How management is both an art and a science
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Why management is both an art and a science

Why management is both an art and a science

The more managers are boxed in by their inbox, the more they are disconnected with their teams

Slowing things down, enabling tasks to be performed sequentially and most importantly, without interruption, is crucial in management. If you try and run your team in a state of agitation, always wanting immediacy and action, you reap short-term rewards but long-term pain and tardiness in reaching your personal and organisational objectives.

A research paper entitled Boxed In by Your Inbox published in The Journal of Applied Psychology demonstrates this. The researchers used numerous daily surveys to study the impact of email on the effectiveness of managers across a number of industries.

“When managers are the ones trying to recover from email interruptions, they fail to meet their goals, they neglect manager responsibilities and their subordinates don’t have the leadership behaviour they need to thrive,” said one of the paper’s authors.

An increased velocity of emails sees the manager becoming more “tactical” in order to feel they are still being productive in the short-term.

The paper concluded on this rather grim note: “Our research suggests the pitfalls of email demands may have been underestimated – in addition to its impact on leaders’ own behaviour, the reductions in effective leader behaviours likely trickle down to adversely affect unwitting followers.”

So what leader behaviours are being impacted when managers are constantly trying to recover from interruptions and find themselves operating in tactical mode? Management, according to renowned business thinker, Henry Mintzberg, takes place on three planes: Information, people and action.

He says that managing through information means driving other people to take the necessary action based on information the manager receives. Here information takes primacy, it is held up as the holy grail and leads to obsessions like ‘shareholder value’ and focus on the ‘bottomline’ above all else.

The manager remains detached, operating from a distance, constantly checking dashboards and key metrics without getting involved in the actual running of the business. This is also the place where tools such as email run amuck and have a detrimental role to play – flooding the electronic communications plane and forcing the manager to drive others through data and facts.

Whereas managing through people requires a totally different attitude. In this domain, people are encouraged and not driven as they are in the information plane. Subordinates are motivated and empowered. Managers spend time leading people within the business unit, by cultivating the right team culture, energising and developing individuals, and building resilience in the organisation.

They also spend time linking to people outside the business unit, by networking with external supporters, building coalitions and representing their business units to the outside world.

Finally, Mintzberg says that managing through action is about the manager getting close to the action of what the organisation does; here they become the doer, the person who “gets it done”.

In reality it’s still what their business unit does, such as creating a new product, or serving customers in a retail environment, but the point here is that the manager is not passive, but active.

The more managers are boxed in by their inbox, the more they are forced to operate solely in the information plane and their efforts will be skewed, leading to a disconnection with people and actually doing the work.

It’s about time we reminded ourselves that management is both a science and an art, which requires a grasp of operating at the information, people and action planes. If we can wean ourselves off our emails, we might actually realise this.

Rehan Khan is a principal consultant for BT and a novelist

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