Effective Management Skills
Making it Happen
Effective management skills must first and foremost be about getting things done. Whatever else management might be about; it is primarily about making things happen.
Yet, ironically, management thinker Peter Drucker points out that:
“so much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.”
So, what’s the key to getting things done, rather than making it harder for people to perform? Here we discuss some of the classical management ideas you’ll find in most management, leadership and MBA programs. Then we take those ideas and condense them into the effective management skills you’ll need to succeed in today’s context. Finally, we end this discussion with what we think is perhaps the most important point of all. What managers really should be good at, if they are to manage well.
In this mini-series we consider effective management skills from three perspectives:
- Focusing – the ability to direct attention and effort onto what really matters. This is the subject of our article: Developing Management Skills: Sharpen Your Focus.
- Doing – the ability to get things done, is the subject of this article.
- Knowing – the ability to build your explicit and tacit knowledge, to inform how and why you manage. This perspective is explored in our article: Leadership and Professional Development: Be in the Know.
A Classical Approach to Management
Classic management theory has generally revolved around a combination of process elements, usually including:
- reviewing what has been done;
- planning what needs to be done; then
- putting those plans into action.
For example, early work by French industrialist Henri Fayol described management as a process of planning, directing, controlling and organizing to achieve organizational goals. Much of what Fayol argued at the turn of the 20th Century is still the basis of management teaching today. However, leadership and management courses should also teach the importance of context. The context within which management is practiced today is considerably different to the situation during Fayol’s time. For example today:
- The business environment is much more complex, fluid and dynamic.
- The relationships between employees and organizations are also significantly different.
In practice, management educators like Mintzberg discovered that what managers actually didwas not necessarily reasoned and logically ordered, as Fayol’s model suggests. Rather, their actions were more like “a series of disconnected bursts of activity” as managers engaged with people and the environment around them, and reacted to issues as they emerged. The real task for managers then, is to develop effective management skills to be able to deal with such complex and dynamic work situations.
The Changing Context of Management
In today’s management context, aspects of leadership now often merge with the classical approach to management. This happens when the more classical skills of planning, organizing and controlling are augmented by the manager’s ability to motivate, empower and enable.
Skills in relationship-building, networking and creating productive, enjoyable, work must also be more evident in today’s business context.
This is why a good management course or MBA program will dwell on more than classical management theories. These programs should include discussion of how approaches to management have changed over time, and how modern management is conducted in a complex operating environment. The purpose of this broader approach to management education is twofold.
Firstly to encourage students to explore both the ideas that have underpinned management and leadership in the past, and those that will shape it in the future. Secondly, to help managers develop the effective management skills needed to put that theory, and those ideas, into practice.
What are those effective management skills? We think they can be summarized as the manager’s ability to:
- Set direction and lead by example
- Create the conditions for productive and enjoyable work
- Plan and implement
- Enable performance in others
- Build relationships and networks
WARNING! Effective management skills are nothing unless…
Important though these effective management skills are, there is one fundamental point which managers should never forget. All managers would do well to remember one of the first things taught to new managers. The biggest difference between their role and the people who report to them is that managers are responsible for achieving results through others.
So whether you’re new to management or not, remember this is still the most important thing that distinguishes the manager’s activities. The implications for your own performance are quite straightforward. You need to become good at getting others to perform!
Effective management skills are really about combining the lists above with the aim of helping others to perform. Management is about getting things done, but critically, it’s about getting things done through the people you manage.
The next article in this mini-series on management skills explores what managers needs to know:
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