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Management is often described as the art of getting things done. But because organizations are complex social institutions with widely distributed responsibility and resources, unilateral action is seldom sufficient. In the broadest sense, these are questions of process: they involve how things are done, rather than the content or substance of ideas or policies.

The mechanics of implementation thus lie at the heart of this definition of processes. Action is the key, and process is implicitly equated with skilled professional practice. Not surprisingly, this use of the term appears in a wide range of professions where there is need for artistry, subjectivity, and careful discriminations.

Architects, for example, engage in the design process; scientists employ the scientific process; and psychologists engage in the counseling process. Like management, each activity involves complex, contingent choices about how best to transform intentions into results. Managerial processes, however, involve additional complications.

Skillful managers therefore spend relatively little time issuing ultimatums or making big decisions. Rather, they engage in an extraordinary number of fragmented activities, tackling pressing issues or small pieces of larger problems. The challenge for managers, then, is to shape, prod, and direct their organizations, through words and deeds, so that larger goals are realized.

The approaches they use — which were once the subject of courses on administrative practice — are managerial processes. They have an underlying logic that is easily missed when scholars focus on taxonomies of discrete tasks and activities, rather than unifying threads.


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Empirical studies of managerial processes fall into two broad categories. One group has taken an anthropological approach focusing on a single manager in action, with vivid descriptions of his or her behavior. Case studies in business policy fall into this category, as do studies by insiders or journalists who have gained unusual access to a company.

Such nuanced, textured descriptions provide invaluable insight into the processes of management but permit few generalizations. A second group of empirical studies, usually by scholars, has sought broader conclusions. Typically, they have reviewed the time commitments and activities of a few managers, grouped them into categories according to purposes and goals, and then applied a process perspective.

Three broad processes have dominated this literature: direction setting, negotiating and selling, and monitoring and control. Direction setting, the most widely recognized managerial activity, has appeared, in some form, in most empirical studies of managerial work. They then worked hard to frame messages, using diverse communication media and opportunities, to ensure that members of the organization developed a shared understanding of the new objectives.

Critical process choices that the manager makes include which information sources to tap, which communication media and supporting systems to emphasize, and which approaches to use in framing, testing, and revising initiatives. Once the manager sets a direction, negotiating and selling processes are necessary for getting the job done.

They work in two directions, horizontally and vertically. Because horizontal flows link the activities of most departments, employees frequently rely on individuals outside their work groups for essential services and information. All, however, required skilled salesmanship: the ability to interest outsiders in a project, gain exceptions from staff groups, and convince support specialists to invest time and resources.

Selling is also required in a vertical direction. Middle managers must normally convince their superiors of the value of their proposals if they hope to see them enacted; to do so, they frame projects to highlight urgency and need, bundle them in ways that increase the likelihood of acceptance, and assemble coalitions to provide credibility and support. Chief executives engage extensively in selling, for it is often the only way they can gain acceptance of their strategies and plans.

Once operations are underway, managers engage in a third set of processes, designed to ensure that their organizations are performing as planned. Such oversight activities are necessary because business environments are inherently unstable; they generate any number of unexpected shocks and disturbances. Monitoring and control processes detect perturbations, initiate corrective action, and restore the organization to its previous equilibrium. Although most managers treat them as distinct challenges, at a deeper level, they have much in common. Perhaps most important, all managerial processes involve common choices about how to involve others and relate to them as the organization moves forward.

The variables are few, but the combinations are virtually limitless. Whatever the issue, all managerial processes involve six major choices that a manager must make:. Participants Whose opinions should I seek? Whom should I invite to meetings? Who should participate in task forces? Which groups should be represented? Timing and sequencing Whom should I approach first? Whom should I invite next? Which agreements should I solicit before others? How should I phase events over time? Duration How much time should I devote to information collection? How much time should I give to individuals and groups for their assignments?

How should I pace events to build momentum? Framing and presentation How should I describe and interpret events? How should I heat up issues or cool them down? How should I frame proposals for superiors, subordinates, and peers? What questions should I ask to gain information? Formats Should I make requests in person or over the phone? Should I communicate information through speeches, group meetings, or face-to-face encounters?

Style How should I induce others to cooperate? How should I utilize and distribute rewards and punishments? What tone should I take when dealing with superiors, subordinates, and peers? There are many possible answers. This variety helps explain why management, like many other professions, continues to be more an art than a science.

Moreover, seemingly minor variations in processes can have major impacts. Changes in sequencing, with one critical individual or department contacted before another, or shifts in format, with written memoranda replacing face-to-face meetings, often produce dramatically different coalitions and results. But, by thinking in process terms, managers are much more likely to link together their activities to produce the desired ends. The process perspective fills an important gap. Most research on organizations either employs highly aggregated concepts like strategy or focuses on low-level tactics and tasks.

Researchers often ignore the middle ground. Processes, by contrast, are intermediate-level concepts that combine activities into cohesive wholes, yet offer a fine-grained, differentiated perspective. They are also inherently dynamic. Because processes unfold over time, they capture linkages among activities that are often lost in static models and cross-sectional analyses. A process approach encourages thinking in story lines rather than events; the appropriate metaphor is a movie rather than a snapshot.

For this reason, the approach is unusually helpful in addressing implementation problems. Managers can articulate the required steps in a process, as well as improvements. By contrast, traditional lists of roles and responsibilities leave the associated activities unspecified or undefined. Job descriptions framed in process terms should therefore make it easier for untrained individuals to step into new jobs and acquire necessary skills. Together, the questions provide a reasonably complete framework for evaluation.

To do so, they should work down the columns of the matrix, asking each question in turn to isolate the likely source of difficulties and identify appropriate remedial actions. Consider, for example, a company experiencing customer service problems. Because customer service is an operational work process, the questions in the first column provide guidance. If the answers suggest that problems can be traced to unclear goals, managers need to invest time in setting and clarifying objectives.

If the problems reflect a lack of support from upstream designers and manufacturing personnel, managers need to devote time to cross-departmental negotiations and salesmanship. If the problems signify slow, limited customer feedback, managers need to upgrade the processes for monitoring and collecting information. Managers can use the same approach for less tangible processes like decision making. Suppose that decision making is currently parochial and unimaginative, and managers have decided to improve the process by encouraging dissent and constructive conflict. Progress, however, has been slow.

Because decision making is a behavioral process, managers should use the questions in the second column to diagnose the problem. If the answers suggest that difficulties can be traced to unclear concepts e. If the difficulties reflect underlying disagreements about the appropriateness of the desired behaviors e. If the difficulties are caused by poor awareness of current practices e.

Here, too, the matrix provides managers with a powerful lens for identifying the underlying sources of problems and for framing responses in process terms. Second, the matrix helps managers identify their personal strengths and weaknesses. Because direction setting, negotiation and selling, and monitoring and control are very different processes, few managers are equally adept at all three. One way to identify areas needing work is for managers to proceed across the rows of the matrix, asking the relevant diagnostic questions about diverse organizational activities.

For example, to assess direction-setting skills, a manager might look at a number of operational processes under his or her control to see if clear goals have been established, might review a variety of decision-making and communication processes to see if preferred approaches were clearly described and understood, and might assess several current change initiatives to see if the rationale, direction, and paths of change were clear. As with the previous assessments of organizational processes, managers can conduct these evaluations working alone in their offices, teams of executives responsible for related projects or programs can work in groups, or entire departments or units can work collectively.

In general, the size of the evaluating group should correspond to the scope of the process under review, and the larger the group, the more likely that formal approaches to data collection such as surveys, questionnaires, and diagnostic scales will be needed.

Production Line Efficiency

Clearly, a process perspective has much to offer. It sheds light on many pressing questions of organization and management while providing a number of practical guidelines. Here I present a starting point, a taxonomy and frameworks for defining, distinguishing, and classifying the major types of processes. Chakravarthy and Y. Van de Ven and G. For discussions of processes in the quality literature, see: H. Moen and T. For discussions of processes in the reengineering literature, see: T.

Hammer and J. Davenport , chapter 7; Hammer and Champy , chapter 3; Harrington , chapter 6; and Kane Hammer and Champy , pp. Davenport and N. Gitlow, S. Gitlow, A. Oppenheim, and R. Schlesinger, V. Sathe, L. Schlesinger, and J. Shapiro, K. Rangan and J. For example, see: A. March and D. Little, Inc. Wheelwright and K. For reviews, see: J. Bower and Y. Schendel and C. Hofer, eds. Huff and R. Mintzberg, D. Raisinghani, and A.

For studies on capital budgeting, see: R. For studies on foreign investments, see: Y.

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For studies on strategic planning, see: P. Bruns, Jr. Kaplan, eds. For studies on internal corporate venturing, see: R. For studies on business exit, see: R. Bourgeois, III and K. Fredrickson and T. Nonaka and J. Lamb and P. Shrivastava, eds. Schweiger, W. Sandberg, and J. Sandberg, and P. Ancona and D. Staw and L. Cummings, eds. Krackhardt and J.

A Comprehensive Guide for Managers, Second Edition

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