Role of the Modern Industrial Manager

From the Sumerian priests of 3000BC in the city of Ur (Iraq) to the industrial managers of the 21st century, management has undoubtedly been a key concept for successful operations and hence a subject of interest for researchers and academics in this field and alike (Pindur et al, 1995). Several theories have been developed over the years and the most relevant ones shall be discussed, in particular those that relate to management and strategic operations within the context of the modern industry. Management is a complex term and therefore difficult to define. In the context of this essay, which is to discuss the role of the modern industrial manager, the following definition by Drucker (1964) shall be considered “Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their weaknesses irrelevant.”  Quoting Drucker (1954) again “the manager is the dynamic, life-giving element of every business” and his role is to “make a productive enterprise out of human and material resources”. With this later key statement, the definitions of management and the important roles of a manager are highlighted and at the same time brought into the context of the modern industrial workplace.

According to Socrates, management is a skill that is different to technical knowledge or experience (Pindur et al, 1995). A manager needs to be equipped with a number of skills that will allow him to fulfil his wide ranging, various roles and responsibilities. Prior to discussing theories on management, the different approaches and the roles of a manager, another quote will be borrowed from the Harvard Business School to describe what makes a good manager. By discussing the responsibilities of a manager and how goals are achieved the different roles can be identified. “Reference Note on Work Simplification: A good manager asks himself why things are done as they are, extending his inquiry to every aspect of the job and the surroundings in which it is performed, from the flow of paper work to the daily functioning of his subordinates. He is expected to supply the stimulus and show that job improvement or simplification of work is not only important but also is based on common-sense questioning aimed at uncovering the easiest, most economical way of performing a job” (reviewed in Lewis and Slack 2003). One could argue that the ultimate role of a manager is to be successful, in whatever that translates to within the specific organisation/industry.

The industrial revolution brought about significant changes in the workplace through the introduction of technology that gradually replaced manual work. The amount of manual labour was reduced and so was personal production and therefore eventually and ultimately also the individual control (Gilbert, 1977). According to Fogarty and Hoffmann (1983), in the scope of industrial management, effective methods, processes and systems need to be developed and established so that there is a successful outcome that is the result of the harmonious co-ordination between the workforce (human resources) and the technology that is available and/or in place. In this respect, a modern industrial manager has a variety of roles to fulfil that are wide-ranging and serve several aspects of the organisation. The modern industrial manager has to develop ways that will allow for the best use of available resources for optimal results and performance. As already mentioned those resources can refer to both human resources, as well as the available technology. Technology that is both stand-alone (i.e. serves a purpose) but also technology that will increase human performance or work output. A successfully managed combination of people and technology will increase the overall performance of the company/organization.

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From as early as 1885, several theories and management approaches have been described in order to motivate workers and increase productivity in this new “environment”. The work activities in the industrial environment needed to be appropriately planned, organised and controlled. The oldest approach is known as the classical management movement and is characterised by scientific management and general administrative management. Examples of this approach include Taylor’s scientific management and McGregor’s Theory X. From Taylor’s approach consider the notion that “the primary interest of management and the worker was one and the same” (reviewed in Pindur et al, 1995). This “scientific” approach to management also had non-followers and led to other theories being developed that focused more on behavioural approaches, perhaps more humane, such as McGregor’s Theory Y (Gaither, 1996). Later models include the quantitative movement, which includes management science, operations management, and management of information systems. These later models were very important following the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age (Toffler, 1981).

The modern management approach is a convergence of the classical, the behavioural and the quantitative movement. Finally, a modern management approach has been described that consists of the Process approach, the Systems approach, the Contingency approach, the Strategic Management approach, the Japanese style management approach and the Excellence approach (Hibbert, 2009). Successful management and strategic operations rely on a deep knowledge of all the above management approaches and the ability of the manager to adapt and adopt the relevant style according to the respective situation. Knowledge and sharing knowledge, team work and control are considered as core skills for successful management. A manager needs to have, be able to gain but also have the skills to share knowledge; assign work to others so that the managerial responsibilities are achieved/fulfilled; be able to control his own work. Knowledge improves performance and the more knowledge available or shared, the more situations employees can deal with by having a pool of information to refer to for a particular situation (reviewed in Holman and Wood, 2003).

In the modern industrial environment, there is a high degree of interdependency. Managers depend on their workforce to achieve their goals and the workforce depends on the managers for successful organisational goals (McGregor and Clutcher-Gershenfeld, 2006). It is logical that the modern workplace needs a modern management approach. Modern organisations are characterised by highly qualified employees in a complex but yet flexible production structure that is supported by information technology networks (Hassard, 1993). Modern organisations have moved away from mass production and mass service and are much more flexible organisations that need to be in a position to respond quickly to the changing market and consumer demands (reviewed in Holman and Wood, 2003).

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On of the most important and defining studies that have been carried out on management theories/approaches is the managerial roles approach that was carried out by Mintzberg in 1973. The managerial roles approach is based on the observation of managers and their activities in order to identify what their roles are (Koontz, 1980). Significant work in identifying the role of managerial work and in order to develop a theory of effective management was done by observing five US chief executives as they worked. Mintzberg was able to identify ten (10) distinct, interrelated roles (or behaviours) that managers perform that could be classified into three separate groups: (a) interpersonal roles: the figurehead, leader, and liaison roles; (b) informational roles: the monitor, disseminator, and spokesman roles; and (c) decisional roles: entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator roles. Taking a closer look at the three interpersonal roles, the figurehead role, refers to the social and ceremonial duties that the manager needs to perform as the organisation’s representative; the role of the leader, refers to the responsibility of the modern industrial manager in motivating subordinates; the liaison role, refers to the networking activities of the manager especially with outsiders and such contacts (Koontz, 1980).

With regards to the informational roles that were identified, those include the role of monitor, which entails the collection of information about the operations of an enterprise; the role of the disseminator, which is to provide information to subordinates; and the role of the spokesperson, which is to transmit information outside the organisation. Finally, the decision roles that were identified include the entrepreneur which involves identifying opportunities; the disturbance handler role, which describes the corrective actions that the manager takes when unexpected problems arise; and the resource allocation role, which involves making important decisions on the allocation of resources. Finally, the negotiator role refers to the actions of the manager when he is dealing with people and or groups (reviewed in Koontz, 1980).

Mintzberg’s observations were against up until then beliefs that managers made decisions after careful planning and reflective thinking. He actually observed that managers had little time for reflective thinking because of the number of interruptions they encountered in their workday. His observational approach was a good strategy to help identify what managers do (reviewed in Koontz, 1980). Moreover, the specific roles of the modern industrial management vary depending on the level of management. In fact, a further similar observational study by Luthans et al (1985), has concluded that the figurehead and in particular the liaison role (as described by Mitzberg), referring to the interaction with outsiders and the socializing/politicking, is key for managerial success. In terms of the level of management, the study concluded that top and bottom level managers were heavily involved with conflict management decision making and planning/coordinating were one of the activities that successful managers dependent on, further supporting and confirming Mintzberg’s observations.

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Even though the profession of the industrial manager is over a hundred years old, the role and essentially the goals of industrial managers have remained unchanged. The role of the industrial manager has traditionally been on achieving productivity and efficiency (Skinner, 1996). The industrial manager must deal with technological issues, human resources management, production efficiency issues, and also any issues that arise regarding the organisation’s external environment. Mintzberg (1979) was the first to identify the external environment as the shareholders, suppliers, unions, and the general public and later Glueck (1984) expanded the definition to include economic, governmental and legal, market and competitive, supplier and technological, geographic, social and other factors. And as Skinner (1996) notes, modern day management requires a combination of both inward and outward operations. Finally, the ultimate role of the modern industrial manager is – in line with the competitive nature of modern day industries – to reach competitive superiority (Skinner, 1996).

To conclude, we shall envision the role of the modern industrial manager as that of an orchestra conductor. A modern industrial manager needs to carefully orchestrate people and modern technology in a harmonious symphony. The complexity of modern day enterprises, due to the continuous evolution of technology and have taken management to a different level. The new workplace is a mixture of old and new working practices and so managerial roles and the management approach need to reflect that. Mintzberg’s study was of great importance in helping decipher the roles of the modern industrial manager. By observing managers while they work, interpersonal, informational and decisional roles are undertaken. These roles certainly reflect the work of modern day industrial managers, bearing in mind that those roles will vary depending on the hierarchy of the manager as well as the organisation. The modern industrial manager needs to have all the management approaches in mind, be flexible and follow an appropriate combination of old and new methods to appropriately and effectively manage both people and technology, in order to achieve successful operations and the much desired competitive edge.

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