According to the OU* management is about adapting plans as you go while being clear about why you are doing so. They suggest that in undertaking an intervention be prepared to learn about your own strengths and weaknesses and reflect on what you can take forward to improve your effectiveness in the future.
And what is a management job? The OU suggests it is difficult for managers to define. The response maybe that the job is made up of a series of ‘events’. Research suggests that a common characteristic of management is its ‘fragmented’ nature. Studies of management work suggest the manager switches every few minutes from one subject or person to another, rarely completing one task before being involved in another. Arguably, the opportunity to use the internet and laptops at home does provide some balance, allowing some more concentrated time to get to grips with more complex tasks or report production.
In developing managers the OU suggests that the linear approach of ‘plan-do-check-act’ or the control loop may work for more operational and repetitive processes but far less fit for purpose for a manager needing to prove themselves capable of negotiating more complex and less well defined management challenges.
So in dealing with more complex challenges what approach could a manager take? The OU suggest an approach based on the general model of planed change. The model is premised on the idea that rather than following a procedural framework the model can be a guide for what elements you need to look for when engaging with the process of ‘making a difference’. What this model is said to offer above the linear model is an opportunity to look in more depth at the issues you may encounter.
As the drawing suggests you may need to iterate through the previous stages of the cycle at several different points. For example evaluation after implementation may reveal that anticipated outcomes are not occurring, so there will be a need to return to further diagnosis and study of the issues. Similarly it could be that whilst taking action problems maybe encountered leading to the need for further quicker diagnosis to refine the implementation plan. Or a problem identified at the entry and contracting stage may have been resolved effectively but another problem may have emerged as a result requiring a further cycle starting with the step of entry and contracting with a new group of stakeholders.
Quinn suggests that managing at higher levels means confronting change, ambiguity and contradiction**. The OU suggests that managers have to process a bewildering array of information in order to make their organisations function effectively. They suggest that the role of the manager is to identify rich questions which redefine the problem rather than point to immediate solutions. They are keen to assert that the manager cannot hide behind rationality and analysis and should be able to admit that they maybe as lost as the rest and are in actual fact often experimenting in ‘unchartered waters’ seeking answers to their questions and understanding the limitations of their power.
Quinn further suggests that there are no simple solutions or single domains of action. What exist are contradictory pressures. He suggests that much of the time the choice is not between good and bad but between one good and another or between two unpleasant alternatives. He suggests that for this you need to make complex, intuitive decisions and that many people fail to cope with the resulting tension, stress and uncertainty**.
* References to OU material in this blog are from the course book ‘Issues and Approaches: Integrating Practice, Learning and Theory (B830)
**Beyond Rational Management – Robert E Quinn (p3)