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Are the Classical Management Functions Useful in Describing Managerial Work?

Author(s): Stephen J. Carroll and Dennis J. Gillen

Source: The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Jan., 1987), pp. 38-51
Published by: Academy of Management
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? Academy of Management Review, 1987, Vol. 12, No. 1, 38-51.

Are the Classical Management

Functions Useful in
Describing Managerial Work?

University of Maryland

Syracuse University

This paper attempts to evaluate the usefulness of the classical man-

agement functions perspective for describing managerial work and
for serving as the basis for management education. It also examines
some of the newer conceptualizations of the manager's job and relates
these to each other and to the earlier classical approach.

As Miner (1971, 1982) noted, most management indicates that this topic is the basis of the subject
textbooks are organized on the basis of the origi-
matter of management just as Fayol indicated
nal classical management functions first intro- many years ago. However, during the past ten
duced by Fayol (1949) and elaborated and ex- years or so, the usefulness of the classical func-
tended by others such as Urwick (1952). The Fayoltions for classifying managerial work activities
functions are planning, organizing, command- has been questioned by a number of writers,
ing, coordinating, and controlling (POC3 ele- especially Mintzberg (1970, 1971, 1973, 1975), who
ments). Many management books are subdi- developed his own typology for describing man-
vided into major segments under each of theseagerial work. Kotter (1982a, 1982b) also devel-
five categories, although the function, coordinat- oped a conceptualization of the manager's job
ing, is not used as often as the others. as has Stewart (1974, 1976, 1982). Eleven of the
To check if Miner's assertion fits contemporary twenty-one textbooks examined described Mintz-
textbooks, the first author used a convenience berg's conceptualization along with the classical
sample of the newer management textbooks in functions as descriptions of what managers do
his office. Of the 21 books identified with publica- but, in no case were these two different perspec-
tion dates between 1983 and 1986, 17 used at tives integrated, indicating uncertainty about
least four of the classical Fayol functions to orga-how they fit together, if at all. In some books only
nize the book. Three of the remaining books usedMintzberg's raw research data was mentioned.
at least three of the functions in their organization. Kotter's research was not included in the chap-
All 21 books mentioned the Fayol functions in ter on managerial work in any text. It seems clear
describing managerial work and 20 texts in- that authors are having some difficulty in han-
cluded a chapter on the nature of managerial dling these diverse perspectives on managerial
work. work. This is indicated by their consistent failure
Most management textbooks begin with a dis- to integrate these different perspectives in a way
cussion of the nature of managerial work which that is clear to the reader.


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Mintzberg's Model A few studies have attempted to test Mintz-
berg's roles in actual operating situations. McCall
Everyone is well aware of Mintzberg's (1970,
and Segrist (1980) found that the activities found
1971, 1973, 1975) criticism of the validity and use-
in four of Mintzberg's ten roles (figurehead,
fulness of the classical managerial functions in
disseminator, disturbance handler, and negotia-
describing managerial work. He described the
tor) overlapped too much with the activities found
classical functions of Fayol and others as "folk-
in other roles to be considered separate. Also an
lore" (Mintzberg, 1975). He also said "Fayol's fifty-
examination of the McCall and Segrist (1980) fac-
year description of managerial work is no longer
tor loadings for the items they used to measure
of use to us" (Mintzberg, 1971). In addition, he
Mintzberg's roles indicates that many of the items
felt that viewing the manager simply as a deci-
for the remaining six Mintzberg role scales also
sion maker or a motivator of subordinates is not
loaded heavily on several factors rather than
very helpful in disentangling the complexity of
managerial work (Mintzberg, 1973). Mintzberg,
Lau, Newman, and Broedling (1980) used
in research based on behavioral observations of
Mintzberg's framework to develop 50 question-
five chief executives plus a study of their mail,
naire items which were administered to 210 gov-
found that the manager's job was characterized
ernment managers and then factor analyzed.
by many brief episodes carried out with a wide
Instead of Mintzberg's ten roles, they found four
variety of different people from inside and out-
factors (leadership and supervision, information
side the organization. The topics covered and
gathering and dissemination, technical problem
contacts made varied considerably in importance
solving, and executive decision making-plan-
and relevance. Most communications were ver-
ning-resource allocation). Although this study
bal, carried out on the telephone or in unsched-
indicated that managers spend some time in
uled meetings. Typically, managers received a
leadership as well as in information gathering
great deal more information than they transmit-
and dissemination activities as Mintzberg indi-
ted to others. Mintzberg, on the basis of a review
cated, it was not supportive of Mintzberg's find-
of other observational studies using diaries and
ings. Kurke and Aldrich (1983) observed four top
interviews, indicated that his conclusions applied
executives (two public/two private) for one week.
to other types of managers (foremen, branch
Using Mintzberg's coding categories, they found
managers, vice presidents in charge of divisions,
these managers carried out a large number of
etc.) besides CEOs (Mintzberg, 1971).
different activities per day, that the jobs were
However, most of the discussion of Mintzberg characterized by brevity, variety, and fragmen-
in textbook chapters on managerial work focuses tation, and oral communications with a wide
on his conceptualization of the manager's jobs variety of people both inside and outside the
in terms of ten work roles, not simply the number organization. However, this study did not test
of activities a manager carries out in a day. In the validity and usefulness of Mintzberg's ten
his topology, Mintzberg formulated three inter- roles for classifying managerial work activities.
personal roles (figurehead, leader, and liaison), Other research on Mintzberg's roles also pro-
three informational roles (monitor or nerve cen- duced mixed results (Snyder & Wheelen, 1981).
ter, disseminator, and spokesman), and four Based on not just these results, but on Mintzberg's
decision-making roles (entrepreneur, disturbance model itself, it has been pointed out that Mintz-
handler, resource allocator, and negotiator). He berg's role theory lacks specificity, does not point
indicated that managers in different types of jobs out the relationship between his role types and
and at different levels vary in the relative impor- organizational effectiveness, and was developed
tance of these roles to their overall responsibili- on the basis of the questionable practice of not
ties. going beyond the observable work activities


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themselves (Snyder & Wheelen, 1981). While (1975) and they are congruent with the results of
some studies (Alexander, 1979) supported Mintz- a study by Haas, Porat, and Vaughan (1969).
berg's hypotheses that sales jobs require more Furthermore, a work sampling study carried out
interpersonal roles than production manager s by Mahoney, Jerdee, and Carroll (1963) indicated
jobs and information roles are especially impor- that it is quite possible to relate the specific
tant on staff jobs, such results appear obvious observable task activities of managers to these
and do not require documentation. Nevertheless, more fundamental managerial functions simply
in the management textbooks evaluated, rarely by asking the managers why they are carrying
was any criticism of Mintzberg's typology found. out each particular activity. In this study 21 man-
Some articles favored his perspective, indicat- agers were signalled at a random minute of
ing that his is the only valid one (Bickerstaffe, every half hour for each work day for a two-
1981). Other writers have commended the real- week period. Each time they completed a brief
ism of his approach when compared to the questionnaire describing what they were doing
abstract description of managerial work painted at that time. Table 1 presents the results from this
by the classical writers. study which also required managers to indicate
which of the PRINCESS basic responsibilities was
Empirical Studies Focusing on
involved in each work activity sampled. The
the Classical Functions
observed time allocations related fairly accu-
A number of empirical studies, not directly rately to previous estimates by these managers
cited by Mintzberg (1973), have shown that man- of such time allocations (Mahoney, Jerdee, &
agers spend time in the classical management Carroll, 1963).
functions. Several studies, including Williams Furthermore, other empirical evidence indi-
(1956) and Hemphill (1959), have gone beyond cates that such sampling observational ap-
the recording of observable activities to show proaches provide the same information as previ-
that managers at all levels participate in plan- ous time estimates and other work observational
ning, coordination, control, and problem solv- approaches using an outside observer. In a study
ing activities. by Carroll and Taylor (1968, 1969) estimates of
Mahoney, Jerdee, and Carroll (1963, 1965) time spent in various activity categories were
reported that managerial time can be allocated compared to self-observations made at random
to a set of eight basic managerial functions which times when individuals were signalled to do so
can be called the "PRINCESS" factors (Planning, and to observations made at a different set of
Representing, Investigating, Negotiating, Coor- random times surreptitiously by an outside ob-
dinating, Evaluating, Supervising, Staffing). In server. This study showed that self-observation
this study, Fayol's five functions were expanded by work sampling produced about the same
to eight because preliminary pilot studies indi- results as previous time estimates and the obser-
cated that five functions missed managerial work vations made by an outside observer.
activities such as "representing the organization Data relevant to this issue have been presented
to outside groups. " (Mintzberg, 1971, also pointedby Allen (1981) and Hughes and Singler (1985)
out this problem.) This study of 452 managers on the activities carried out by managers on the
indicated that there appeared to be a minimum job. In the Allen study, 932 managers surveyed
core of time spent in each of these functional by questionnaire reported a variety of planning
responsibilities but managers in various job and and controlling activities, although this study did
level categories had different time patterns with not report on the percentage of time spent in
respect to these responsibilities. these ways. The Allen study indicated that more
The findings of Mahoney, Jerdee, and Carroll than 80 percent of the sample of managers were
(1963, 1965) were replicated in a study by Penfieldinvolved in formal planning activities such as


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Table 1 developing forecasts and preparing budgets; 70
Job Time Proportions of 28 Managers Among percent in maintaining written objectives and
Various Management Functions, WorkActivities, goals; and 60 percent in maintaining perfor-
and Types of Interpersonal Contacts mance standards and evaluating and correct-
ing performance relating to those standards. The
Proportion of
Allen study indicated that 70 percent of the 932
Work Activities Total Work Time
managers had specific objectives; however, only
Conversing with others 41 32 percent had worked out specific steps for these
Preparing & writing reports, letters, etc. 19
objectives. In the Hughes and Singler (1985)
Reading & reviewing reports, letters, etc. 18
Inspecting products, procedures, etc. 01
study, more than 700 managers were surveyed
Mathematical computation 01 about the relative importance of the various func-
Operating equipment 05 tional areas to first line, second line, and gen-
Thinking & reflection 03 eral marketing managers. They found that the
Minor clerical (filing, sorting, etc.) 05
importance of directing, controlling, and organ-
Walking & travel 02
Personal activities 05
izing was fairly constant from one level to anoth-
er, but the importance of planning increased and
the importance of staffing decreased, as manag-
Subject of Work Activities ers progressed from the first level of manage-
ment to top management. These results were
Employees 22
Money & finances 19 very similar to those found in the Mahoney,
Materials & goods 28 Jerdee, and Carroll study (1963).
Purchases & sales 11 Other studies also partly supported the valid-
Methods & procedures 09 ity of Fayol's conceptualization of the manager's
Facilities & equipment 11
job. Brush and Licata (1982) had a panel of five
100% management theorists sort 251 behavioral cri-
Types of Interpersonal Contacts teria of managerial effectiveness into "mega-
Superior (own department) 05 categories" according to the similarity of their
Subordinate (own department) 21 content. This was done for three samples; they
Manager (other department) 11 found a technical competence factor as well as
Non-manager (other department) 01 coordinating, and supervisory activities clusters,
Other department (person not identified) 04
in at least two samples of activities. In addition,
Person outside company 05
Combination of above 03 the Lau, Newman, and Broedling (1980) study
None found a supervision and a planning factor among
government managers. They also found a tech-
nical problem solving factor. At this point it is
Management Functions
important to remember that Fayol indicated that
Planning 19 at lower levels, technical knowledge and activi-
Representing 02 ties took up considerably more time than the
Investigating 26 managerial POC3 functions.
Negotiating 07
Coordinating 21 Should Managers Carry Out
Evaluating 09
the Classical Functions?
Supervising 12
Staffing 05
Fayol (1949), Urwick (1952), and other classical
writers said that not only do managers carry out
Note. Based on 2240 work sampling observations of 28 man- the classical functions, but also they should carry
agers in one company during a period of two weeks. them out and that skill in such areas was related


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to managerial success. A number of studies indi- (Gillen & Carroll, 1985), 103 unit managers in 10
cated that time spent by managers on some of industrial enterprises were studied using the
these classical functional areas and skill in per- assumption that unit managers do primarily per-
forming them does result in higher organization form managerial activities rather than technical
and unit performance, and in managerial mobil- or staff activities which are carried out by lower-
ity (Miner, 1982). For example, Stagner (1969) level managers and staff managers. The basic
found that the time 109 chief executives spent in management responsibilities studied were taken
organizational planning was related to the firm's from the earlier Mahoney, Jerdee, and Carroll
profitability. There is some evidence that plan- (1963, 1965) studies, but two of the PRINCESS
ning is important at the lowest management level categories, representing and negotiating, were
as well as at the top. For example, a study of dropped since a pretest indicated little time was
foremen at the General Electric Company (1957) spent in these activities. The managers in each
revealed that foremen with higher production company were ranked by the assistant plant
records spent more time in long-range plan- manager or equivalent in each of the remaining
ning and organizing than did foremen with six areas of staffing, planning, investigating,
poorer production records. coordinating, evaluating, and supervising (now
Also, strong evidence for the importance of called the SPICES categories). The rankings were
planning to managerial success was found in converted to standard scores by the plant man-
the AT&T assessment center studies which corre- ager or equivalent and correlated to a measure
lated various skills of more than 8,000 entry-level of unit productivity-efficiency (developed pre-
managers to their later upward mobility and viously by Mahoney and Weitzel, 1969). The sam-
rated effectiveness (Bray, Campbell, & Grant, ple was then broken down into a manufacturing
1974). Skill in planning/decision making as mea- sample of 56 units and an aerospace sample of
sured in assessment center exercises was one of 48 units to test for consistency and the results are
the strongest predictors of managerial success. shown in Table 2. As the table indicates, super-
Boyatzis (1982) also found a goal setting/planning vising and planning skills were significantly
skill of competence related to managerial effec- related to unit productivity-efficiency in both sam-
tiveness. ples and staffing skills and coordinating skills
Another more recent study also related skill in were significantly related to the measure of unit
the classical managerial functional areas to the performance in the manufacturing and aero-
performance of the units supervised. In this study space samples respectively.

Table 2
Relationship of Managerial Skills to Unit Productivity/Efficiency

Sample 1 Sample 2
Manufacturing Aerospace
Firms Firms
Managerial Skill (56 units) (48 units)

Supervising skill .46a .25a

Planning skill . 34 43a
Investigating skill .19 .20
Coordinating skill .19 .30a
Evaluating skill .10 .08
Staffing skill .23a .12


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While this study and all the studies conducted ing with mental activities it is necessary to re-
on managerial work in the field suffer from less member that mental time is not the same as
than perfect organizational controls due to the physical time. Even though an observable activ-
difficulty of the subject matter, there appears to ity may have a cycle time of only a few minutes,
be sufficient evidence to say that managers do this does not mean that a good deal of work was
perform a wide variety of specific activities which not accomplished. The human brain works at a
can be classified under the functional typology tremendous speed and can work on several dif-,
developed by Fayol and others in the classical ferent problems at virtually the same time (as
management school; also, greater managerial studies in neurophysiology indicate, e.g., Luria,
success (organization. and unit performance and 1973; Norman, 1969).
management mobility) is related to skill and time An unplanned conversation with a subordi-
in the functional responsibilities. Of course, peo- nate, resulting from an accidental meeting, could
ple classified as managers do not spend 100 per- involve the superior giving the subordinate a
cent of their time carrying out the classical man- directive on a new product, finding out about
agement functions. Fayol (1949) indicated that the current status of an old project, learning
people in managerial positions also carried out about a potential problem arising from a current
other activities such as technical, commercial, materials shortage, providing the subordinate
security, financial, and accounting activities. Any with advice on how to proceed on a project, dis-
studies of managerial work are likely to show covering a possible way to implement an old
these activities as well as the management plan, identifying a weakness in the subordinate's
functions. assignment to a future project, and so on. The
communications, perceptions, or ideas which
Some Problems with the come from a casual conservation of one man-
Mintzberg Observational Method ager with another manager could involve a num-
for Studying Managerial Work ber of different concerns. Managers do get a lot
of work done in very short periods of time (Kotter,
The Mintzberg (1971) study and similar obser- 1982b). As Kotter (1982b) indicated, they operate
vational studies are flawed because their focus very efficiently, there is an efficiency in seem-
was not on the reasons for the observable activi- ingly inefficient behavior.
ties (also, it was assumed that CEOs represent Furthermore it should be remembered that the
typical managers). Carroll and Taylor (1968) brain works continuously. Unlike physical job-
pointed out that since managerial work is mental, related work which ends at quitting time, man-
it is not directly observable. Physical activities of agers may continue to think about job-related
managers do not indicate exactly what they do. problems long after they leave the job and
It is impossible to measure managerial work with- perhaps, even while they are asleep. Elliots
out questioning managers about the purpose of (1959) interviews with top managers indicated
their telephone calls, conversations, and so on. that some work many hours even before coming
Although it is true that the typical managers do in to the office. Certainly, measuring managers'
make brief contacts with a wide variety of peo- activities on the job is not going to present a full
ple during the day, this does not mean that they picture of the work. Also, it is doubtful, that
are not planning, or controlling, or investigating, managers could recall all of the various thought
or doing any number of things, all of which trials which may be job-related and that occur
require information. at tremendous speeds throughout the day (at the
Managerial work is really mental work and same time that the managers are doing other
the observable behaviors such as talking to things). These thoughts, and the physical activi-
others, reading, and writing serve as inputs and ties that accompany them, could be described
outputs to neurophysiological activities. In deal- as having as a focus: the establishment of goals

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and plans; the implementation of goals and plans agers a chance to give others information they
through the performance of a large number of needed. In addition, a wide range of topics was
tasks or activities involved with building an covered during such meetings with the focus on
organization; directing subordinates; coordinat- those relevant to the manager's concerns and
ing with other units; or the continuous revision of responsibilities. In such meetings, a large num-
such goals, plans, and implementation strate- ber of items were handled in brief periods of
gies when warranted. time. Kotter referred to many of these contacts as
In addition, the research data on the actual network building-responding to needs of other
observable activities of managers gathered by managers rather than only satisfying one's
Mintzberg (1973) and others, points out that needs. Networks are used not only to gather infor-
managers, like organizations, have resource mation relevant to the manager's mental agenda
dependencies. Managerial work is interdepen- but also to implement that agenda. Agenda items
dent; besides requiring information, managers are attended to in an invisible (mental) way and
need the time and energy of other managers the agenda is revised constantly. Kotter (1982a)
and their subordinates in order to plan and to believed the quality of managers' networks influ-
implement such goals and plans. This interde- enced the managers' performance through con-
pendence requires a continuous probing of ten- tribution to and implementation of an agenda.
tative possibilities and mutual adjustment given Kotter's (1 982b) description of the actions of gen-
the commitments of others to other goals and eral managers is congruent with other studies of
plans. Often, the information needed by manag- higher-level managers. For example, Peters
ers is usually in the minds of others and oral (1979) pointed out that managers (especially
communication provides the quickest and most higher level) have goals that they attempt to
efficient way to give such information. This is move the organization or unit toward in addition
especially so in light of the time pressures and to any specific scheduled activities. CEOs had
other restraints that all managers face as indi- basic goals or thrusts that they were committed
cated in the research of Stewart (1976). Further- to based on their strategic evaluations of the
more, oral communication may provide clues as organizations and their environments, and they
to the validity of the information and how the acted as "consummate opportunists" taking ad-
managers involved feel about the subject. Given vantage of every situation to move others in the
these factors, there appears to be no real alterna- organization toward their basic goals or thrusts.
tive to managers making contacts in person or Peter's observations are supported by Elliot's
by telephone (an activity which studies show to (1959) study of 200 top managers that indicated
be so common). The work of Mintzberg and those that such managers have a list of concerns they
taking similar approaches has illuminated the are constantly trying to obtain action on as they
specific ways the functional responsibilities are move through a typical work day. This list may
carried out and has provided realism to studies be mental or physical. He described IBM's Tom
about managerial work. Watson's constant reference to a list of problems
and goals that he wanted to take action on as he
Kotter's Research and Conceptualization
worked. He described how managers often rose
Kotter (1982a) studied 15 successful general very early in the morning to work on company
managers in a variety of industries in depth (more plans and problems. He validated Mintzberg's
than forty hours with each subject). Like Mintz- picture of the "harried" executive communicat-
berg, and Mahoney, Jerdee, and Carroll, Kotter ing with many people by phone or in person
found that managers spend a great deal of time while facing constant pressure from the clock.
interacting with others-often outside their unit Quinn (1980) studied higher-level managers
or organization. These meetings provided need- in various U.S. companies (e.g., General Mills,
ed information to managers and gave the man- Pillsbury, Exxon, General Motors, Chrysler, and

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Volvo). He also described such managers as hav- and new opportunities to make progress arise.
ing strategic planning thrusts they are pushing Detailed planning is difficult to do because of
organizations toward and how they spend much the many interdependencies and restraints faced
of their days overcoming resistance to such by managers at all levels. Progress toward such
thrusts, motivating people to accept these thrusts goals is often slow, perhaps interrupted by move-
through participation, and building organiza- ment backward from time to time.
tional awareness of the need for strategic Managers must be concerned not only with
change. Quinn (1980) found that managers had their own goals but also with those of other
a framework of broad goals which they attempt- managers. The research cited shows that reci-
ed to get their subordinates to accept through procity is needed to advance managers' work
daily contacts. agendas. The organization also has certain for-
In still another relevant study, Bower (1970) mal key responsibilities or tasks for managers to
studied the involvement of a chief executive and achieve. The organization's plans and controls
his primary subordinates in four investment pro- must be more detailed and specific than an
jects over a two-year period from inception to individual's personal goals and plans since they
end. This particular study showed that the proj- are developed by a group of people. The group
ects of many managers compete for time, atten- process requires that plans be stated specifically
tion, and resources.There were difficulties in get- so all individuals who are involved can under-
ting managers to appreciate the importance (to stand them. In addition, organizational plans and
themselves, their units, and the organization) of controls are themselves a means of coordination;
certain projects. Also, the narrowness of the job this function cannot be performed unless they
responsibilities of individual managers prevented are spelled out in detail. When researchers study
them from seeing the implications of particular plans on paper rather than in the ideas of organi-
projects until they were revealed in a dynamic zational managers they may get a distorted
setting. These case studies also showed the impression of the process of organizational plan-
importance of timing-how one time might not ning. Thus, when discussing the way that man-
be appropriate but another time might be appro- agers allocate their time, it must be recognized
priate to obtain acceptance and commitment. that they allocate their time to the organization's
Finally, the case studies showed organizations formal goals and plans, to the goals and plans
are constantly changing which adds to the man- of others in the organization, and to their own
agers' problems in implementing their personal goals and plans.
goals. Managers must gather information from Managers also allocate their time based on
others in order to understand the organization opportunities. During the past two years, the
and to test their own perceptions of organiza- senior author interviewed seven CEOs who
tional functioning. All this illuminates the actual made presentations at the University of Mary-
conditions under which managers and units pur- land about their basic responsibilities. In addi-
sue their goals. Reality is far messier than the tion to such factors as setting direction and repre-
descriptions of managers' problems found in senting the organization to the outside world,
textbooks. the CEOs indicated they spent time in "organiza-
tional building." This involved evaluating organi-
An Integrating Model of the Manager's Job
zational members almost continuously to obtain
It appears that managers, especially top man- information needed for future work assignments,
agers, work from a "goal agenda" which is a set promotions, and other activities such as develop-
of desired future states that they are trying to ment. It also involved the day-to-day mentoring
move toward and they have only tentative plans and coaching of organizational members which
about how to get to these states which are con- take up a proportion of any manager's time. In
stantly changing as new information is received addition, all managers have a "life agenda" of


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their personal career goals, concerns about their for future staffing needs, or direct others to carry
families, their leisure time involvements, and so out their roles in an organizational plan, and so
on. These life agendas are attended to during on. The process of planning, especially when
any work day as well, even though research- done by an individual, consists of thousands of
ers often do not acknowledge this in their studies activities only some of which may be useful to
of managerial work patterns. the progress of an activity.
A distinction between goals and tasks, with the Ultimately, progress or lack of progress should
latter serving as means to the former, should be influence performance. Performance could, of
made in managerial work studies. Managers course, refer to the performance of the individ-
pursue their own goals and the tasks necessary ual in accomplishing certain ends or the perfor-
to achieve them. They are also carrying out the mance of the unit (since unit performance is the
tasks of both the organization and others to fur- sum of individual performances). The perfor-
ther other goal agendas. Thus, managers have mance could be either short-run or long-run.
what might be called work agendas that include There could be enormous time lags between the
both a goal agenda and a task agenda. The activities of managers and the subsequent per-
size of the goal agenda in relationship to the size formances of either units or the organization. In
of the task agenda probably varies according to addition to performance, progress, or lack of
level of management. progress, is likely to influence the makeup of the
A model of the manager at work in an organi- work agendas. It is likely that work agendas
zational setting is presented in Figure 1. It extends constantly undergo revision. Discussions with the
Kotter's perspective to include the the activities CEOs who visited the University of Maryland
of Mintzberg, the functions of the classical tradi- indicated they are constantly floating "trial bal-
tion, and the key skills and job conditions men- loons" which are rejected by key subordinates,
tioned by others (Boyatzis, 1982; Katz, 1974; forcing the manager to try again. Many of the
Stewart, 1982). CEOs indicated that the power and authority they
In carrying out the work agenda (a set of have over key subordinates is greatly exagger-
intentions) managers carry out activities with ated by people who are not familiar with the
both organizational and extra-organizational per- realities of organizational life. Agenda items
sonnel as well as by themselves. Often, an never may be completed because of changes in
agenda item may take many months or even organizational and unit priorities, changes in
years to complete because of the piece-meal resource availability, the discovery of superior
manner in which this is accomplished. For man- alternatives, and other reasons.
agerial work, thinking which involves inference One key factor in the actual performance of
is a critical component of the action itself; suchmanagers will be their knowledge base. Discus-
mental processes are not readily observable and, sions and studies of the knowledge base of man-
thus, not subject to study by observation alone. agers seem to be lacking in the managerial liter-
These activities can be carried out on or off the ature although Fayol (1949) indicated that techni-
job since they involve reading, thinking, and cal knowledge and managerial knowledge were
writing as well as talking. important determinants of managerial success.
There are purposes to the activities mentioned Several writers also discussed the consequences
above and these can be stated in terms of carry- of high managerial turnover for organizational
ing out the various unique managerial functions. performance since it contributes to lower knowl-
When talking with others, managers attempt to edge levels of the organization, industry, and
develop plans that will be effective in reaching customers (Ouchi, 1981; Pascale & Athos, 1981;
an objective, may try to determine progress on Peters & Waterman, 1982). Kotter (1 982a, 1 982b)
previous plans, or correct deviations from unit indicated that the knowledge base of managers
plans, or build the competence of subordinates influences their ability to operate efficiently (the

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amount of work accomplished). The managers skills of managers. More research is needed on
Kotter studied could operate efficiently because managerial skills to resolve inconsistencies in
they made inferences based on very little bits of both the findings obtained and the terminology
data provided by either the organization or oth- employed in these studies. Studies of the specific
ers they contacted while implementing their skills necessary to successfully implement mana-
agendas. These inferences stem from the knowl- gerial agendas, especially in organizational
edge base. The knowledge base of a manager settings, are important for advanced manage-
can cover many areas. rial training.
One CEO interviewed by the senior author
indicated, without prompting, that a major deter- Conclusion
minant of success for a manager was knowl-
edge of the customer, knowledge of the organi- The nature of managerial work is critically
zation's culture and technology, and general important today because there are more than
knowledge of economic and political conditions. ten million managers and administrators work-
Thus, the knowledge base can refer to knowl- ing in our economy (U. S. Bureau of Census, 1983)
edge of a specialized field; knowledge of man- and over 500,000 students taking the basic man-
agement policies, practices, and techniques; agement course each year. Virtually all text-
knowledge of the company itself-its plans, books begin with a discussion of the nature of
culture, personalities of key members, and so managerial work and most of the books are
on; knowledge of the industry and its technology; organized around these concepts. There seems
and knowledge of the organization's key custom- to be some confusion about what managers do
ers and suppliers. Much of management educa- and the conceptualizations of Fayol and the
tion and the informal development that takes classical writers, Mintzberg, Kotter, and Stew-
place in organizations is directed at increasing art receive some attention but are never inte-
these knowledge bases. It is probable that knowl- grated into discussions. of what managers do.
edge bases are one major factor in managers' An integration has been provided for those inter-
performances, along with the degree to which ested in more clearly communicating to manag-
managers possess the key skills associated with ers and prospective managers what managers
managerial work. do, how they perform these duties, and what
The key skills involved in management work internal environmental forces they face when
are often mentioned in textbooks. Typically, the they carry out these responsibilities.
three skills discussed by Katz (1974-technical, The classical functions still represent the most
human relations, and conceptual skills-are useful way of conceptualizing the manager's job,
listed. Carroll and Gillen (1984) translated the especially for management education, and per-
management functions to skills such as planning, haps this is why it is still the most favored descrip-
coordinating, and staffing. Anderson (1984) used tion of managerial work in current management
goal setting, decision making, and interpersonal textbooks. The classical functions provide clear
skills. The well-known AT&T studies documented and discrete methods of classifying the thousands
the importance of decision making and interper- of different activities that managers carry out and
sonal skills for overall managerial effectiveness the techniques they use in terms of the functions
(Bray, Campbell, & Grant, 1974). Boyatzis (1982) they perform for the achievement of organiza-
offered empirical validation for the importance tional goals. Also, from a 'functionalism" per-
of goal setting/planning skills among several spective, the classical functions of management
others. Boehm's (1981) research identified the are a way of examining complex phenomena,
importance of problem solving skills, in addition and aid understanding of both organizations
to others such as planning, for managerial effec- and their component parts since through them
tiveness, and Mintzberg (1980) also discussed key indispensable activities of organizations are

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identified. As Behling (1980) pointed out, under vival of the whole organization. They do not pro-
the "functionalism" perspective one examines vide us with the ability to grasp the essential
activities or other phenomena in terms of the essence of large numbers of discrete activities in
role they play in maintaining a superordinate terms of larger ends which can be compre-
system and keeping it going. One test of the hended by human minds. The ability to compre-
functionality of a given pattern of behavior is to hend a complex whole in some fashion or accord-
imagine the social system without it and decid- ing to some model is important in human func-
ing if it could survive. Imagining an industrial tioning since the reduction of ambiguity is criti-
organization without planning or control is diffi- cal to understanding. With respect to the "func-
cult or impossible, and one would be hard put to tionality" perspective, one cannot imagine a text-
find an organization that has survived without book organized according to Mintzberg's typol-
these activities. Of course, in certain organiza- ogy that makes sense to the readers and which
tions some of the other functions of management encompasses both present organizational sys-
may not be as necessary since there may be tems as well as what the people in these organi-
functional equivalents for them (Behling, 1980). zations do.
For example, directing which concerns the A "core" concept of the manager's job has been
achievement of the tasks of the organization can presented. Differences in how managers carry
be achieved by means of various functional out their jobs at different levels and different func-
equivalents such as pressures on the task per- tional areas have not been discussed. Analysis
former by the task itself, by internalizing values of such differences has been made by a number
and norms from outside groups, or by pressures of scholars (Boyatzis, 1982; Mahoney, Jerdee, &
from a variety of other sources (Behling, 1980). Carroll, 1963; Stewart, 1982) and these differences
Other conceptualizations of managerial work among different managerial positions can be
(Mintzberg, Kotter, Stewart, etc.) are helpful in important for selecting, developing, and evaluat-
clarifying the nature of managerial work but ing managers. Research with this focus is needed
appear to be less useful than the classical func- and should be continued since managerial effec-
tions in achieving understanding of how organi- tiveness has implications not only for an or-
zations function and what managers do, since ganization's success but also for the well-being
they do not clearly differentiate activities by of any society.
purpose or function in relationship to the sur-


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Stephen J. Carroll (Ph.D., University of Minnesota)

is Professor of Management and Organizational
Behavior in the College of Business and Manage-
ment and Center for Innovation, University of
Maryland. Correspondence regarding this article
may be sent to him at: College of Business and
Management, University of Maryland, College Park,
MD 20742.

Dennis J. Gillen, (Ph.D., University of Maryland) is

Assistant Professor of Management in the College
of Business Administration, Syracuse University.


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