Henry Mintzberg Mintzberg on Management

ISBN 13: 9780029213711

Mintzberg on Management

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9780029213711: Mintzberg on Management

In this exploration of the function of management, the author focuses on how companies work, challenging traditional assumptions from a "grass roots" point of view. He answers questions such as "how do organizations function and structure themselves?", "how do their power relationships develop and their goals form?" and "by what processes do managers make important strategic decisions?". He shows how the elements for successful business strategy is rarely born in solitary contemplation suggesting that they often come together in the heat of battle. The author is co-winner of the McKensey Award for the best Harvard Business Review article for 1987.

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About the Author:

Henry Mintzberg is Bronfman Professor of Management at McGill University and is president of the Strategic Management Society. He is also a two-time winner of the McKinsey Award for the best Harvard Business Review article. His first McKinsey Award recognized "The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact," published in 1975, and in 1987 Mintzberg received his second McKinsey Award for "Crafting Strategy."

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

THE MANAGER'S JOB
Folklore and Fact

When we think of organization, we think of management. Of course, there is a great deal more to organizations than managers and the management systems they create. But what distinguishes the formal organization from a random collection of people -- a mob, an informal group -- is the presence of some system of authority and administration, personified by one manager or several in a hierarchy to knit the whole effort together.

That being the case, and given the love affair the American people in particular have had with the manager for more than a century, from Horatio Alger to Lee lacocca, it is surprising how little study there has been of what managers actually do. Like thousands of other students at the time, I took an MBA, a degree ostensibly designed to train managers, without questioning the fact that no one ever discussed in a serious way what managers really did. Imagine a program in medicine without ever a comment on the work of the doctor.

There has certainly been no shortage of material on what managers should do (for example, follow a whole set of simple prescriptions called "time management" or use computers in the ways recommended by detached technical specialists). Unfortunately, in the absence of any real understanding of managerial work, much of this advice has proved false and wasteful. How can anyone possibly prescribe change in a phenomenon so complex as managerial work without first having a deep comprehension of it?

In the mid-1960s, James Webb, who ran NASA, wanted to be studied. NASA felt the need to justify its existence by spinning off practical applications of its innovations, and Webb counted its management processes among those innovations. Webb raised the idea with a professor of mine at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and since I was the only doctoral student then studying management there (as opposed to computer systems or mathematical models or motivating people, etc.), he approached me to study Webb as my doctoral thesis. I declined what seemed to be a crazy idea. This was MIT, after all, the bastion of science. Sitting in a manager's office and writing down what he did all day just didn't seem quite right. (Another professor had told me earlier that what an MIT doctoral thesis had to be above all was "elegant." He was not referring to the results.) In any event, I was going to do a thesis on how to develop a comprehensive strategic planning process for organizations. Luckily, and not for the last time in my life, forces outside of me saved me from myself.

The planning thesis didn't work out, for want of an organization willing to subject itself to such an exercise (or for want of my trying very hard to find one). Then I attended a conference at MIT to which a number of impressive people came to discuss the impact that the computer would have on the manager. They went nowhere; for two days they talked in circles, hardly getting beyond the contention that the managers' use of the computer should have something to do with the fact that their work was "unprogrammed" (whatever that was supposed to mean). It struck me that these people lacked a framework to enable them to understand managerial work. They certainly didn't lack an innate knowledge of the process -- they all worked with managers, and a number were managers themselves. What they lacked was a conceptual basis to consider the issue.

I learned two things at that conference. The first was that knowing explicitly was different from knowing implicitly, and both had great relevance for running organizations. The second was that there was an urgent need for someone to look carefully at what managers really did, that even at a place like MIT, what mattered in a thesis was not the elegance of the methodology but the relevance of the topic.

And so I did my first research on "the nature of managerial work" (the title of the book that resulted from the thesis). But not with James Webb, who was no longer available. Using a stopwatch (much as Frederick Taylor had done with factory workers years earlier), I observed in the course of one intensive week the activities of five chief executives: of a major consulting firm, a well-known teaching hospital, a school system, a high-technology firm, and a manufacturer of consumer goods. One week was not a long time, but I was more interested in the pace and nature of the work than in the unfolding of issues over the long term. The dissertation was completed in 1968, the book in 1973; two years later, the Harvard Business Review published the article that is reprinted here (with minor changes).

In orientation and tone, as well as in some of its central content, this article really set the pattern for my subsequent work. An article that followed in the New York Times (on October 29, 1976) labeled this description of managerial work "calculated chaos" and "controlled disorder." It also used a phrase that I have come to prefer for characterizing much of my writing: "celebrating intuition."

If 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 those four words.

When they are called and told that one of their factories has just burned down, and they advise the caller to see whether temporary arrangements can be made to supply customers through a foreign subsidiary, is that planning, organizing, coordinating, or controlling? How about when they present a gold watch to a retiring employee? Or when they attend a conference to meet people in the trade? Or on returning from that conference, when they tell one of their employees about an interesting product idea they picked up there?

The fact is that those 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.

My intention here is simple: to break the reader away from Fayol's words and introduce him or her to a more supportable, and what I believe to be a more useful, description of managerial work. This description is based on my own study of the work of five chief executives, supported by a few others on how various managers spent their time.

In some studies, managers were observed intensively ("shadowed" is the term some of them used); in a number of others, they kept detailed diaries of their activities; in a few studies, their records were analyzed. Various kinds of managers were studied -- foremen, 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.

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 may turn out to be revolutionary, in that it throws into doubt so much of the folklore that we have accepted about the manager's work.

I first discuss some of this folklore and contrast it with some of the findings of systematic research -- the hard facts about how managers spend their time. Then I synthesize those research findings in a description of ten roles that seem to describe the essential content of all managers' jobs. In a concluding section, I discuss a number of implications of this synthesis for those trying to achieve more effective management.

SOME FOLKLORE AND FACTS ABOUT MAN

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