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Human skills essay -
May 10th, 2009
Mrs X, a married mother of two, is the manager of Company ABC, a retail outlet in xxxxxx, Perth Western Australia. Company ABC, based in Victoria, is a national chain of 33 retail outlets supplying xxx and xxx supplies to the public. During an interview, Mrs X gave an insight into the operation of her store and her position as manager. The interview identified functions of management, the skills required to be successful and the actual roles performed as manager and asked for responses to be a rating from 1 to 5 where 1 was very little and 5 very much. In the role of store manager within her organisation, Mrs X recognised her position as that of a first-line manager in charge of non-managerial employees whilst she herself reported to a regional manager (middle manager) who in turn reported to the owner of the business or top-line manager (Robbins, Bergman, Stagg & Coulter, 2006). Based on the results of the interview, it is clear that the human skills described by Robert Katz are reflected in Mrs X’s’s role as manager and that the management roles defined by Henry Mintzberg were relevant to her managerial role.
The Company ABC store at Karrinyup is a small organisation employing 10 people including Mrs X as manager. Robbins, et.al (2006, p 6) define an “organisation” as a deliberate arrangement of people to accomplish some specific purpose. Henry Fayol (1949 as cited in Robbins et.al.2006, p10) claims that these specific purposes are achieved through the functions of planning, organising, commanding, coordinating and controlling. Robert Katz argued that these functions required skills that had to be taught and developed. In his 1955 article in the Harvard Business Review, Katz described three basic skills – technical, human and conceptual. Technical skill involves specialised knowledge and analytical ability within that specialty. This skill is most important to lower levels of management. Conceptual skill involves the ability to see the enterprise as a whole including recognising how the various functions of the organisation depend on one another. This skill is most important at higher levels of management. “The ability to work with others is essential to effective administration at every level,” (Katz, 1986, p198). In this Katz infers the overall importance of the human skill arguing that it is essential in both intragroup and intergroup situations and at all levels of management. In her interview, Shellie (first line manager) provided strong support for Katz’s theories. When asked how much of her job involved technical proficiency and how much involved conceptual skills, Mrs X replied with a 5 for technical proficiency and 2 for conceptualising. Her ability to work with others also received a 5.
Human skills include the ability to work with other people, to understand and motivate them and to build a cooperative effort within a team (Robbins, et.al. 2006). Mrs X’s human skills are most certainly apparent at an intra-group level and are geared toward creating a welcoming, enjoyable and successful experience for both the customer and her own organisation. This results in customers being happy to purchase products and allows the store to achieve sales targets. To achieve this however Mrs X suggests in her interview that she must recognise her staff’s strength and weaknesses, and elevate their technical knowledge via discussion and demonstration so to enable them to capably perform their duties within the store. Belbin (1993) termed the phrase “allowable weaknesses” stating that somebody who is weak in one area may be strong in another. Mrs X reflects this recognition by rostering staff members with different strengths on at the same time and encourages one to help the other as the need arises. Mrs X, an artist herself, encourages her staff to read manuals and to bring samples to the store to show how their skills are developing. This has the effect of both broadening the staff’s knowledge and skills, and also motivates the staff to improve which will ultimately aid in the service of customers.
In saying that human skills are important at all levels of management, Katz is suggesting that effective management cannot be achieved without them. Chapman (2001) agrees arguing that traditionally “influence” was used to manage via access to sources of power such as line authority and expertise and that direct orders were commonplace. She believes now however that “influence” in new organisations is used more to ensure smooth processes and that what is most important today is the capacity to motivate, persuade, appreciate, understand and negotiate. This belief would appear to reflect Mrs X’s situation at Company ABC. Mrs X was told by members of her staff (and related this in the interview) that prior management was more inclined to instruct and direct from their office as opposed to showing and helping. Mrs X is more inclined to “roll her sleeves up” and lead by example and encourage the input of new ideas from her staff. This attitude reflects the relevance of Katz’s theories as the sales performance of the store has increased significantly whilst staff turnover has declined.
In her role as store manager, Mrs X’s human skills are also reflected at an intergroup level. That is, Mrs X is 1 of 33 managers nationally and 1 of 5 based in Western Australia. Each month the five state based managers meet to discuss operational issues, promotional ideas, and any requirements regarding resources. At these meetings Mrs X is only too happy to dispense any available resources to assist other stores, provide advice in handling problem customers or staff, and assist designing and building displays to enhance sales in stores other than her own. This willingness to provide help in any circumstance creates a team environment and aids Mrs X’s own development. These meetings are actively encouraged by the regional manager and business owners who frequently attend. This structure embodies Katz’s theory that human skills are important at all management levels.
Whilst Henri Fayol argued that management was a process of planning, organising, commanding, coordinating and controlling Henry Mintzberg argued that this only describes what a manager should do and not the roles they actually carried out on a daily basis. Armstrong and Stephens (2005, p24) state that a role is the part a person plays in fulfilling their responsibilities. Mintzberg identified 10 such roles and divided them into 3 categories: interpersonal roles which include that of figurehead , leader and liaison; informational roles including monitor, disseminator and spokesperson; and decisional roles which include entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator (Robbins, et.al.). Of these the most relevant to Mrs X’s position are the roles of leader, disseminator, spokesperson, disturbance handler and resource allocator. That is not to say that the other roles are not relevant but only that they have less emphasis on them as a first line manager.
The second interpersonal role of leader is the most relevant to Mrs X’s work and is central to her success as indicated in her interview with a response of 5. In this role Mrs X takes full responsibility for her staff and motivates them to achieve the organisation’s goals. She is responsible for staff rosters, training, task assignment, performance assessment and encouragement. Ashkenas (2007) declares that to solve complexity, managers need to identify how their own patterns of behaviour complicate matters and make a personal commitment to simplification. Mrs X stated in her interview that if the goals of the organisation are not met she would address her staff to see how her methods and instruction could be better explained or simplified, thus demonstrating good leadership.
The informational roles of disseminator and spokesperson are also relevant to Mrs X’s position. Information is distributed throughout the organisation in both an upward flow to middle and top line management as well as downward to non-managerial employees. This flow of information is constant (Mrs X answered with a 4) and may refer to product knowledge, coming promotions or company policy. This keeps open the lines of communication such that the organisation’s direction is clear to all employees on all levels. The role of spokesperson is also very relevant as there is a good deal of customer interaction and representation of the organisation at store level. This spokesperson role is a good example of how it is more relevant to Mrs X’s work than that of perhaps the negotiator role. Whilst Mrs X is able to act as spokesperson at store level and in meetings perhaps with centre management, she would not be able to negotiate lease renewals or business takeovers. The negotiator role is relevant to her work but the emphasis is little.
The decisional roles of disturbance handler and resource allocator are, after the role of leader, the most relevant of Mintzberg’s roles to Mrs X. As disturbance handler Mrs X takes full responsibility for corrective action when the organisation faces important or unexpected disturbances. These disturbances may be in the form of customer complaints, delayed stock deliveries, tradesmen not completing scheduled maintenance on time or any other situation that impacts on the store’s ability to trade successfully. As resource allocator Mrs X has at her disposal labour, money and equipment and is very much responsible for how these are allocated in attaining the organisation’s goals. In this it can be seen how many of Mintzberg’s roles overlap or are interrelated as Drucker (1954, p3) observed that “without good leadership the resources of production remain resources and never become production.”
Thus it can be seen that views of management are many and varied. Henri Fayol’s theory that management is the process of planning, organising, commanding, coordinating and controlling gives rise to the “rational-function” view that these are required to attain efficiency in a systematic manner. Robert Katz and Henry Mintzberg recognise these functions of management but have a more “socially realistic” view. They see them as too structured and inflexible to achieve both effective and efficient management. Katz considers that technical, human and conceptual skills are necessary management tools while Mintzberg argues that management is the performance of 10 distinct roles. Katz and Mintzberg recognise that their respective skills and roles have different emphasis on them at different management levels. Katz however believes that human skills are important at all levels. These theories are well evidenced by the work of Mrs X in her management capacity at Company ABC. Mrs X’s ability to work well with others, to motivate and lead them is reflected in her responses and demeanour during her interview and has increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the store’s operation during her tenure as manager. Mrs X’s work also demonstrated the relevance of Mintzberg’s managerial roles of leader, disseminator, spokesperson, disturbance handler and resource allocator. Whilst not irrelevant to her position, Mintzberg’s other roles had less emphasis placed upon them. Mrs X, a talented and motivated individual may (even unwittingly) demonstrate this as her overall ability sees her develop Katz’s conceptual skill and Mintzberg’s remaining roles of figurehead, liaison, monitor, entrepreneur and negotiator as she moves toward higher levels of management