201583
- Linley P, Harrington S. Playing to your strengths. The Psychologist. 2006;19(2):86-89.
- Buckingham M, Clifton D. Now, Discover Your Strengths. London: Pocket Books; 2005.
- Halstead, J. M,Taylor, M. J. The development of values, attitudes, and personal qualities: A review of recent research. Slough: NFER; 2000.
- Kouzes J, Posner B. The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in Organizations. 5th ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2012
- Damon W, Menon J, Cotton Bronk K. The Development of Purpose During Adolescence. Applied Developmental Science. 2003;7(3):119-128.
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- Robbins S, De Cenzo D, Coulter M, Woods M. Management: the Essentials. New South Wales: Pearson; 2014.
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