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Does It Matter What Managers Do?

We now have a reasonably clear picture of what managers do. But does it matter what they do and, if so, why?

By Colin Hales 01 March 2001

After half a century of research, we now have a fair idea of what managers do. This differs both from the “heroic selfimage” idealisation and from the sanitised “management science” idealisation. 


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Despite IT and all the talk of empowerment, management as a profession in its own right is, if anything, becoming more, not less, widespread. What managers do therefore matters simply because so many people are doing “management” as their main role. But does what managers do matter in terms of its effects on the people being managed, and, if so, how? The answer is obviously yes, but the central message of this article is how little we know through systematic research about this – particularly given how much preaching there is on how to do it well.‚Äč


We now have a reasonably clear picture of what managers do. But does it matter what they do and, if so, why? The cynical, not to say nihilistic, tone of this question should not detract from its importance. Unless we believe that managers’ behaviour is intrinsically interesting or self-evidently relevant, what matters is its effects. Much research has been devoted to organisational structures and to managers’ decisions and decision-

making processes, as well as relating performance measures to outcomes that are essentially financial. There is, however, surprisingly little research on the effects of managerial behaviour on the people being managed.


Throughout this article, when we refer to the effects of what managers do, it is these effects on the people being managed that we are concerned with.


What Do Managers Do? Some Answers


Half a century of research has given us a coherent and illuminating body of evidence on what managers do. 


The activities common to all or most managers are:


  • Acting as figurehead, representative or point of contact for a work unit
  • Monitoring and disseminating information
  • Networking
  • Negotiating with a broad constituency
  • Planning and scheduling work
  • Allocating resources to different work activities
  • Directing and monitoring the work of subordinates
  • Specific human resource management activities
  • Problem-solving and handling disturbances to work flow
  • Innovating processes and products.

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