Nature of Managerial Work

Managers have a vision of themselves — which they largely persist in believing and propagating — that they sit in solitude contemplating the great strategic issues of the day; that they make time to reach the best decisions and that their meetings are high-powered, concentrating on the meta-narrative rather than the nitty-gritty.

The reality largely went unexplored until Henry Mintzberg’s The Nature of Managerial Work published in 1973. Instead of accepting pat answers to perennial questions, Mintzberg went in search of the reality. He simply observed what a number of managers actually did. The resulting book blew away the managerial mystique.

Instead of spending time contemplating the long-term, Mintzberg found that managers were slaves to the moment, moving from task to task with every move dogged by another diversion, another call. The median time spent on any one issue was a mere nine minutes. In The Nature of Managerial Work, Mintzberg identifies the characteristics of the manager at work:

  • Performs a great quantity of work at an unrelenting pace
  • Undertakes activities marked by variety, brevity and fragmentation
  • Has a preference for issues which are current, specific and non-routine
  • Prefers verbal rather than written means of communication
  • Acts within a web of internal and external contacts
  • Is subject to heavy constraints but can exert some control over the work.

In for-profit work, management has as its primary function the satisfaction of a range of stakeholders. This typically involves making a profit (for the shareholders), creating valued products at a reasonable cost (for customers) and providing rewarding employment opportunities (for employees). In nonprofit management, add the importance of keeping the faith of donors. In most models of management/governance, shareholders vote for the board of directors, and the board then hires senior management. Some organizations have experimented with other methods (such as employee-voting models) of selecting or reviewing managers; but this occurs only very rarely.

From these observations, Mintzberg identified the manager’s ‘work roles’ as:

  1. Interpersonal Roles
  • Figurehead: representing the organization/unit to outsiders
  • Leader: motivating subordinates, unifying effort
  • Liaiser: maintaining lateral contacts
  1. Informational Roles
  • Monitor: of information flows
  • Disseminator: of information to subordinates
  • Spokesman: transmission of information to outsiders
  1. Decisional Roles
  • Entrepreneur: initiator and designer of change
  • Disturbance handler: handling non-routine events
  • Resource allocator: deciding who gets what and who will do what
  • Negotiator: negotiating.

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