Human Resource Management Associates, Inc.
Personnel, Organizational Development, Management Training
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70810
IN 500 WORDS OR LESS……….
As a service to my consulting clients and those who visit this web site, I have written a few short essays about various supervisory/management topics. The series is called “In 500 words or less” because I have endeavored to keep all of the essays as short as possible, typically limiting them to 500-600 words.
1. Management: Definitions and Parameters
2. Supervisory Skills
3. Understanding Human Behavior
4. Strategic Planning
The mix of skills required for success in a supervisory position is a bit different from those required in a non-supervisory role. This becomes all the more evident when an exceptionally good employee is promoted into supervision and becomes a weak supervisor. Thus, we need to understand the core competencies needed in a supervisory job and then assess candidates for these skills and/or provide the necessary training.
Let’s begin by acknowledging that all employees should be technically competent, able to work with other people, exhibit good time management, and have fundamental critical-thinking skills such as problem-solving. That said, core supervisory skills might be categorized as follows:
1.Technical skills – A first-line supervisor must have competencies in their specific discipline both to establish credibility with their direct reports and to be able to provide on-the-job training to others as needed. For example, a maintenance supervisor must have basic maintenance skills, an accounting supervisor must have basic accounting skills, etc. As a rule, the criticality of technical skills to success in management probably diminishes as one moves to higher levels of management since higher management positions tend to be removed from executing technical job duties. 2.Interpersonal skills – All levels of management, including first-level supervisors, need to understand and be capable of working well with a diversity of other people, including superiors, peers, subordinates, suppliers, and customers. 3.Conceptual skills – Being able to understand, coordinate and integrate all relevant organizational activity is an important intellectual competence for managers, and the higher one moves up the organizational hierarchy the more important this cognitive capability. 4.Analytic and diagnostic skills – Critical thinking skills are likewise very important. This involves being able to identify relevant information, analyze data, solve various types of problems and reason through organizational issues. It might also be argued that the higher one moves up the organizational hierarchy, the more one must think systemically to fully appreciate the inter-relationships among all organizational units and the multiplicity of variables impacting any given situation.
UNDERSTANDING HUMAN BEHAVIOR
You only need to look around you or watch the news to realize the diversity and complexity of human behavior. I have often found myself summarizing the complexity of human psychology with the simple statement that people are different.
While scientists once debated whether inherited characteristics (genetics) or environmental experiences determined the course of an individual’s life, we now accept that both factors contribute to who we are and who we become. More to the point, our behavior is affected by everything from our genes and brain chemistry to our life experiences and our current environmental surroundings. Let’s consider human behavior in a general sense in an effort to appreciate its complexity.
In addition to the genetic variation differentiating human beings at birth, our behavior patterns reflect differences in neurobiology (the brain and its chemistry), intra-uterine experiences (e.g., nutrition, stress, etc.), developmental experiences from birth throughout the life cycle as well as the effectiveness of all of our sensory processes (vision, hearing, smell, touch, etc.).
In terms of motivational dynamics, we could even say that humans have both physiological and psychological needs and, throughout life, we learn ways of interacting with others to satisfy these needs and to protect us from physical and psychological harm. The behavior patterns we ultimately exhibit are called coping and defense mechanisms; and, taken together, result in the overt expression of our personality.
In addition to the individual differences cited so far, we must also add the cultural and religious differences that exist among individuals and groups at local, regional, national and international levels, thus contributing further to the diversity of humanity.
But the complexity of human behavior does not stop here. Our individual behavior at any given moment is also affected by our immediate surroundings, including the people with whom we interact. Thus, our behavior (B) at any given time reflects the totality of our organism (O) interacting (X) with our environment (E). The relationship can be expressed by: B = (O X E).
Fortunately, the behavioral sciences in general and psychology in particular can provide tremendous insight into individual, interpersonal, group, inter-group, and broad organizational behavior patterns as well as provide interventions to improve human dynamics in organizational systems.
The strategic planning process involves business leaders in producing a long-range plan for the fulfillment of the organization’s mission. It requires visionary and directional thinking and typically involves a time horizon of five to ten years. The strategic plan is the documented results of the strategic planning process. Let’s examine the steps to the process.
Strategic planning typically begins with the organization’s leaders reviewing and/or re-articulating the mission (purpose) of the business and their vision for the organization’ future. Immediately after (or immediately before) articulating the mission and vision, the business leaders will conduct an analysis of the organization’s external and internal environment.
Analyzing the internal organizational environment involves identifying the internal strengths (competitive advantages) of the company as well as internal weaknesses so business leaders can plan how best to leverage their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. Analyzing the external business environment involves examining the broad economic, social, legal, governmental, international, market and technological developments impacting the business to identify opportunities, threats and trends that may influence the organization's success.
This analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats and trends is termed a SWOTT analysis.
Once the mission is clearly stated and the SWOTT analysis is complete, business leaders begin the process of translating the general mission statement into strategic goals. Typically 3 to 15 major goals are logically derived from the mission statement. Each of these strategic goals is then rendered even more specific by articulating multiple concrete objectives that relate to each strategic goal. Action plans can then be developed for each objective, including steps, time tables, responsible parties, and metrics.
The strategic plan is implemented and progress is evaluated at regular intervals (e.g., quarterly, annually). The process is repeated at regular intervals (e.g., every one to five years, depending on the industry).
The logic of strategic planning can be applied to any organizational unit. Supervisors can do a SWOTT analysis of their departments. Even individual employees can do a SWOTT analysis as it applies to themselves. We can examine our own strengths and weaknesses and can scan our environment to identify opportunities for and threats to our careers as well as trends in the market and environment than may affect our future.
MANAGEMENT: DEFINITIONS AND PARAMETERS
Management is usually defined as the process of planning, organizing, directing and controlling the efforts of organizational personnel and resources to achieve organizational goals. While most people probably view management as it relates to managing others, the core management functions are activities we all do, or should do in our own lives. Let’s look at the classic management functions together.
Planning – All college textbooks on principles of management cite planning as the first of the core management functions. It is typically defined as the process by which managers set goals, evaluate the future and develop plans to accomplish the goals. A closer reading regarding planning reveals that goals are arguably differentiated based on two criteria: how far into the future do we look/plan and how specific are we when articulating the goal.
The articulation pertaining to the most distant future is of course the mission and vision of the organization. The mission refers to the broad purpose of the enterprise and the vision pertains to the envisioned future of the organization if it fulfills its mission successfully year after year. The mission is rendered a bit more specific as we identify 3 to 15 strategic goals that are logically inferred from the mission. Each strategic goal is then broken down into even more specific objectives, with action plans developed for each objective. The mission may have a 5 to 10 year time horizon. The strategic goals are more likely to embrace a 1 to 3 year time frame, and the objectives and action plans an even shorter time perspective.
Organizing – The second management function is organizing and relates to the micro-level practice of organizing tasks into jobs and the broader practice of relating jobs to each other. Organizing deals with basic concepts such as specialization of work, grouping of jobs, span of control (number of direct reports), decisions regarding line and staff responsibility, authority, and power.
Directing – The third management function is the activity often described with differing language. Some prefer to refer to the third function as coordinating and motivating, leading or influencing. I prefer to label it directing and to define it as the process of influencing persons in the organization to accomplish the short and long-term goals of the organization.
Controlling is the fourth core management function and can simply be defined as the process by which managers determine whether objectives have been attained and, if not, what corrective action is needed.
Even those without direct reports must plan, organize and control their resources and daily efforts. We should all aspire to be better at management.