Needed: The Integrator Manager

Article excerpt

Needed: The Integrator Manager HR managers, take note: Today's complex business problems require managers who can integrate numerous skills and styles and incorporate alternative views.

In the past decade, management has become an increasingly complex and fragmented task. Managers can no longer rely on simplistic, narrowly focused solutions to solve most of their problems; instead, they need to attack problems from multiple directions, developing solutions that take numerous perspectives into account.

In most organizations, human resources managers are responsible for developing managers who can integrate a number of strategies and skills in formulating plans and programs. If the HR department fails to develop such managers, serious problems for the organization can result.

A Case in Point Consider the magnitude and complexity of problems that did arise in the following case example. For years an industrial company grew beyond the expectations of its owners and general manager. As the company confronted new types of problems, it hired additional specialists; and as the number of specialists on staff increased, so did the number of management reporting levels needed to coordinate and control the organization's diverse functions.

Despite added staff support, the general manager began to encounter more work delays, increased complaints and turnover, and decreased productivity. According to one senior operator, "Everyone tells us what to do and how and when to do it. Who's really in charge around here?" Supervisor and staff conflicts surfaced concerning such tasks as setting work priorities and schedules and monitoring and evaluating performance. Changes were introduced even during peak work times.

In the face of these developments the general manager, intelligent and experienced as he was, became defensive and inflexible. His earlier postgraduate management classes had not prepared him to handle these compounded problems. How could he promptly address the right problems and their underlying causes?

What Are the Symptoms? This case illustrates what can happen when organizations hire staff specialists to handle new requirements during times of rapid growth and change. Most specialists are trained to handle only those parts of a problem that fall into their area of expertise. As a result, each follows his or her own priorities and instincts, working around others and the system to get things done. Most "real world" problems, however, transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. Nevertheless, specialists tend to pursue safe, slow, "bureaucratic" responses to protect and emphasize their own positions, rather than exploring new responses and positions that automatically affect the overall problem or situation.

Managers responsible for major operations within an organization cannot readily anticipate every situation that may arise or every response to that situation. Instead, they must rely on specialists to keep them informed, then integrate diverse inputs--or even opposing views--to address the overall problem or concern. Without managers who can effectively interact with others, then integrate and coordinate priorities, organizations cannot continue to grow and develop for very long. Piecemeal specialty programs offer temporary solutions; however, they are poor substitutes for truly integrative studies and overall, lasting solutions.

Research indicates, however, that managers spend more time and energy on setting up problems and passing them along to others than they spend on solving problems. How can we get them to take a more integrative approach to problem solving? To answer that, we should first examine what managers specifically do.

What Do Managers Do? A survey of 158 managers at all levels in nine organizations--six companies and three nonprofit organizations--indicates that most define their work in terms of specific roles they perform. …