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Google has been a successful company and has been among Fortune Magazine’s Top 50 Best Places to Work since 2008 (Solomon, 2008). For much of its 13 year history, particularly the early years, Google has taken a pretty simple approach to management: Leave people alone. Let the engineers do their stuff. If they become stuck, they’ll ask their bosses, whose deep technical expertise propelled them into management in the first place. Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for “people operations,” which is Google-speak for human resources embarked for change with Project Oxygen. Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise, the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep, ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers (Bryant, 2011).
“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. What is much more important is just making that connection and being accessible” (Bryant, 2011).
Henry Foyal was the first person to identify elements or functions of management in his classic 1916 book Administration Industrielle et Generale. According to Fayol, commanding as a managerial function concerned the personal supervision of subordinates and involved inspiring them to put forth unified effort to achieve objectives. Fayol emphasized the importance of managers understanding the people who worked for them, setting a good example, treating subordinates in a manner consistent with firm policy, delegating, and communicating through meetings and conferences (Anderson & Pulich, 2002).
Google quickly determined this approach did not work for the type of organization they wanted. History and the manifestation of new theory have shown functions of management as described by Fayol and others of the process school of management were not an accurate description of the reality of managers' jobs. Chief among the critics of the functional approach was Henry Mintzberg (Anderson & Pulich, 2002).
Mintzberg argued that the functional or process school of management was "folklore" and that functions of management such as planning, organizing, leading, and controlling did not accurately depict the chaotic nature of managerial work. He felt that the functional approach to the managerial job falsely conveyed a sense that managers carefully and deliberately evaluated information before making management decisions (Anderson & Pulich, 2002).
Based upon an observational study of five executives, Mintzberg concluded that the work managers actually performed could best be represented by three sets of roles, or activities: interpersonal roles, informational roles, and decision-making roles. He described the interpersonal roles as consisting of figurehead, leader, and liaison. He identified three informational roles: monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson. Finally, he described four decision-making roles that included entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator, and negotiator (Robbins & De Cenzo).
Mintzberg’s roles are not intended to be prescriptive. Instead, they serve as a looking glass, providing manager with insight into how they spend their time and, drawing attention to problems can go a long way towards remedying them (Have & Have, 2011). By dispelling the myths and highlighting the real nature of their work, managers can focus on how to avoid pitfalls and work in a more effective manager.