Understanding the Management Task

Mar 18, 2011

There are many management styles in the automotive aftermarket, some of which can best be described as “seat of the pants.” The simple fact is that many managers within our industry frequently don’t have a conclusive notion of how management works.

Management models are a result of a manager and his or her respective attributes. Also, many shop managers may see themselves as the person who makes the coffee and is in charge of trash duty, thus wearing many hats and sometimes chasing their tail instead of taking care of their main job-that of being the manager.

The very definition of management-getting work done through others-is deceivingly simple. But, as every manager knows, management can be a very complicated, stressful, and sometimes traumatic and exhausting job.

Fact is the manager is a generalist who wears many hats. Instead of knowing a great deal about only a few topics, managers need to know many snippets about most everything that falls within the boundaries of their company.

For example, an accounts payable clerk might spend all day paying invoices and dealing with vendors to clear up problems in their billings. However, the manager of the accounting department not only has to understand what that particular employee is doing, and why, but must also understand the jobs of the employees in charge of accounts receivable, payroll, management information systems, budget, audit, and more.

Having a technical knowledge and expertise in these many different areas is not enough for this manager; the manager also needs to understand how to get the best performance out of these different employees day-in and day-out.

Personal Connection

Although some non-supervisory employees have little or no human contact for the majority of their working hours, working with people is the bread and butter of management.

Management in most traditional companies is split into three different levels, each having their own unique set of responsibilities and functions. The traditional business model of management is:

-¢ Top Management. The chairman of the board, president, chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), chief information officer (CIO), chief financial officer (CFO), vice presidents, and other executives comprise an organization’s highest-ranking management team. Top management usually creates an organization’s vision and establishes key goals, communicates them to other managers and workers, and monitors the company progress toward meeting established goals.

-¢ Middle Management. Department managers, project managers, brand managers, assistant plant managers, and many other kinds of managers who report to top management make up the middle management level. While top management’s job is to develop an organization’s vision and key goals, middle management must create the plans, systems, and organizations to achieve them. Middle managers generally report to top managers.

-¢ Supervisors. Going by an amazing array of titles, supervisors are the employees closest to frontline workers, and therefore often closest to the company’s customers and development base. Supervisors execute the plans developed by middle managers and monitor worker performance on a day-to-day basis and report to middle management.

The consistent measure of rank and file in this traditional business model allows one to know where they reside on the corporate ladder. The reality is the traditional model creates clear boundaries that separate managers from workers, and different classes of managers from one another.

It is my opinion that the lines of traditional management are changing. Today’s workers are taking more ownership in their jobs, and are thus more concerned with building the entire company rather than just collecting a paycheck.

This shift in traditional roles that were once reserved solely for managers has enabled company leaders to sustain the economic downturn where negative behavior once led to indecisive styles of management. We have learned that fear isn’t the best management tactic.

When managers and general employees work alongside one another, communication is the key. Frequently, companies will find an effective inner management style-especially within smaller company shop environments-where an open forum of communication is apparent. The net effect is often productivity gains that foster new advanced management styles but remain within a framework of organizational management and follow like strategies of leadership.

Common with both styles of management are components that maintain goal assessment and direction, garner strong leadership attributes and create doable business models that work within small- to medium-sized company environments. The component models are planning, organizing, leading and exerting control.

The Planning Model

A company needs goals. Goals reflect what is most important to a company, and goals make it easier for managers to prioritize work and the allocation of resources such as people, capital and capital equipment. Management’s key jobs include developing company goals and then planning the strategies and tactics that the company will use to reach them.

If a company is projecting or forecasting a 10-percent growth in net sales, an action plan or action steps must be implemented. But research has found that in most growing companies, regular planning falls by the wayside as managers end up spending most of their time putting out daily fires.

Often individual members of a management team actually have completely different goals, which arise when sufficient time for listening and reflection are not set aside. Managers should take the time to see why their counterparts have different goals, and then seek to understand the reasons. Likely they’ll find that those considerations are also valid and may choose to implement them into the overall planning model.

The Organization Model

Organizing is the allocation of resources such as people, capital and capital equipment to achieve a company’s goals. Managers accomplish this task through organizational charts, staffing plans and budgets.

As many of you have probably noticed, managers spend endless hours developing new and exciting staffing and organizational configurations, only to change them again in six months. Why? Because doing so is part of the job!

Organizational structure is an important part of any aftermarket business. It isn’t just about staffing or the flow of departments-organizational charts are tools to aid in the visual approach to understanding.

Think about company structure and layout as a roadmap to reducing complications and directing flow-the flow of people, projects, account development, tracking, scheduling, etc.

Today’s company forecasting and organizational management must be faster and more flexible than ever before. The days of the old-fashioned, rigid org chart with the built-in bureaucracy and hierarchy are fast disappearing in most companies.

In its place are organizations with self-managing work teams, cross-trained workers, virtual employees, flexible work schedules, hot groups and more. The key is the ability to adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace and to do so quickly and completely.

The Lead Model

Leading employees means motivating them and directing their efforts. Managers have a wide variety of positive motivational tools at their disposal, including communicating a vision, rewarding and recognizing, encouraging and personally thanking employees, as well as negative motivational tools such as disciplining, threatening, and coercing.

Once the new organization has been designed and implemented, the time has come for managers to lead employees by selling them on how great this will be within the reorganization. Managers go from department to department and section to section to pitch their new plan. Initially they encounter some resistance, but as their managers communicate a compelling vision of what the organization can be, even the naysayers are brought on board.

Even within a shop environment with few employees, the standards for sharing new or improved production, marketing, advertising or even the new coffee pot lend to a shop’s employee base feeling part of an improved overall package. In challenging economic times it is important to communicate the message. Don’t leave your shop without the players on your team being in the know, at least to a degree.

Today, simply being a manager is not enough. Companies need their managers to also be leaders and to inspire employees and to also encourage them to give their very best work effort daily.

The Control Model

Control is the process of monitoring and evaluating activities to ensure that goals are being achieved.

To plan, organize and lead is not enough. For managers to be effective, they must also periodically review the company’s progress toward achieving its goals. This review indicates whether plans and goals need to be updated, modified or scrapped altogether, whether the company is up to the task at hand, and whether the manager’s efforts at leading employees are having the desired effect.

Although each of these four roles of managers is important to their overall success, leading employees is the one role that seemingly generates the most interest in companies. After all, whether you operate a small manufacturing shop or a service shop, the key is maintenance-the maintenance of leadership as a direct conduit to management.

Within this context, your takeaway is to review your specifics relating to the job of management, assert new practices as an overall guide to managing within your enterprise, and look to a best-efforts opportunity of growing your business from the inside out.

The next two editions of the Professor Files will show you how to perform a step-by-step review of your company and focus on developing key attributes of managing your stop, retail outlet or aftermarket service business through improved business management strategies.

Cheers ‘n gears.