Business management involves extremely varied scenarios and one standard approach cannot work in all situations. A scientific approach seeks to impart precision to the process of decision-making by using mathematical and statistical tools to analyze available information and make predictions about future. At the same time, managers have to deal with people on several fronts and an “artistic” skill to deploy their insights into the social and political dimensions of each situation can help them achieve desired results.
What Are the Management Sciences?
Operations Research (OR) has traditionally been described as management science. It uses mathematical techniques like modeling, statistical analysis, digital certificate and mathematical optimization to suggest the best possible solutions to business problems. The goal is typically to identify the choice that maximizes desired results and/or minimizes associated costs.
Examples of OR applications include:
Critical Path Analysis in Project Planning to minimize scheduled completion time
Routing of transport vehicles to minimize overall distance traveled
Layout planning to reduce movement of people and materials in manufacturing operations
Frederick Taylor and his Principles of Scientific Management pioneered the idea that management is a scientific discipline.
Managerial Economics seeks to apply economic analysis for making business decisions. Cause and effect relationships among many variables are sought to be analyzed to identify likely consequences of different courses of actions. Past data is analyzed using techniques such as regression analysis and correlation analysis. Mathematical techniques are also used to compute such important economic decision factors as marginal revenue and marginal costs.
Models and concepts are being identified and developed in more and more areas of relevance to business management. These models and concepts help bring greater precision to managerial decision making and greater likelihood of achieving desired results in an environment of constant uncertainty. Game theory seeks to accommodate the responses of other players, such as competitors, to particular decisions while probability theory seeks to reduce risks in making predictions about an uncertain future.
Behavioral sciences are also generating knowledge and insights that help managers deal with people and organizations. Organizational behavior is a special field that studies the behavior of people in organizations. It has been found that their behavior in an organization is often different from their behavior as individuals. Because businesses typically operate as organizations, organizational behavior becomes relevant in management context.
A separate article on appreciative inquiry describes how a simple change in approach results in a big change in organizational results.
Management as an Art
Let us start by looking at an article on MBAs by Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University. In the article, the professor makes the point that management can be learnt only in practice. Instead of going for an MBA course fresh out of school, Mintzberg suggests that you should first gain actual management experience and then join a program on management. You will then be able to appreciate the significance of what is being taught.
Mintzberg observed actual managers in their daily work and noticed that they did not sit at their desks thinking, evaluating and making decisions. Instead, he found that managers worked in a highly distracting environment with constant interruptions and had little time to consider issues in a quiet manner. What is needed in such an environment is the social and political insights that managers gain from actual experience of managing.
It is the intuition about what works and what does not, gained from past successes and mistakes that can help managers in such situations. As Mintzberg himself suggests, however, practicing managers can benefit from the broader perspective that management training can provide. The managers will then become aware that the problems they face are not unique and that certain structured approaches can help solve many problems.
The ideal would be a scenario where the practicing managers internalize the new perspective and become skilled at utilizing the structured thinking and approaches in their day-to-day management routines. In that ideal scenario, managers will be able to take sound decisions based on the perceptive insights gained from both practical experience and high quality training.
Another thinker, David E. Lilienthal, believes that successful managers deal with employees as individuals, understanding their motivations and helping them achieve their goals. It requires some “artistic” skill to get organizational work done while acting as such a facilitator of individual employees.
Management probably started with a whip in a feudal environment getting work done by instilling fear. Frederick Taylor and others introduced the concept that management can be scientific, working with facts and precise techniques. Unfortunately, even this improvement did not see the full picture of the unstructured environment that managers work in, the problems of managing human employees and dealing with fast technological change. Modern approaches, ironically, seem to bring back the artistic element to management.
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