The role of the manager seems self-evident until you try to actually do the job! Managers are not high enough in the organization to be committed to strategic efforts, but are too high to personally participate in the tactics of the organization. Being somewhere in the middle of the organizational chart, many managers believe they are a kind of hybrid that can and must be able to be part executive and part worker. A general lack of clarity over the role of the manager leads many managers to simply perform the functions that they are good at or interest them. We can recognize a bad manager when we encounter one, but can we identify what role they are not fulfilling?
In an attempt to clarify the role of the manager, consider a widget manufacturing company that consists of only three employees: an executive, a manager, and a worker. The executive will be responsible for all of the business aspects of running the company, (strategy, marketing, finance, legal, etc.). The worker will be responsible for only one thing – making widgets. With such a simple model, it may seem that a manager is hardly required at all. However, what is to be done if too many widget orders arrive at once, or if there is a significant change in manufacturing technique or equipment or if new processes or requirements are imposed. There are an infinite numbers of variables can and do threaten the efficiency of workers every day. So, what is the role of the manager? The answer shouldn’t surprise you…it is the care of the worker!
The manager’s role is to care for the worker. Ideally the worker’s only concern is with providing goods or services. For this to be true, there are three aspects of the job that the manager will continually assess and intervene to ensure a smooth workflow. These areas are: Capability, Capacity and Priority.
Does the worker have the capability (knowledge and experience) required for the job now and in the near future? This is not a static question. The workplace is constantly changing (even if the widget isn’t changing). Technology advancements continue to change every aspect of both product and service-based organizations. The manager’s role is to ensure the staff has the capability to undertake their work. This requires the manager to continually be developing the staff (including succession development) and determining what skills will be needed next.
Does the worker have the capacity (ability) to complete the required work? The amount of work (or widgets) that staff can produce is dependent on a large number of variables that influence the flow of work. The manager’s role is to ensure the required capacity is always available. This requires the manager to continually assess the work processes and staff well-being to remove impedances to production.
Does the worker have clear direction as to the priority (order) of tasks? Not every task or job carries the same relative importance. The manager’s role is to provide direction as to the priority of tasks and the order in which work is to be performed to maximize the contribution of the staff. The manager must maintain a perspective and overview of all work and agreements in order to make appropriate choices.
The manager’s role is to care for the worker. The manager does this by daily ensuring the worker has the capability, capacity and clearly defined priorities to complete the work. Managers who understand this as their role will spend upwards of three quarters of all of their time on these three tasks.