Almost every engineer knows about the "Pointy-Haired Manager" and other management stereotypes.
Management's responsibility is to organize resources and follow the course of action decided during the planning process. For most managers in most companies, the company's structure is a given, but deploying resources within a project team is generally within their control. They try to decide on the best way to assign the critical tasks and reduce unnecessary expenditure (time, money, physical assets, etc). Management determines the division of work to meet the project's needs.
Directing (leading) is the third function of management. This is where many of the Dilbert comics get their funniest material. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, says that the situations he lampoons come from real life examples. We can all think of examples of leadership failure, but it often is not funny. Management controls and supervises the actions of the staff. It takes a skillful manager to lead a team without real-world experience in doing the job of the team. The idea is to enable management to help employees by guiding them in the right direction to achieve the company's goals. Depending on the company, managers are to aid employees to achieve their personal or career goals. This requires motivation, communication, team dynamics, and leadership.
Control includes establishing performance standards, evaluation, and reporting of job performance. There are a great many approaches to employee evaluation, but the real determination is how the company performs rating and ranking. Some companies have a single "focal point" review process, while others perform reviews on anniversary dates. Both can work, but both can be subverted. For example, assume that you have an employee rating that says you perform above average. For most people, this would suggest that -- barring really bad corporate news -- their employment is secure. But that isn't always the case. For companies that rank employees, managers often have to develop a comprehensive list of employees according to their value to the company (rank). In this case, it is entirely possible for an above average performing employee to find themselves out of a job because their position wasn't sufficiently important to the company. Even worse, if you work for a weak or ineffective manager, you may find yourself a victim of the ranking process.
In contrast to planning, the controlling process is continuous. All levels of management take part in this function. Control is dynamic in nature. The idea is that management can anticipate future problems, adopt preventive measures, and make policy changes in a timely fashion.
At the end of the day, management can be a fun and exciting career path. Just don't be, or become, that "pointy-haired" guy!
Last but not least, in my previous column, I posed the following trivia question: "Long distance telephone calls were measured in minutes. How much did the first three minutes of a call cost between New York and London in 1927?" Several people wrote me to say, correctly, that the long distance call to London cost $75 for three minutes. Want a shocker? Convert that number to 2014 dollars.
Here's another trivia question for you. What was produced when sewing machines were first set up in a French factory in 1841?