A New Role for Management in Today's Post-Industrial Organization

By McCrimmon, Mitch | Ivey Business Journal Online, July/August 2010 | Go to article overview

A New Role for Management in Today's Post-Industrial Organization


McCrimmon, Mitch, Ivey Business Journal Online


In many organizations, employees know more about their work than their managers. This reality should force organizations that still cling to the old, top-down style of managing to recognize that many employees today are very capable of managing themselves. This author explains the "Why" and "How" of a new style of managing for today.

When we try to define management, our first thought is usually of a manager who occupies a role and who has authority over people. But in the case of knowledge workers, who manage themselves, management is seen as a process, one which can engage everyone. Thus, when we define management as a role, we restrict it to something that refers to managers only. Such a definition is not only a limiting one, it is one that does not account for the way in which work and responsibility has changed.

Industrial-age organizations were formal hierarchies that assigned specific roles to employees. The focus on roles put all power in the hands of managers, who governed employees by planning, organizing and controlling their work. This is essentially what made management a top-down, restricting function.

Today we talk of "managing one's boss," and of having "relationships with strategic partners, suppliers and customers." But, if partners can manage their relationships with each other, then management cannot be a one-sided, controlling activity. And, if you can manage your boss, management isn't restricted to the use of authority to control the people who report to you.

Management is much more than what managers simply do to get work done through employees. Today, we can manage ourselves, our time and many other activities that don't require one to have a formal managerial role or even to manage people. This is why today, the function of management, as distinct from the role of the manager, has become everyone's business.

The truth is that the role of the "manager" is only a particular application of management, not the whole story of managing. A broader perspective avoids the negative connotations so commonly attributed to management, such as controlling and restricting people. Moreover, employee engagement, especially with respect to innovative knowledge workers, cannot become a reality until we move beyond our industrial-age definition of a manager.

In modern, post-industrial organizations, all employees need to manage. Self-managing teams use complex systems to help them manage their own work, and precise performance measures are openly accessible. Knowledge workers don't need to be told what to do, and often, they know better than their managers. This article will outline how we should see and define management for the 21st century by starting, not with the role of manager, but by seeing management as a process that can be led by all employees, not just managers.

Modern management defined

Management can be defined as a way of achieving goals that add the most value1. It's about being sufficiently organized to identify the right goals and the best means for achieving them. To take a simple example, whenever you set priorities for yourself you are managing your time.

Prioritizing means deciding which activities are most likely to achieve a specific goal and which tasks are the most urgent or important. Management is thus like investing, a process of allocating resources to obtain the best return, even if those resources are just your own time, knowledge and experience. Clearly, it is possible for all employees to manage their own time and other personal resources without occupying a formal managerial role and without managing people.

Management is closely linked to goal achievement. Suppose your goal is to develop a cure for a rare disease. You could achieve this goal in one of three ways:

1. By luck - you could stumble on a cure while looking for something else.

2. In a disorganized, wasteful manner, exceeding your budget and alienating stakeholders. …

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