What exactly is Management?

Posted: March 19, 2010 in Business Management

marshall_plan
One of my nephews, KC, a second generation Haitian-American came to my office and asked me the following question, “what exactly is management?” That question immediately brought to mind two of my favorite experts in the field of management: W. Edwards Deming, the management genius who helped revitalize Japanese industry after World War II, and Peter F. Drucker, the author who introduced me to Management By Objectives (MBO) in Graduate School.  As I started answering, “well, management is multidimensional,” before I could finish, my nephew interjected by saying, “management  has to be the focus of a Marshall Plan for Haiti.” Needless to say, I had to regroup, pulled out the top draw of my desk, retrieved some written words, and finally recited my management mantra, “according to Peter F. Drucker, management is independent of ownership, rank, or power. It is objective function and ought be grounded in the responsibility for performance.” Deming, on the other hand, stated that, “management creates constancy of purpose for the improvement of product and service.” There is also a conventional definition of management that has attracted a lot of attention on the Internet: “Management in business and organizations is the function that coordinates the efforts of people to accomplish goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively.” To better discuss the fundamentals of management, I had to go back to 2004, when my brother Nick, an Information Technology (IT) Specialist, and I started Centuria Group and later on, brought John B. on board who, due to many years of practical experience in the logistics business, knew warehousing like the back of his hand. As a preliminary step to a start-up business, Nick and I wrote a business plan with a five year span. During the planning stage and upon completion of that plan, I consulted with many other managers making sure that Centuria Group had the right system, one that was aligned with the goods and services we intended to sell and ultimately export. Another preliminary step was knowing our target market(s) and where our customers would come from. Part of that brainstorming with other managers and consultants also entailed designing a recruiting process that would attract a diverse but competent workforce. The next step for the team was formulating policies. Those policies were accompanied with strategies, practices, and followed with procedures that would serve as a backdrop or reference guide to duties and tasks, an employee and sometimes independent contractor would be asked to perform. Those duties, obviously, became parts of formal job descriptions. Centuria Group did exceed the goals set in our five (5) year business plan. Not only that, but we were able to forecast the longest recession of the US economy because of good management. We didn’t have a magic formula or anything like that. We simply paid attention to trends and to customers’ spending pattern. With my ear to the ground, I listened to all of my customers and documented our team every move and effort. For example, I knew that some of my customers were suddenly paying a much higher mortgage for the same house they lived in for the past two (2) years. Some owners of “mom and pop” stores became literal prisoners of their business venture, unable to take a break or any time off. They could no longer afford to join our system that could provide a part-time clerk when needed, let alone hire a full-time employee. When we asked a store owner to become part of CentEx Cargo of Centuria Group and join an efficient logistics system, we made sure our sales pitch include the added value of an owner being able to take some time off. That wasn’t working well anymore because many store owners knew they were not going to be in business very long. They would be out of business in the next six (6) months. Centuria Group, in conjunction with Jobs Unlimited, Inc watched the costs of healthcare skyrocket, costs we had to pass on to customers. In spite of those challenges, the partners at Centuria Group had a choice to make: take the money and run or stick to it through thick and thin and watch our baby grow into a legitimate and profitable organization, and later on into a viable institution. This long explanation is part-one of my  answer to my nephew’s question. Well-run organizations and viable institutions are two mandatory components to a Marshall Plan for Haiti. The introduction of good management and shared accountability would have to follow before anyone can discuss tasks, responsibilities, and the implementation of that Marshall Plan. Another key component of management is effective communications within organizations. On many occasions, I’ve visited businesses and government agencies in Haiti and witnessed first hand how supervisors and managers communicate with their employees using what appears to be a “linear hierarchy” or chain of command. I have read written memos that were like doctorate dissertations, mind you in french, intended to communicate with a workforce and sometimes general public that has minimal or no formal education. The first rule of communications is making sure the message conveyed is the message received and then understood by a majority due to follow-ups. Ideally, messages from a manager should be understood by everybody. Management has worked wonders in places like France, Japan, and the United States. In France, for instance, management has in the 1950’s removed obstacles to opportunities taking away the emphasis on birth (where were you born?), class, wealth (where do you live?), or elite education (where did you go to school?) and put those opportunities in the path of the able individual. Japan is a well managed nation and as a result, it is one the most productive countries on earth. In the United States, management has opened many doors and created new possibilities for women, African-Americans, Latinos, other people of color, and immigrants. Moreover, these examples emphasized the importance of good management and the reasons why a good manager needs to be culturally conscious and always be on the lookout for any type of discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, hiring practices, and promotion. Companies’ management must be proactive in terms of policies and practices pertaining to those important issues. As I told my nephew, the word IMPOSSIBLE doesn’t exist. Haiti, too, can become a society of viable institutions and organizations. Only then, can “Haiti Cherie” switch over to one of my favorite definitions of management, which eloquently states that management can be the organ through which the institutions of Haiti be made to function and perform their missions to the Haitian people (e.g., clean running water, building and maintaining the country’s infrastructure, building enough schools, adequate electricity, good sanitation … etc).

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