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Careers in Management and Supervision

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Corporations of today have streamlined management considerably over the past decade. Earlier, it was customary to have as many as twelve to fifteen levels of supervision in large corporations. Two decades ago the norm was five or six levels. This streamlining is the result of major restructuring brought about by a wave of acquisitions and divestitures, increased global competition, and an attempt at creating a more entrepreneurial environment to foster new product development. The reduction of middle-level managers has increased both the complexity and the pressures of management positions.

This article will discuss the careers of managers and supervisors. The discussion will be general rather than specific. Information will include:
  • what activities managers and supervisors perform

  • how to advance in management

  • latest trends

  • job opportunities

  • resources helpful for success in management and supervisory careers
Restructuring Of Corporate Management

The 1980s were characterized by thousands of mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. As companies and pieces of companies were bought and sold, hundreds of thousands of managers and professionals were forced to change jobs or retire early. In many cases, middle-level management positions were never refilled. Major reorganizations took place in companies. Top management realized that if the firm was to compete in a more competitive, rapidly changing business environment, it had to respond more rapidly to change. Though reducing costs was a factor in not replacing many middle-level managers, an even more important factor was introducing products into the market more efficiently.

For years, primarily small companies have been credited with introducing new technology into the marketplace. One of the reasons for this is the efficiency of less-formal corporate structure. While new products were still being discussed as possibilities through fifteen levels of management in large companies, small companies functioning as entrepreneurial teams had moved a product from the drawing board to the marketplace. The message was clear-until large corporations began to be more entrepreneurial both in philosophy and in practice, they would be unable to beat their small competitors into the marketplace with new technology-oriented products.

So big companies responded to the challenge: As a result of reorganization within these companies, more project or product development teams emerged. These teams were given the authority to operate fairly autonomously both in fulfilling goals and competing for company resources. Product managers reported directly to marketing managers at top levels in the company. Because the teams were entrepreneurial in spirit yet part of a large corporation, the term entrepreneuring was coined.

With fewer levels of management and tighter budgets, companies are unable to reward managers with promotions and raises as they once did. However, fewer job titles and pay grades make it easier to base raises on performance rather than seniority. One way of motivating promising young managers used by companies today is a lateral or sideways move that offers a new challenge and enables young managers to learn another part of company operations. Giving more responsibility and autonomy to subordinates is another way to keep young managers from getting bored. Overseas assignments for managers are inevitable as companies expand their global operations. At companies where a large percentage of sales are foreign, an overseas assignment is necessary for promotion to top management. Finally, more companies are offering up-and-coming executives mid career breaks by sending them to management development programs designed by business schools especially for executives.

Managing Today

To say that the work of managers today is complex is to grossly understate the situation. The organization exists as part of a larger system, and managers are concerned not only with employees and customers, but also with the social, political, economic, and technological influence of the greater environment in which the organization operates.

The key work of managers is to make decisions that protect shareholder interests in light of the confounding information and restrictions that come from politicians, economists, labor leaders, environmentalists, scientists, engineers, consumers, and, in fact, society as a whole. Yet, they are the decision makers who influence the lives and directions of all these groups.

So, who would want such a job? The answer is, many people-and competition for promotion into management positions permeates the organization at all levels. Many seek the higher status, greater salaries, and authority, but usually there is much more to it. Many employees have a strong sense of commitment to their organizations and want to contribute to the positive change or growth that takes place within them. Others want to utilize their full potential. All want to protect their careers and ensure their futures. Survival of an organization depends on the ability of its managers to cope with change and renew the organization so that it remains strong and healthy.

Teams are being widely used throughout corporations today. Team-based management is a concept that has worked at companies like Boeing, Volvo, Hewlett-Packard, and FedEx. However, other corporate settings have not proved as fertile for teams. Quoting a team leader from American President Cos., "A team is like having a baby tiger given to you at Christmas. It does a wonderful job of keeping the mice away for about twelve months, and then it starts to eat your kids." Managers have to determine what techniques work best to maximize productivity and keep their corporations competitive.

Management Functions : Although each managerial position in every organization is unique in terms of the specific activities in which the manager is involved, generally managers perform the same functions.

Planning involves establishing goals, defining objectives, and developing long-and short-range strategies for accomplishing these objectives. Planning is becoming more and more important; it assures that an organization will be able to survive in the future in a dynamic and competitive business environment. Using numerous managerial tools to forecast future developments in the economy, the industry, and the company is essential to the planning process.

Implementing involves such activities as organizing, staffing, directing, and coordinating the organization's resources. Organizing involves establishing a structure that enables individuals to work together productively. The establishment of departments, the design of jobs, the assignment of responsibility, and the delegation of authority are important. Setting up the guidelines and conditions for employees under which they may perform the jobs that enable the organization to reach its goals is also important. Staffing the company with competent employees and motivating them with good working conditions, fair compensation, challenging work, good training, and counseling are included in implementing. Directing and coordinating the work of employees and the use of all resources are vital parts of this area of management.

Controlling provides for the feedback of information to management about how well actual performance measures up to objectives. Suppose productivity were lower than management expected. The reasons would be determined and either strategies for improving productivity would be developed or the objective would be changed. This is part of the controlling process.

Many quantitative tools used in management are developed and taught in the branch of management called operations research and production. The use of computers and technology in management is the emphasis of the branch of management called information sciences. Techniques relating to organizational structure and employee behavior are developed and taught in the branch of management study called organizational behavior and theory.

Corporate Managers

Throughout the functional areas of the company-marketing, finance, accounting, information, and production-outstanding individuals advance to management levels. The top position in each of these areas is corporate vice-president, who has authority over the activities in a specific functional area in a corporation. These vice-presidents are commonly called chief officers over their areas, such as chief financial officer (CFO) or chief information officer (CIO). Often a v ice-president advances to the position of chief executive officer (CEO), the top management position in an organization.

Top-level executives determine an organization's mission and make policy in a dynamic, sometimes turbulent, business and economic environment in which the firms of today must operate. All managers are involved in planning, implementing, and controlling activities and decisions, but managers at the top of the organization are primarily involved in planning. Such global decisions pertaining to mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, what markets to enter, what products to pro-duce, when to conduct work in-house or to use outsourcing, when consultants are needed, how to best use company resources, what finances will be needed to meet goals and how best to arrange them are all crucial to the success and survival of the firm. Objectives and strategies are communicated to managers working under top-level executives who develop the detailed strategy required to implement the plans.

Middle Managers and Supervisors

Implementation activities are performed by all managers to some extent. But unlike top managers, who spend most of their time in strategic planning, middle-level managers such as department heads and project team leaders are primarily involved in implementing policies and strategies from top-level managers. Hiring staff, assigning duties, directing and overseeing projects, and distributing the budget throughout the department are the responsibility of department heads.

Middle-level managers and supervisors whom managers appoint to assist in these activities are responsible for controlling the efforts of personnel by measuring performance to see that objectives are met and taking corrective action if they are not. Specific objectives related to deadlines for projects, planned budgets, and sales quotas are measurable. If objectives are not met, it is up to middle managers and supervisors to determine whether they were unrealistic, or whether either external unpredictable factors or worker performance is responsible. Corrective action may involve revising objectives, making adjustments to allow for external factors, or working with staff to solve problems.

The work of middle managers and supervisors is to manage staffs of professionals and technicians working in the various activities of business. In the absence of many levels of middle managers, these managers operate their departments more autonomously and have more authority over both activities and budgets. Their offices are usually located close to top management, and communications are considerably less formal than in the huge bureaucracies of the past. Though chain of command is still intact in many organizations, where managers at every level formally report to a designated individual, communications are considerably more relaxed and pragmatic in most organizations.

Technology has changed corporate communications forever. Each manager has a personal computer, usually hooked into a central computer through local area network (LAN) technology. Branch computers are hooked into the central computer through wide area network (WAN) technology. Thus improved communications technology has enabled the free flow of information throughout the organization. Management information systems (MIS) and decision support systems (DSS) provide a systematic way of disseminating information needed for management decisions. A system is a collection of people, machines, programs, and procedures organized to perform a certain task. Information systems provide managers a steady flow of timely, accurate information from a variety of sources both inside and outside the firm that they can then use to make decisions. In the past, many levels of management were necessary for organizing and communicating this type of information alone. Today, improved computer and communications technology has reduced this need dramatically.

Advancement into Management

To succeed on the job and advance into management, professionals should choose the right company, find a mentor, and use whatever resources are available. Choosing the right company is a complicated issue. Company offers to new college graduates may be evaluated in terms of salary, benefits, and growth potential.

Attracting a Mentor

The single most important action that a new employee takes is finding a mentor.

A mentor is an older professional in the same field, preferably making steady career progress up the company ladder. Good mentors offer introductions to people higher up and a good many insights into the unspoken rules in the company. Every company has a unique corporate culture and its own way of doing things. Finding a mentor is not easy. Any mentor worth having is extremely busy and not out looking for protégés. The young employee, who shows persistence yet flexibility, works hard to obtain recognition, listens to everything going on in the company before taking strong positions or forming alliances, has clearly stated career goals, and displays confidence and pride as well as ability will attract attention before long. Many employees have followed their mentors right up the hierarchy by filling the positions they vacate on the way up.

Women's rate of advancement in large companies remains slow. Although 46 per-cent of the workforce are women, only 10 percent had made it to top levels in Fortune 500 companies in 1995 compared with 8.7 percent in 1994, according to a Catalyst study. Of 2,500 top wage earners, 2 percent were women, up from 1.2 percent in 1994. Women have made most progress in service-oriented sectors. It is particularly important for women to have mentors, since they are under-represented in middle and top levels of management in larger companies. A recent Business Week Harris Poll reported that 60 percent of women in management in large corporations identified "a male-dominated corporate culture" as an obstacle to success. Some companies, however, make a concerted effort to remove obstacles preventing women's advancement into corporate management ranks through programs such as awareness training for men. Some companies even set goals for promoting women.

A study conducted to identify companies with woman-friendly corporate cultures considered factors such as numbers of women in key executive positions and on the board of directors, specific efforts to help women advance, and sensitivity to the work/family dilemma. The following six companies rated very highly: Avon, CBS, Dayton-Hudson, Gannett, Kelly Services, and U.S. West. Not surprising, two of these companies are in women-intensive industries. The next group of companies that made substantial progress in advancing women includes American Express, Baxter International, Corning, Honeywell, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Monsanto, Pitney Bowes, Reader's Digest, Security Pacific Bank, and Square D. These companies are in a wide variety of industries. Women have fared very well in computer companies, entering in substantial numbers when their skills were very much needed at the birth of the industry. Honorable mentions are Digital Equipment, DuPont, Hewlett-Packard, Olin, 3M, and Xerox. At Avon four of its eight top managers are women, more than 40 percent of its global managers are women, and four of the six candidates for CEO are women.

Though women have had to work hard to prove themselves, every successful woman changes a few minds. Women's networks in companies often help other women learn the ropes. It is important for young women aspiring to management positions to be aware of how women are faring at the companies making them offers. Questions to ask at interviews should be what percentage of women holds top management posts? Middle management posts? Do company benefits include extended leaves, flex-time, day-care assistance? The best offer for a new graduate may not come from a woman-friendly company but from a company offering excellent training and development opportunities. Trade-offs are always present in job offers. It is important for both men and women to carefully articulate their short- and long-range goals before entering the job market.

The Top Chief Executive Officers Today

The chief executive officers (CEOS) in large U.S. companies have a number of attributes in common. Roughly two-thirds come from wealthy families or those in which the heads of the households are corporate managers, successful professionals, or owners of medium-sized businesses. Most CEOS attended Ivy League Schools such as Yale, Princeton, and Harvard. The next-largest group attended Big Ten schools. Some attended military schools. Almost all hold bachelor degrees. Many have graduate degrees.

CEOS have come up from a variety of functional areas including finance/ accounting, merchandising/marketing, engineering/technical, production/manufacturing, and the legal department. In the past, most CEOS have worked for one or two companies. Today there is greater movement from one company to another than ever before as boards attempt to find executives to lead companies through restructuring.

Most CEOS are married with children. A large number enjoy sports, particularly golf and tennis. The top CEOS are multi talented, versatile people. This descriptive data offers some insight into those who reach the top of the management pyramid. There is little room at the top, and most new graduates hardly expect to become CEOS of large corporations. Still the backgrounds of these current CEOS give some hints about who has made it to the top in the past.

Opportunities for Managers

Demand for general managers and top executives will vary considerably from industry to industry. In services industries overall, demand is predicted to increase faster than average. However, in finance, insurance, and real estate industries, growth is estimated as fast as average. In our global economy, international experience is valued. Marketing, information systems, or multidisciplinary knowledge will give managers an advantage. Much of the growth in service agencies is due to outsourcing, a trend among companies toward contracting work to outside agencies that is likely to continue. This growth will create many new opportunities for managers. The restructuring going on in large corporations will create a demand for product and brand managers to head teams.

Companies undergoing radical change are firing and retiring managers with old ideas and hiring others to help with the change process. Since the beginning of 1993, IBM has hired over 1,300 professionals, including 36 new executives. Executive search firms report record amounts of billings for senior managers and the most active CEO market that they have ever seen. The greatest rise in demand is for marketing executives. One firm reports 35 percent of its searches were for sales and marketing positions, up from the usual 30 percent. Another firm reported that 45 percent of the positions requested at vice-president levels and above w ere for senior marketing executives. Marketing executives are considered by some to be the only true generalists in the company with an overall industry perspective. Consequently they are in great demand even by technology-oriented companies, particularly in the telecommunications and software industries.

A survey of Human Resource Executive reported that the majority of top executives in all areas surveyed including information systems, finance, human resources, sales and marketing, and manufacturing and operations were internally promoted, although in all areas senior executives are remaining in their jobs fewer years than their predecessors.

The reputation of the corporation is a factor to consider in accepting a position at any level in management. Though new executives expect to be hired to solve existing problems and improve a corporation's performance, lower-level managers should consider a stable company in which to hone their skills and prove what they can do.

Resources for Success in Management

Three major areas of resources for professional managers contributing to success are company training and continuing education, professional organizations, and management newsletters and journals.

Management Training and Development: Management training and development is an important ingredient in the success formula for managers. Without good training and development opportunities, individuals can become dead-ended early in their careers. The first question that a job applicant should ask is, "What kind of training and development will the company provide me if I accept this position?" To meet training needs, some companies are allowing employees to select the pace of training that takes place both inside and outside the work environment. This partnership enables ambitious employees to have more control over training opportunities and to advance at their own rate. In addition to the traditional stand-up lecture, company training programs will employ more educational technologies such as interactive video, computer-based training, television courses, and numerous others. The National Directory of Corporate Training Programs provides information on such training programs and the companies that offer them.

It is estimated that corporations spend nearly $15 billion a year on formal training programs for managers and professionals, much of it conducted in business schools. Major restructuring in corporations has caused the emphasis of executive training to be placed on organizational transformation rather than personal development. Business schools are offering more custom programs designed for specific corporations. These programs as well as in-house programs are geared to meet specific goals or to transform corporate culture. For example, General Electric Company sends managers to a program to learn how to develop markets in the fast-growing economies of Asia. Ford uses management development to encourage closer cooperation across disciplines, that is, to create more product-oriented marketing people and vice versa. Cigna Corporation uses team-building activities to tackle real company problems culminating in recommendations to senior management.

Going to work for a company that offers its employees training and development programs and support should be an important career objective. Continuing education programs offered through colleges and universities enable individuals to increase their chances of promotion. Many companies pay tuition costs for job-related courses, sometimes entire M.B.A. programs. An M.B.A. is helpful, often necessary, to advance through management ranks. Professionals are responsible for their own training and career development regardless of the type of training and continuing education opportunities an employer provides. Training opportunities are also available to members through their professional organizations. By joining professional organizations as a student, one can take advantage of some early training opportunities and gain a competitive edge.

Professional Management Organizations: Participation in professional organizations is very beneficial to managers and students. The organizations provide an opportunity for communication among members at meetings and conferences. In addition, a tremendous amount of current information is disseminated through advanced training and seminars sponsored by the organizations. Many offer placement services for new college graduates. The price of membership for students is greatly reduced in most cases.

A good source for names and addresses of professional organizations is the Encyclopedia of Associations, published annually and found in the reference section of the library. Information includes names, addresses, and phone numbers of professional associations; the date they were founded; the number of current members; a description of the membership; and publications, if any. Many managers hold memberships in the following associations:

American Management Association, New York, NY 10019-7420

American Society for Public Administration, Washington, DC 20005-3885

National Association for Female Executives, New York, NY 10011

National Management Association, Arbor Boulevard Dayton, OH 45439

Women in Management, Chicago, IL 60602

Many professional associations publish newsletters and journals. Management periodicals are excellent sources of general information. An impressive list can be found in Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory in the reference section of the library. It is published annually by R. R. Bowker Company, New York and London. A good many management periodicals can be found in public and university libraries. Most managers subscribe to a number of periodicals to keep current and gain professional insights. Also included in many newsletters and journals are classified ads posting job openings.
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