Do Managers Really Matter?

2200500024Many of us know people ( or maybe entire teams) who believe  managers don’t matter.

The kind of “manager” we are discussing here focuses on coordination, orchestration, and people-related tasks – the overhead of running a team or organization.   Things like making goals clear, providing resources, recruiting, providing performance feedback and career development, making big picture decisions about the business and the people – that kind of thing.

So you might be able to see how this kind of manager might appear sort of extra.  After all, managers aren’t actually playing the music, carrying the football, or writing the software.    I once had a reasonably savvy boss question my plan to hire a manager by asking, “so you need to bring in this other guy to tell the experts what do?”   The implication being that the right team of experts would not need much management.  Hmm.

Let’s use the technique from my last blog post to test whether there is truth in this managers-don’t-matter idea.  Let’s give it some validity, look for facts that support it…

Take the example of self-conducting orchestra.  The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra ,  founded in 1972, has been conductorless since its inception.  Leadership roles shift to different musicians depending on the demands of the piece performed.  This team of about 20 musicians performs some of the most complex classical-music to world-class standards.  But we see that there is a leadership role in a given piece assigned to a specific musician.  So this is more like a rotating-conductor model (admittedly, a conductor and manager are different, but they are similar in key ways – work with me here).  One might reasonably wonder how this scales, whether it works for a large orchestra.

Or consider WL Gore and Associates.  As described in a post on the guardian website,

” In Gore’s self-regulating system, all the normal management rules are reversed. In this back-to-front world, leaders aren’t appointed: they emerge when they accumulate enough followers to qualify as such.”

A very successful company where the leaders/managers emerge.  But they still exist.

The reality is that the need for a great coach, conductor, platoon commander, or company manager exists.  The question is how to identify and appoint these folks.  Or whether to distribute their leadership roles  among people in the team.  Evidence from the world of sports, or music, or the military would seem to show that if a leader is not identified, one will emerge – that the need for clear goals, for decisiveness, for coordination, and for handling the overhead of running a team demands that a  team leader-coach exist, and that the manager in a business serves (or should serve) this role to be, well, useful.  Such a person needs pursue excellence in management in the same way an excellent violinist continuously practices and refines her craft.

The Gallup organization has performed extensive studies of management, management skills, and taken on the task of defining “Great Managers.”  Great managers do specific things to establish an engaging work environment and to build team engagement.  And there is significant and measurable impact on profits/outcomes that occurs where engagement is higher.  Take a look at these Gallup posts here and here, which make a compelling, data-based case that…managers do matter.

What do you think?

 

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