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The management spectrum

While leadership dominates the attention of many, it is management that drives the work at hand. Julian Birkinshaw and Jules Goddard ...

By Julian Birkinshaw and Jules Goddard . 01 December 2009

While leadership dominates the attention of many, it is management that drives the work at hand. Julian Birkinshaw and Jules Goddard suggest that you reconsider the management model you practice daily to see if it’s really working inside your company.
ThemanagementspectrumFor the last 30 years, ideas about leadership, not management, have come to dominate our conversations and bookshelves. We believe it is time to redress the balance. Leadership consists of the traits and behaviours that make us worth following. Management is how we get work done through others – setting objectives, motivating effort, coordinating activities and shaping decisions.

Most of us need to be both leaders and managers. However, based on our research over the last three years, we believe there are four core sets of critical activities. We were able to identify two polar points of view, or principles, for how each set of activities is delivered. Managers must make choices about:

The nature of the objectives the firm pursues Do managers have a clear set of short-term goals for the firm – or do they pursue an oblique path through the definition of a higher-level and longerterm set of objectives?

How individuals are motivated to pursue these objectives Do managers attempt to hire and retain good people by making extrinsic rewards (such as salary, benefits and bonuses) attractive – or do they focus on intrinsic rewards, such as the opportunity to contribute to society, a feeling of achievement or peer recognition?

How activities are coordinated in the firm Do managers focus on using formal, structured management processes to deliver outputs – or do they encourage a process of informal and spontaneous coordination through mutual adjustment?

How decisions are made in the firm Do managers take personal responsibility for decision making, relying primarily on their own deep knowledge and experience – or do they prefer to tap into the disparate knowledge of their subordinates and assign collective responsibility?

When decisions in these four areas are made, a spectrum emerges that conveys a certain model of managing. This spectrum can be illustrated graphically.

How decisions are made in the firm Do managers take personal responsibility for decision making, relying primarily on their own deep knowledge and experience – or do they prefer to tap into the disparate knowledge of their subordinates and assign collective responsibility?

In all four cases, the principles on the left side of the spectrum are immediately recognizable and might be viewed as the traditional model of management. It has served large successful firms (such as Exxon and Wal-Mart) well for decades. But, by understanding the spectrum of choices available, executives will be in a position to make more enlightened decisions about whether and how to change. These are rarely either/or choices; in many progressive firms managers are attempting to do both – to motivate people through a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, for example. But in our experience, firms never reach a position of delivering on both sides to the maximal level, because they involve trade-offs and choices. So it is useful, for the sake of exposition, to consider the two poles on each dimension separately.

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