Management Basics and the Manager Job Role

Manager and workers reviewing information in factory
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What is management? What do managers do? How do I manage? These are standard questions that most of us in the management profession have been asked more than once and they are questions we asked once in our careers, too. Here is a basic look at management—a virtual Management 101.

Art and Science

Management is both an art and a science. It is the art of making people more effective than they would have been without you and there is a science to how you do that. There are four basic pillars of the manager's role: plan, organize, direct, and monitor.

Maximize Effectiveness

To illustrate the benefits of an effective manager, consider this scenario: Four workers can make 6 units in an eight-hour shift without a manager. If you are hired to manage them and they still make 6 units a day, what is your benefit to the business? On the other hand, if they now make 8 units per day, you—as the manager—have value.

The same analogy applies to service, retail, teaching, or any other kind of work. Can your group handle more customer calls with you than without? Sell higher value merchandise? Impart knowledge more effectively? That is the value of management—making a group of individual workers more effective.

Plan

If management starts with planning, good management starts with good planning. Without a plan, you will never succeed. If you happen to make it to the goal, it will have been by luck or chance and is not repeatable. You may make it as a flash-in-the-pan—an overnight sensation—but you will never have the track record of accomplishments of which success is made.

Figure out what your goal is, or listen when your boss tells you, then figure out the best way to get there. What resources do you have? What can you get? Compare the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and other resources. Look at all the probable scenarios and develop a plan for them. Figure out the worst possible scenario and plan for that, too. Evaluate your different plans and develop what, in your best judgment, will work the best and what you will do if it doesn't.

TIP: One of the most often overlooked management planning tools is the most effective. Ask the people doing the work for their input.

Organize

Now that you have a plan, you have to make it happen. Is everything ready ahead of your group so the right stuff will get to your group at the right time? Is your group prepared to do its part of the plan? Is the downstream organization ready for what your group will deliver and when it will arrive?

Find out if your workers are training and motivated and if they have the necessary equipment for following through on your plan. Your plan should include solutions for any eventuality, so prepare to have the necessary spare parts for the equipment. Ensure that purchasing has ordered the material and it is the right stuff and it will arrive in time to keep your plan on schedule.

Do the legwork to make sure everything needed to execute the plan is ready to go or will be when it is needed. Check back to make sure that everyone understands their role and the importance of their role in the overall success.

Direct

Everything is in place and it is now time to flip the "ON" switch—tell people what they need to do. We like to think of this part like conducting an orchestra: Everyone in the orchestra has the music in front of them and they know which section is playing which piece and when. They know when to come in, what to play, and when to stop again. The conductor cues each section to make the music happen—that's your job here. You've given all your musicians (workers) the sheet music (the plan), you have the right number of musicians (workers) in each section (department), and you've arranged the sections on stage so the music will sound best (you have organized the work).

Now you need only to tap the podium lightly with your baton to get their attention and give the downbeat.

Monitor

Now that you have everything moving, you have to keep an eye on things. Make sure everything is going according to the plan and, when it isn't going according to plan, step in and adjust the plan.

Problems will come up—someone will get sick; a part won't be delivered on time; a key customer will go bankrupt— but that is why you developed a contingency plan in the first place. You, as the manager, have to always be aware of what's going on so you can make any necessary adjustments. Monitoring is an iterative process—when something is out of sync, you need to plan a fix, organize the resources to make it work, direct the people who will make it happen, and continue to monitor the effect of the change.

A Rewarding Experience

Managing people is not easy; however, it can be done successfully and it can be a very rewarding experience. Remember that management, like any other skill, is something that you can improve at with study and practice.