Ten Myths of Managing Managers

Organizational America is working very hard these days to become more competitive. Few organizations have been spared the necessity of taking serious action to fight increased pressures from home and abroad. The message is clear: either become more competitive or run the risk of going out of business.

Organizations have responded to this edict with a wide range of actions, including austerity campaigns, drastic restructurings, new technologies, enhanced customer orientations, and a host of “enlightened” management techniques designed to encourage workforce involvement and quality improvement.1 In this flurry of activity, managers at all levels are being asked to work harder, work smarter, work longer, and question traditional approaches to managing organizational resources.

With increasing frequency managers are urged to change the ways they think and act. Organizations are spending millions on training and development programs, management retreats, quality improvement programs, and a variety of other approaches.2 These intended reforms rest on the assumption that for any organization to improve the overall quality of its management group, managers themselves must be “reshaped” and imbued with a new organizational culture and operating philosophy.3 Managers simply must improve their effectiveness or the organization’s competitiveness is endangered. Peter Drucker recently noted that the greatest challenge to U.S. business in this decade, especially for large companies, may well be the development of its management people. And “we are totally unprepared for it.”4

In this article, we argue that the way in which organizations manage their managers often derails or even sabotages their efforts at becoming more competitive. In the rush to reform, they often overlook or misconstrue a number of basic managerial principles. Surprisingly, we traced many of these dysfunctional managerial practices to beliefs that appear to be self-evident, but that on closer inspection turn out to be deceptive myths that adversely influence the management of managers.

As one telling example, organizations typically fail to conduct effective executive appraisals. Three years ago in Sloan Management Review we reported a study that found that executives were frequently frustrated by the lack of clarity concerning their responsibilities, the lack of input on ways to improve their performance, the absence of ongoing performance feedback, and the lack of regular and systematic performance reviews.5 Performance-enhancing review and appraisal practices that were successfully applied to lower-level employees were botched when applied to upper-level managers.

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References

1. R.H. Waterman, Jr., The Renewal Factor: How the Best Get and Keep the Competitive Edge (New York: Bantam Books, 1987).

2. T. Peters and N. Austin, A Passion for Excellence (New York: Warner Books, 1985).

3. J.P. Kotter, The Leadership Factor (Boston: The Free Press, 1988).

4. P.F. Drucker, “Tomorrow’s Restless Managers,” Industry Week, 18 April 1988, pp. 25–27.

5. C.O. Longenecker and D.A. Gioia, “Neglected at the Top— Executives Talk about Executive Appraisal,” Sloan Management Review, Winter 1988, pp. 41–47.

6. D. McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise (New York: McGraw Hill, 1960).

7. J.A. Raelin, “An Anatomy of Autonomy: Managing Professionals,” The Academy of Management Executives 2 (1989): 216–228.

8. P.F. Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles (New York: Harper and Row, 1985).

9. H. Weil, “Why Fast Trackers Derail,” Savvy, January 1984, pp. 36–39.

10. J.P. Kotter, The General Managers (New York: The Free Press, 1982).

11. M.W. McCall, Jr., and M.M. Lombardo, “What Makes a Top Executive?” Psychology Today, February 1983, pp. 26–31.

H. Mintzberg, The Nature of Managerial Work (New York: Harper and Row, 1973).