Overview

In this unprecedented study of America's leading executives, John Kotter shatters the popular management notion of the effective "generalist" manager who can step into any business or division and run it. Based on his first-hand observations of fifteen top GMs from nine major companies, Kotter persuasively shows that the best manager is actually a specialist who has spent most of his or her career in one industry, learning its intricacies and establishing cooperative working relationships. Acquiring the ...
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General Managers

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Overview

In this unprecedented study of America's leading executives, John Kotter shatters the popular management notion of the effective "generalist" manager who can step into any business or division and run it. Based on his first-hand observations of fifteen top GMs from nine major companies, Kotter persuasively shows that the best manager is actually a specialist who has spent most of his or her career in one industry, learning its intricacies and establishing cooperative working relationships. Acquiring the painstaking knowledge and large, informal networks vital to being a successful manager takes years; outsiders, no matter how talented or well-trained seldom can do as well, this in-depth profile reveals. Much more than a fascinating collective portrait of the day-to-day activities of today's top executives, The General Managers provides stimulating new insights into the nature of modern management and the tactics of its most accomplished practitioners.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Washington Post ...must reading...

Carol T. Schreiber General Electric Company Kotter's landmark portrayal of general managers at work offers new insights about actual managerial performance. He documents the importance of "growing up in a business" for career development and business competence...Most important, by identifying and depicting the most effective managers in his study, he documents the value of different approaches to management. His work represents a monumental contribution to all who educate, advise, select and evaluate general managers — and to general managers themselves.

Andrew Heiskell Former Chairman of the Board and CEO, Time, Inc. Excellent. Kotter is describing the real world of general managers rather than the theoretical portrait which rarely matches any business activity I've ever known. All business school students should read The General Managers.

Rosemary Stewart Oxford Centre for Management Studies author of Managers and Their Jobs This is a path-breaking contribution to our knowledge of the work and behavior of general managers. Most importantly John Kotter analyzes the implications of the differences as well as the similarities in the behavior of general managers he studied. He destroys the myth of the professional manager who can be successful in any organization.

The Washington Post Well-documented, powerful, thorough...valuable for aspiring managers...must reading for board members and owners of companies looking for leaders.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451625950
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

John P. Kotter is Chairman of the Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management Area at the Harvard Business School. The winner of two McKinsey Awards from the Harvard Business Review, he is the author of six books, including Power and Influence (also published by The Free Press).
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Read an Excerpt

General Managers


By John P. Kotter

Free Press

Copyright © 1986 John P. Kotter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780029182307

Chapter 2

The General Management Jobs: Key Challenges and Dilemmas

It is well recognized in a general sense that the world of the typical manager has changed considerably during this century as organizations have grown larger, more diverse, more geographically dispersed, more technologically sophisticated, and the like. But I wonder if we really appreciate in a more specific sense how these trends, which continue today, affect the nature of managerial work.

With respect to general-management jobs, these trends seem to have made most of these jobs extremely demanding, difficult, and complex in both an intellectual and an interpersonal sense. These jobs today put a person in a position where he is held responsible for a complex system which he cannot directly control and cannot entirely understand. They demand that he identify problems and solutions in an environment where behavior-results linkages are unclear, that he cope with the fact that thousands of diverse issues and problems could absorb his time and attention, that he balance the short and the long run despite pressures to ignore the latter, that he somehow motivate good performance and deal with bad performance on the part of large numbers of subordinates, that he keep a very diverse group of people working together harmoniously and effectively, and that he get a lot of other busy people over whom he has no formal authority always to cooperatewith him.

These same trends have also helped create more kinds of GM jobs, and have made the key demands associated with those jobs less and less similar in different contexts. As a result, two general-management jobs today can be very different in terms of the key tasks involved, and thus in terms of the demands they make of the general manager. Even GM jobs that look very much alike on the surface can present the incumbent managers with a very different set of challenges and dilemmas.

In this chapter we will examine in some detail the basic nature of the demands associated with all the general-management jobs in this study. Further, we will explore how and why these demands can be different in different settings.

The Job, the Context, and the Emergent Demands

Like most "Jobs" in modern organizations, the GM jobs in this study tended to be defined, sometimes formally and sometimes not, in terms of a set of responsibilities and a set of relationships. Specifically, the responsibilities and relationships associated with these jobs were:

A. Responsibilities

1. Long run -- for setting some or all of the basic goals, directions, and priorities for an organization, including deciding what business or businesses to be in, and how to secure key resources.

2. Medium run -- for deciding how to allocate resources effectively to that business or those businesses so as to achieve long-run goals.

3. Short run -- for the efficient use of the human, financial, and material resources employed in that business or those businesses, including some profit responsibility.

B. Relationships

1. Up -- reporting to a GM boss (or a board of directors).

2. Lateral -- sometimes (but not always) having to rely on other internal groups for support (e.g., corporate staff) or having to coordinate groups that are associated with the business but do not report to this GM position.

3. Down -- authority over what is usually a very diverse set of subordinates (not just specialists in a single function).

As the above suggests with such words as "some," "usually," and "sometimes," there was variety in how these jobs were defined, and we will explore that variation later in this chapter. But despite that variety, this statement of responsibilities and relationships basically describes all the GM jobs in this study.

These jobs were located within broader business and organizational contexts that were almost always quite complex, owing to factors such as business uncertainty and the large number of people involved. As a result, each of the job responsibilities and relationships tended to be magnified and shaped into important and difficult sets of demands, challenges, and dilemmas.

Job Demands I: Challenges and Dilemmas Associated with the Responsibilities

1. Key Problem/Challenge #1: Setting basic goals, policies, and strategies despite great uncertainties. In the typical GM job in this study, the long-run task was fraught with great uncertainty. The number of factors relevant to this type of strategic decision making was generally enormous. Knowledge of how those factors interacted was generally very limited. And tools for forecasting those factors into the future were generally crude. Yet despite all this uncertainty, the GM job was usually charged with overall responsibility for making the long-run decisions for some organization.

Dan Donahue, for example, had been in the process of reexamining and adjusting the basic direction of his organization when I first met him. This reexamination occurred because his division (which he had just recently joined) had been losing money. The reexamination had proved to be a very difficult task for two major reasons. First, Dan lacked clear information regarding the past and present state of affairs in his division and in that industry. He could not clearly identify what, if any, distinctive competence and comparative advantages his division had over companies with whom they competed. Different individuals in the company had varying opinions, none of which could be objectively verified with available information. Second, forecasting future opportunities and risks was hampered by dozens of important unknowns. Even the most sophisticated information gathering, analysis, and forecasting could offer only vague guesses to such questions as:

* Will there be any breakthroughs in the next decade in the two or three technologies they used most often? If yes, how will these affect product design and manufacturing economics?

* How will changes in the demographics of the labor force, in family patterns, and in disposable income affect consumer demand for their products? What impact will inflation have on consumer demand? How bad will the inflation be?

* Will any major new competitors enter their industry in the next decade? If yes, who are they likely to be (foreign or domestic) and where will they try to position themselves?

* Who is likely to win the U.S. elections in 1980 and 1984? What effect might that have on the regulation of their industry?

* What will probably be happening in the parent corporation over the next decade? How will that affect their inclination to provide resources to this division?

Although the long-run decisions that Donahue faced were extremely complex and the uncertainties very large, his situation was not at all atypical in this study. Indeed, at least half the other GMs had to deal with a long-run task which seemed to be as or more complex and uncertain. Furthermore, all the evidence of which I am aware suggests that the same is true in general for these kinds of jobs in corporations today.

2. Key Problem/Challenge #2: Achieving a delicate balance in the allocation of scarce resources among a diverse set of functional and business needs. Not allowing short-run concerns to dominate long-run ones, or marketing issues to stifle production needs, etc. Because of growth, ambitious goals, performance problems, and the like, resources were usually scarce in the situations in this study. Indeed, none of the fifteen GMs had extra cash for which there was no clear need. This scarcity made resource allocation an especially important task. Furthermore, the typical situation had a diverse set of activities that required resources because of the different products, markets, functions, and technologies involved. This diversity made resource allocation a complex task. Taken together, scarcity of resources and diversity of needs made the resource allocation task a most demanding balancing act. Under these conditions it was easy for short-run concerns to dominate long-run issues, or one product line to starve another, or one functional area to stifle another.

When I was with John Thompson, the United States economy had just gone into an economic downturn. Because sales were slipping, he had to reduce the resource budgets that had been previously planned in order to maintain some minimum level of profitability. In commenting on this, he told me:

Sometimes it is very difficult to judge how much to cut and where in a situation like this. If I cut too much, we do well this year, but it will hurt us in the future. If I don't cut enough, we can be hurt badly this year. If I overdo the cuts in operations, we could end up with business that we cannot handle. If I overdo the cuts in sales, we could end up with excess capacity in operations. It really is a tough balancing act.

Frank Firono talked about this same basic issue in this way:

In our business it is easy to crank out the short-term sales and relatively easy to get short-run profits. It's also relatively easy to get one store really performing well. What is difficult is to achieve acceptable short-run numbers while maintaining or increasing the quality of the business (a key long-term objective), and to get most or all of your stores performing pretty well.

To some degree, all the GMs in this study faced this problem. Evidence from elsewhere again suggests that this is probably the case for GM jobs in general.

3. Key Problem/Challenge #3: Keeping on top of a very large and diverse set of activities. Being able to identify problems ("fires") that are out of control and to solve them quickly. Because the buck stops at the GMs' desks, any problem associated with their businesses can become their problem. Any task that is not being accomplished effectively or efficiently can eventually create serious problems for them. But because of the typical scope of a GM's job, spotting fires that are out of control can be extremely difficult. And because of the diversity and complexity of these activities, figuring out how to put the fires out can also be very challenging.

Some of the GMs in this study were responsible for operations that spanned the entire globe. Some were responsible for the manufacturing and selling of hundreds of different kinds of products. Some were responsible for operations that employed many different technologies. In the case of a typical GM, thousands of people, most of whom were not physically located close to him, were somehow involved in his operations on a daily basis. Under these circumstances, simply trying to monitor daily or weekly operational activity can be extremely difficult. The most impressive information-systems technology available today cannot monitor all this activity quickly and accurately. Even if it could, a GM could spend twenty-four hours a day simply trying to digest that information. Furthermore, under these circumstances, the sheer volume of relatively minor short-run problems can be enormous. B.J. Sparksman echoed the sentiments of many of the people in this study when he told me that "sometimes this job is just a never-ending supply of little problems."

Furthermore, the complex nature of the operational activities associated with most of these jobs can make it very difficult to know what to do when a "problem" is seen. During my visits with the GMs, I saw numerous instances of this. In one fairly typical case, the company involved was experiencing difficulty making shipments. The general manager, Richard Papolis, was faced with two questions: first, how important was this problem (and how much attention, if any, should he give to it); second, why was this happening (what was the underlying problem)? Papolis' subordinates had varying opinions regarding these questions. Some felt the problem was due to the poor performance of two individuals in manufacturing and could be corrected fairly easily. Others felt it was more complex, systemic, and important. They argued that the entire manufacturing function had not been keeping up with the company's growth. Still others felt the problem was caused mostly by the marketing department, which had been having trouble forecasting orders accurately. A few initial discussions on these issues brought Papolis a lot of information -- both facts and opinions -- but no clear answer to either of his questions. Such was often the case.

Again, to some degree, this kind of problem was a part of all the jobs in this study. Evidence from elsewhere also suggests that the same is probably true for most or all GMs.

Job Demands II: Challenges and Dilemmas Associated with the Relationships

In addition to responsibilities, the GM jobs placed the incumbents in a web of relationships which both influenced and were influenced by those responsibilities. Each major type of relationship usually created its own set of challenges and problems.

4. Key Problem/Challenge #4: Getting the information, cooperation, and support needed from bosses to do the job. Being demanding with superiors without being perceived as uncooperative. Like other managers, the GMs were not able to do their jobs without some support and cooperation from their superiors. Their bosses could supply critical resources, information, and rewards. Because of this, because their superiors were human (not "perfect" bosses), and for still other reasons, another important job challenge or problem related to managing relationships with a boss or a group of bosses.

Gerald Allen and Dan Donahue, both of whom were located a few levels below their corporate CEOs, had relatively weak and unrespected immediate bosses. In both cases, this made the task of reporting to top management and getting its support more difficult. Without extra effort on the parts of Allen and Donahue, messages from the top sometimes did not arrive clearly or on time, and their ideas or requests did not receive enough top-management attention. In addition, because their bosses could offer them so little, just dealing with them on a daily basis was often frustrating and took time away from more important matters.

Terry Franklin and Bob Anderson were physically located more than 1,000 miles from their bosses, and their businesses accounted for less than 10 percent of their bosses' responsibilities. Franklin only saw his boss two or three times a year. These factors gave Franklin and Anderson considerable daily autonomy but made it difficult to get their bosses' attention, understandably, or help.

Paul Jackson reported to a very strong corporate CEO who had once been his peer (and rival). Because their management styles were also very different, Jackson found dealing with his boss to be most difficult. Others in the company reported that his boss had reprimanded him loudly in public on a number of occasions. At one point, Jackson told me that, because of his boss, his job "simply was not any fun anymore."

Other GMs in the study had still other problems that made managing their relationships to their bosses difficult or frustrating or both. Even in those cases where it was not a "problem," the task of "managing up" was taken very seriously by the GMs. They all recognized that, to some degree, current job performance and future career success depended on it. Such appears to be the case not only in other GM jobs, but in most managerial jobs.

5. Key Problem/Challenge #5: Getting corporate staff, other relevant departments or divisions, and important external groups (e.g., big unions or customers or suppliers) to cooperate despite the lack of any formal authority over them; getting things done through them despite resistance, red tape, and the like. Most of the GM jobs in this study had to interface with some corporate staff groups. Some also were required to coordinate functional groups that related to their businesses but that did not report directly to them. Still others had to deal with unions or other external groups because of their size and importance to the business. Many of these lateral relationships were somewhat adversarial in nature, and they often created problems for the GMs. Sometimes the problems were extensive.

When I asked Paul Jackson to tell me about the most difficult decision he had had to make in the past few years, he quickly replied that "making decisions is easy, but getting them implemented is sometimes nearly impossible. I have to work through so many people who do not report to me that it can be terribly difficult at times." John Thompson put it this way:

This would be a much easier, and I think, more fun job if we were left alone to do our work. Instead, there are so many people that want to get into the act: corporate staff, other divisions, people from Washington, unions, etc., etc.

When I was visiting Jack Martin, he learned that actions made by two others in his corporation, neither of whom reported to him, would cost him about $350,000 on his bottom line. In neither case was he consulted or warned in advance; he was simply informed after the fact. And (obviously) he was furious! I watched Gerald Allen sit in the office of a staff manager (who did not report to him) for about thirty minutes while that manager was blatantly rude and offensive to him. But Allen sat calmly until he received assurances that something he needed would be done. In still other cases, I saw GMs struggle with corporate advertising departments who provided little service at a big cost, with important customers who wanted unreasonable favors, and with a wide variety of other similar situations.

Evidence from elsewhere suggests that these problems posed by lateral relationships are common today in general-management jobs, especially those in divisionalized firms. Some evidence even suggests that they are a large part of most managerial jobs today.

6. Key Problem/Challenge #6: Motivating and controlling a large and diverse group of subordinates. Dealing with inadequate performance, interdepartmental conflict, and the like. The general management jobs in this study gave the incumbents authority over what was usually a large and diverse yet interdependent group of people. The people typically had different points of view, different stakes in organizational decisions and outcomes, and sometimes quite different personalities. But the GMs had to depend upon them all, because they directly affected areas for which the GMs were responsible.

The GMs in this study often talked about motivating good performance, and nearly half said that the most difficult decision they had to make in the past few years was in regard to replacing a key subordinate. In each of these cases, the subordinate was not performing adequately, and the GM had to make difficult judgements regarding whether the person could ever improve, how much longer it might take, and the costs and risks of inadequate performance in the interim. I even watched Michael Richardson agonize over such a problem. In that situation, two of the key people reporting to one of his subordinates had recently quit, and some of those who remained were very upset about the way their boss was managing things. Richardson had already tried a few solutions to "the problem" that had not worked, yet he did not want to make an irreversible decision unless it was absolutely necessary. He had known this person for fifteen years and had put him in his current position. The whole situation was agonizing for the subordinate, for Richardson, and for those around him, some of whom were pressuring him to act in very different ways.

The GMs in this study also frequently commented about conflict and communication problems among subordinates and their departments. Bob Anderson told me that "The editorial side of the organization and the business side of the organization are two different worlds. Like oil and water, they don't mix well." Richard Poullin pointed out that "The. creative people and the operating people would be at each other's throats in five minutes if we didn't constantly work to avoid these problems."

I witnessed a number of instances in which a GM had to become involved in a problem between subordinates from different departments. On some occasions, the conflicts were based on relatively simple misunderstandings. But in some cases, the problems were heated, very complex, and not at all easy to resolve. When I visited John Cohen, two of his young and ambitious subordinates were almost at each other's throats. Each sincerely believed the other person to be the source of conflict. One felt that the other was attacking him for political gain, the other saw the first as creating big problems for the company and refusing to listen to intelligent advice. After speaking to both of them, it was not at all obvious to me how to cool them off and resolve their differences without considerable effort.

Managing subordinates was a moderate-to-very-severe challenge in all the GM jobs in the study. Considerable evidence from elsewhere suggests that this is probably the norm for GM jobs, as well as for most other middle and upper level management jobs?

The Overall Demands: A Summary

All of the demands associated with GM job responsibilities and relationships are summarized in Figures 2.1 and 2.2. Any one of the problems and challenges shown in these figures could make a job difficult. All six together add up to what can be a particularly stressful situation and a very difficult time-management problem. Many of the general managers in this study worked sixty or more hours a week, and some confided that the job could absorb 120 hours if they did not set some limits on themselves. Moreover, they usually worked in a rapid-pace, high-pressure environment. John Thompson, one of the GMs who had recently started in his first general-management role, expressed the problem this way:

Before (in his previous job) it was easier to stop at 6:00, to turn off the job in my mind, and to go home. Now, even if I leave at 6:00, I find myself thinking or worrying about something on the way home and at home. There is always something.

Tom Long put it this way:

It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to see me each day, and how many different problems they come up with. We could schedule meetings all day and all night if we didn't try to control it.

Of course, general-management jobs are not unique in the time they require or in the pressures involved. Other professional and managerial jobs can be very time-consuming and stressful. Nor can the demands listed in Figures 2.1 and 2.2 be found only in GM jobs. To a degree, almost all management jobs have somewhat similar demands; but general-management jobs seem to be unique with respect to the overall diversity of demands.

No other managerial or professional job places a person in a position where he or she must deal with long-, medium-, and short-run tasks, as well as with a very diverse group of specialists in a variety of different kinds of relationships. All other jobs somehow limit the diversity of demands. For example, lower-level management jobs do not have the long-run responsibilities. Other higher-level management jobs do not have the same variety of specialists as subordinates. Staff jobs and traditional professional jobs seldom have many subordinates at all. Only GM jobs contain all this task- and people-related diversity. Ultimately, therefore, it is the diversity of complex demands that makes the job a general management job, that makes it different, and that makes it particularly difficult.

Differences in Job Demands

Although the GM jobs in this study shared the same six basic demands, there was considerable variation among them in terms of the overall intensity of those demands, the relative importance of the six problem areas, and the exact nature of each demand. For example, although all of the GM jobs in this study presented the incumbent with difficult decision-making problems, figuring out what to do was much more complex in some settings than others. Likewise, although all the jobs contained difficult implementation problems, getting things done was clearly much more demanding in some situations than in others.

In general, it appears that at least two major factors help create these kinds of differences associated with GM jobs (see Figure 2.3). First of all, differences in the job itself appear to be important. There seem to be a number of different kinds of GM jobs that are common today, each of which has a slightly different configuration of responsibilities and relationships. Second, differences in the business and corporate contexts seem to be very important. Running a banking business, for example, can present very different problems from running an automobile parts business. And running that business in a small, young, western company can present very different problems from running it in a large, old, eastern corporation.

Seven Different Kinds of GM Jobs

Before World War I, for all practical purposes there was only one type of GM job in the United States: a chief executive officer (CEO) reporting to a board of directors, with full responsibility for a functionally organized company. Even up to World War II, probably 95 percent or more of all GM jobs were of this single type. But in the past forty years, as businesses have grown larger, more diverse, and more complex, different kinds of GM jobs have emerged in some significant number. These jobs have been "invented" along with more and more complex organizational structures to help corporations manage their large size and diversity. Today there are at least seven different, commonly found types of GM jobs. These include what I will call the functional CEO; the multidivisional CEO; the group GM; the autonomous division GM; the semiautonomous division GM; the product/market GM; and the operations GM. Briefly, the seven types can be described as follows:

1. CEO in a functionally organized company: This is the "traditional" GM job, which reports to a board of directors (or chairman) and has functional managers reporting to it.

2. Corporate CEO in a multidivisional company: The most obvious difference between this and the first type is that general managers, in addition to some staff functional managers, report to this position. Furthermore, the multidivisional CEO usually has fewer short-run responsibilities.

3. Group GM: This type of GM job reports to a general manager and has GMs reporting to him. A typical group GM, for example, might report to a multidivisional CEO and have six or seven division GMs reporting to him. This job also tends to have fewer long-run responsibilities than a CEO and fewer important external lateral relations (e.g., to bankers).

4. Autonomous division GM: This type of GM is in many ways like the traditional job (#1), except that it reports to a GM, not a chairman or a board of directors. Like the group GM, it tends to have fewer long-run responsibilities than a CEO, more short-run responsibilities, and fewer corporate external lateral relations. Often the key responsibility in this job is for profit.

5. Semiautonomous division GM: This GM job is like the last, except that it has fewer downward but more internal lateral relations (to corporate staff), it reports more closely upwards, and it tends to have slightly fewer responsibilities overall. For example, a typical semiautonomous division GM might report to a Group GM (who has several other divisions with related products/services/markets) and have to rely to some degree on corporate (or group-level) personnel, legal, accounting, public relations, and financial staff.

6. Product/market GM: This type of general manager tends to have even fewer types of subordinates and more lateral relations. Typically, for example, mostly marketing people will report to this job, but the GM will be responsible for coordinating the manufacturing and engineering people associated with his business (or businesses). This job also has still fewer long-run responsibilities.

7. Operations GM: This final type of common GM job tends to have the least overall long-run and the most short-run responsibility. It tends to have mostly manufacturing or sales/service personnel reporting to it and to have some lateral relations (which, unlike the P/M GM, it does not have to coordinate closely). A typical operations GM might be the manager of a plant or a group of plants who is only partially responsible for a calculated "profit," and who has some personnel, accounting, and other staff reporting to him.

Of these seven types, the functional CEO, autonomous division GM, and the operations GM are probably the most common in existence today. The multidivisional CEO and group GM are probably the rarest (accounting for only about 1 percent of the total). For example, there are probably fewer than 1500 group GMs in the U.S. There are undoubtedly even more types of GM jobs that are even rarer and less visible today (such as, for example, "Sector" GMs) or are slightly different from the seven types described here.

Of the GMs in this study, two were operations GMs (Allen and Long); four were product/market GMs (Gaines, Martin, Jackson, and Donahue); three were semiautonomous division GMs (Poullin, Thompson, and Sparksman); five were autonomous division GMs (Anderson, Cohen, Franklin, Firono, and Papolis); one was a functional CEO (Richardson); and none was a group GM or mutidivisional CEO GM. The absence of the latter two types was purposive, although in retrospect it was a mistake. (When designing the study I was warned not to include GMs who were managers of GMs because those jobs may be "different." Implicitly, the assumption was that there may be two types of GM jobs.)

Some people might argue that only the first four types of GM jobs are really GM jobs (or perhaps just #1, #2, and #4, or even just #1 and #4). In doing so, they implicitly apply a relationship-oriented criterion in defining the job. For example, the most common restrictive definition assumes that all GM jobs, like the traditional one, should have no lateral relationships of any consequence inside the firm and always have all relevant functions reporting to them. But such a definition misses, I think, the core of the job, which is responsibility-oriented. All of the seven types of GM jobs identified here have some multifunctional responsibility for a business or businesses; that is the real essence of a GM job.

One of the giant corporations in this study had six of the seven types of GM jobs within its structure. Figure 2.4 shows in a rough way how these six types of GM jobs were different yet related in this one setting. The corporate CEO job in that corporation was unique in that it had long-run responsibilities that were much more demanding than its short-run responsibilities. The operations GM job stands out for the opposite reason; it had short-run responsibilities that were much more demanding than its long-run ones. The product/market GM job was most different because it had the greatest lateral relationship demands. And the group GM job stands out because, when the incumbents had autonomous division GMs reporting to them, they were in the unusual position of having both a boss and a subordinate who had more autonomy (in a lateral sense) than they did (which did not make the group GMs very comfortable).

The overall pattern in Figure 2.4 is that as one moves down



Continues...


Excerpted from General Managers by John P. Kotter Copyright © 1986 by John P. Kotter. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition

Preface

1. INTRODUCTION

The Participants in the Study

A Few Examples: Gaines, Thompson, and Richardson

The Findings and Their Presentations: Some Initial Comments

The Organization of the Book

The Major Themes


2. THE GENERAL MANAGEMENT JOBS: KEY CHALLENGES AND DILEMMAS

The Jobs, the Context and the Emergent Demands

Job Demands I: Challenges and Dilemmas Associated with the Responsibilities

Job Demands II: Challenges and Dilemmas Associated with the Relationships

The Overall Demands: A Summary


Differences in Job Demands

Seven Different Kinds of GM Jobs

Different Business and Corporate Settings: The Impact of Size, Age, Performance Level, and Other Factors


Summary and Discussion

3. THE GENERAL MANAGERS: PERSONAL AND BACKGROUND CHARACTERISTICS

Common Personal Characteristics

Basic Personality

Knowledge and Relationships

Job-related Reasons for the Similarities


Common Background Characteristics

Childhood Family Environment

Educational and Career Experiences

Possible Reasons for the Background Similarities


Differences in Personal and Background Characteristics

Age-related Differences

Job-related Reasons for Individual Differences

Main Factors Creating Misfits


Summary and Discussion

4. GENERAL MANAGERS IN ACTION: PART I -- SIMILARITIES IN BEHAVIOR

The Approach

Agenda Setting

Network Building

Execution: Getting Networks to Implement Agendas


Underlying Reasons for the Basic Approach

Forces Behind the Agenda-setting Process

Forces Behind the Network-building Process

Forces Behind the Execution Process


Manifestations of This Approach in Daily Behavior

The Twelve Visible Patterns in How They Use Their Time

A Specific Example


Job-related Reasons for the Similarities

Patterns Directly Related to Their Approach to the Job

The Efficiency of Seemingly Inefficient Behavior


Summary and Discussion

5. GENERAL MANAGERS IN ACTION: PART II -- DIFFERENCES IN BEHAVIOR

The Basic Patterns

The Range of Differences

Antecedents


Tom Long

The Job and Its Context

Tom

Tom's Approach to the Job

Daily Behavior


Richard Papolis

The Job and Its Context

Richard

Richard's Approach to the Job

Daily Behavior

Long and Papolis: A Few Final Observations


Differences in Behavior, Their Antecedents, and Performance

Summary and Discussion

f0 6. SUMMARY, DISCUSSION, AND IMPLICATIONS FOR INCREASING GM PERFORMANCE

Summary

Job Demands

The Personal Characteristics of Effective General Managers

Similarities in the Behavior of Effective General Managers

Differences in Behavior

The Overall Findings: A Summary Comment


Implications for Corporate Selection, Development, and Staffing Practices

Finding GMs: Insiders or Outsiders

Developing GMs

Designing and/or Selecting Training Programs

Matching People and Jobs


Implications for Managing General Managers

Helping New GMs Get Up to Speed

The Role of Formal Planning and Performance Appraisal

Allowing Appropriate Differences

Minimizing the "I Can Do Anything" Syndrome


Implications for Formal Education

Admissions

The Curriculum

Career Management

Broadening Perspectives


Implications for Management Theory and Research

Key Implications for Managerial Behavior Theory

Key Implications for Research Topics

Key Methodological Implications


APPENDIX A THE STUDY

The Process of Inquiry

An Example of the Methodology in Action

The Process in Retrospect: A Few Reflections


APPENDIX B INTERVIEW GUIDES

For Associates of the GMs

For the General Managers

APPENDIX C QUESTIONNAIRES

The Strong-Campbell

The Occupational Scales

Other Scales


The Background Questionnaire

APPENDIX D RÉSUMÉS FOR THE GENERAL MANAGERS

Gerald Allen

Bob Anderson

John Cohen

Dan Donahue

Frank Firono

Terry Franklin

Chuck Gaines

Paul Jackson

Tom Long

Jack Martin

Richard Papolis

Richard Poullin

Michael Richardson

B.J. Sparksman

John Thompson

APPENDIX E APPRAISING GM PERFORMANCE

The Method Employed

The Rating

Notes

Bibliography

Index
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First Chapter

Chapter 2 The General Management Jobs: Key Challenges and Dilemmas

It is well recognized in a general sense that the world of the typical manager has changed considerably during this century as organizations have grown larger, more diverse, more geographically dispersed, more technologically sophisticated, and the like. But I wonder if we really appreciate in a more specific sense how these trends, which continue today, affect the nature of managerial work.

With respect to general-management jobs, these trends seem to have made most of these jobs extremely demanding, difficult, and complex in both an intellectual and an interpersonal sense. These jobs today put a person in a position where he is held responsible for a complex system which he cannot directly control and cannot entirely understand. They demand that he identify problems and solutions in an environment where behavior-results linkages are unclear, that he cope with the fact that thousands of diverse issues and problems could absorb his time and attention, that he balance the short and the long run despite pressures to ignore the latter, that he somehow motivate good performance and deal with bad performance on the part of large numbers of subordinates, that he keep a very diverse group of people working together harmoniously and effectively, and that he get a lot of other busy people over whom he has no formal authority always to cooperate with him.

These same trends have also helped create more kinds of GM jobs, and have made the key demands associated with those jobs less and less similar in different contexts. As a result, two general-management jobs today can be very different in terms of the key tasks involved, and thus in terms of the demands they make of the general manager. Even GM jobs that look very much alike on the surface can present the incumbent managers with a very different set of challenges and dilemmas.

In this chapter we will examine in some detail the basic nature of the demands associated with all the general-management jobs in this study. Further, we will explore how and why these demands can be different in different settings.

The Job, the Context, and the Emergent Demands

Like most "Jobs" in modern organizations, the GM jobs in this study tended to be defined, sometimes formally and sometimes not, in terms of a set of responsibilities and a set of relationships. Specifically, the responsibilities and relationships associated with these jobs were:

A. Responsibilities

1. Long run -- for setting some or all of the basic goals, directions, and priorities for an organization, including deciding what business or businesses to be in, and how to secure key resources.
2. Medium run -- for deciding how to allocate resources effectively to that business or those businesses so as to achieve long-run goals.
3. Short run -- for the efficient use of the human, financial, and material resources employed in that business or those businesses, including some profit responsibility.

B. Relationships

1. Up -- reporting to a GM boss (or a board of directors).
2. Lateral -- sometimes (but not always) having to rely on other internal groups for support (e.g., corporate staff) or having to coordinate groups that are associated with the business but do not report to this GM position.
3. Down -- authority over what is usually a very diverse set of subordinates (not just specialists in a single function).

As the above suggests with such words as "some," "usually," and "sometimes," there was variety in how these jobs were defined, and we will explore that variation later in this chapter. But despite that variety, this statement of responsibilities and relationships basically describes all the GM jobs in this study.

These jobs were located within broader business and organizational contexts that were almost always quite complex, owing to factors such as business uncertainty and the large number of people involved. As a result, each of the job responsibilities and relationships tended to be magnified and shaped into important and difficult sets of demands, challenges, and dilemmas.

Job Demands I: Challenges and Dilemmas Associated with the Responsibilities

1. Key Problem/Challenge #1: Setting basic goals, policies, and strategies despite great uncertainties. In the typical GM job in this study, the long-run task was fraught with great uncertainty. The number of factors relevant to this type of strategic decision making was generally enormous. Knowledge of how those factors interacted was generally very limited. And tools for forecasting those factors into the future were generally crude. Yet despite all this uncertainty, the GM job was usually charged with overall responsibility for making the long-run decisions for some organization.

Dan Donahue, for example, had been in the process of reexamining and adjusting the basic direction of his organization when I first met him. This reexamination occurred because his division (which he had just recently joined) had been losing money. The reexamination had proved to be a very difficult task for two major reasons. First, Dan lacked clear information regarding the past and present state of affairs in his division and in that industry. He could not clearly identify what, if any, distinctive competence and comparative advantages his division had over companies with whom they competed. Different individuals in the company had varying opinions, none of which could be objectively verified with available information. Second, forecasting future opportunities and risks was hampered by dozens of important unknowns. Even the most sophisticated information gathering, analysis, and forecasting could offer only vague guesses to such questions as:

* Will there be any breakthroughs in the next decade in the two or three technologies they used most often? If yes, how will these affect product design and manufacturing economics?
* How will changes in the demographics of the labor force, in family patterns, and in disposable income affect consumer demand for their products? What impact will inflation have on consumer demand? How bad will the inflation be?
* Will any major new competitors enter their industry in the next decade? If yes, who are they likely to be (foreign or domestic) and where will they try to position themselves?
* Who is likely to win the U.S. elections in 1980 and 1984? What effect might that have on the regulation of their industry?
* What will probably be happening in the parent corporation over the next decade? How will that affect their inclination to provide resources to this division?

Although the long-run decisions that Donahue faced were extremely complex and the uncertainties very large, his situation was not at all atypical in this study. Indeed, at least half the other GMs had to deal with a long-run task which seemed to be as or more complex and uncertain. Furthermore, all the evidence of which I am aware suggests that the same is true in general for these kinds of jobs in corporations today.

2. Key Problem/Challenge #2: Achieving a delicate balance in the allocation of scarce resources among a diverse set of functional and business needs. Not allowing short-run concerns to dominate long-run ones, or marketing issues to stifle production needs, etc. Because of growth, ambitious goals, performance problems, and the like, resources were usually scarce in the situations in this study. Indeed, none of the fifteen GMs had extra cash for which there was no clear need. This scarcity made resource allocation an especially important task. Furthermore, the typical situation had a diverse set of activities that required resources because of the different products, markets, functions, and technologies involved. This diversity made resource allocation a complex task. Taken together, scarcity of resources and diversity of needs made the resource allocation task a most demanding balancing act. Under these conditions it was easy for short-run concerns to dominate long-run issues, or one product line to starve another, or one functional area to stifle another.

When I was with John Thompson, the United States economy had just gone into an economic downturn. Because sales were slipping, he had to reduce the resource budgets that had been previously planned in order to maintain some minimum level of profitability. In commenting on this, he told me:

Sometimes it is very difficult to judge how much to cut and where in a situation like this. If I cut too much, we do well this year, but it will hurt us in the future. If I don't cut enough, we can be hurt badly this year. If I overdo the cuts in operations, we could end up with business that we cannot handle. If I overdo the cuts in sales, we could end up with excess capacity in operations. It really is a tough balancing act.

Frank Firono talked about this same basic issue in this way:

In our business it is easy to crank out the short-term sales and relatively easy to get short-run profits. It's also relatively easy to get one store really performing well. What is difficult is to achieve acceptable short-run numbers while maintaining or increasing the quality of the business (a key long-term objective), and to get most or all of your stores performing pretty well.

To some degree, all the GMs in this study faced this problem. Evidence from elsewhere again suggests that this is probably the case for GM jobs in general.

3. Key Problem/Challenge #3: Keeping on top of a very large and diverse set of activities. Being able to identify problems ("fires") that are out of control and to solve them quickly. Because the buck stops at the GMs' desks, any problem associated with their businesses can become their problem. Any task that is not being accomplished effectively or efficiently can eventually create serious problems for them. But because of the typical scope of a GM's job, spotting fires that are out of control can be extremely difficult. And because of the diversity and complexity of these activities, figuring out how to put the fires out can also be very challenging.

Some of the GMs in this study were responsible for operations that spanned the entire globe. Some were responsible for the manufacturing and selling of hundreds of different kinds of products. Some were responsible for operations that employed many different technologies. In the case of a typical GM, thousands of people, most of whom were not physically located close to him, were somehow involved in his operations on a daily basis. Under these circumstances, simply trying to monitor daily or weekly operational activity can be extremely difficult. The most impressive information-systems technology available today cannot monitor all this activity quickly and accurately. Even if it could, a GM could spend twenty-four hours a day simply trying to digest that information. Furthermore, under these circumstances, the sheer volume of relatively minor short-run problems can be enormous. B.J. Sparksman echoed the sentiments of many of the people in this study when he told me that "sometimes this job is just a never-ending supply of little problems."

Furthermore, the complex nature of the operational activities associated with most of these jobs can make it very difficult to know what to do when a "problem" is seen. During my visits with the GMs, I saw numerous instances of this. In one fairly typical case, the company involved was experiencing difficulty making shipments. The general manager, Richard Papolis, was faced with two questions: first, how important was this problem (and how much attention, if any, should he give to it); second, why was this happening (what was the underlying problem)? Papolis' subordinates had varying opinions regarding these questions. Some felt the problem was due to the poor performance of two individuals in manufacturing and could be corrected fairly easily. Others felt it was more complex, systemic, and important. They argued that the entire manufacturing function had not been keeping up with the company's growth. Still others felt the problem was caused mostly by the marketing department, which had been having trouble forecasting orders accurately. A few initial discussions on these issues brought Papolis a lot of information -- both facts and opinions -- but no clear answer to either of his questions. Such was often the case.

Again, to some degree, this kind of problem was a part of all the jobs in this study. Evidence from elsewhere also suggests that the same is probably true for most or all GMs.

Job Demands II: Challenges and Dilemmas Associated with the Relationships

In addition to responsibilities, the GM jobs placed the incumbents in a web of relationships which both influenced and were influenced by those responsibilities. Each major type of relationship usually created its own set of challenges and problems.

4. Key Problem/Challenge #4: Getting the information, cooperation, and support needed from bosses to do the job. Being demanding with superiors without being perceived as uncooperative. Like other managers, the GMs were not able to do their jobs without some support and cooperation from their superiors. Their bosses could supply critical resources, information, and rewards. Because of this, because their superiors were human (not "perfect" bosses), and for still other reasons, another important job challenge or problem related to managing relationships with a boss or a group of bosses.

Gerald Allen and Dan Donahue, both of whom were located a few levels below their corporate CEOs, had relatively weak and unrespected immediate bosses. In both cases, this made the task of reporting to top management and getting its support more difficult. Without extra effort on the parts of Allen and Donahue, messages from the top sometimes did not arrive clearly or on time, and their ideas or requests did not receive enough top-management attention. In addition, because their bosses could offer them so little, just dealing with them on a daily basis was often frustrating and took time away from more important matters.

Terry Franklin and Bob Anderson were physically located more than 1,000 miles from their bosses, and their businesses accounted for less than 10 percent of their bosses' responsibilities. Franklin only saw his boss two or three times a year. These factors gave Franklin and Anderson considerable daily autonomy but made it difficult to get their bosses' attention, understandably, or help.

Paul Jackson reported to a very strong corporate CEO who had once been his peer (and rival). Because their management styles were also very different, Jackson found dealing with his boss to be most difficult. Others in the company reported that his boss had reprimanded him loudly in public on a number of occasions. At one point, Jackson told me that, because of his boss, his job "simply was not any fun anymore."

Other GMs in the study had still other problems that made managing their relationships to their bosses difficult or frustrating or both. Even in those cases where it was not a "problem," the task of "managing up" was taken very seriously by the GMs. They all recognized that, to some degree, current job performance and future career success depended on it. Such appears to be the case not only in other GM jobs, but in most managerial jobs.

5. Key Problem/Challenge #5: Getting corporate staff, other relevant departments or divisions, and important external groups (e.g., big unions or customers or suppliers) to cooperate despite the lack of any formal authority over them; getting things done through them despite resistance, red tape, and the like. Most of the GM jobs in this study had to interface with some corporate staff groups. Some also were required to coordinate functional groups that related to their businesses but that did not report directly to them. Still others had to deal with unions or other external groups because of their size and importance to the business. Many of these lateral relationships were somewhat adversarial in nature, and they often created problems for the GMs. Sometimes the problems were extensive.

When I asked Paul Jackson to tell me about the most difficult decision he had had to make in the past few years, he quickly replied that "making decisions is easy, but getting them implemented is sometimes nearly impossible. I have to work through so many people who do not report to me that it can be terribly difficult at times." John Thompson put it this way:

This would be a much easier, and I think, more fun job if we were left alone to do our work. Instead, there are so many people that want to get into the act: corporate staff, other divisions, people from Washington, unions, etc., etc.

When I was visiting Jack Martin, he learned that actions made by two others in his corporation, neither of whom reported to him, would cost him about $350,000 on his bottom line. In neither case was he consulted or warned in advance; he was simply informed after the fact. And (obviously) he was furious! I watched Gerald Allen sit in the office of a staff manager (who did not report to him) for about thirty minutes while that manager was blatantly rude and offensive to him. But Allen sat calmly until he received assurances that something he needed would be done. In still other cases, I saw GMs struggle with corporate advertising departments who provided little service at a big cost, with important customers who wanted unreasonable favors, and with a wide variety of other similar situations.

Evidence from elsewhere suggests that these problems posed by lateral relationships are common today in general-management jobs, especially those in divisionalized firms. Some evidence even suggests that they are a large part of most managerial jobs today.

6. Key Problem/Challenge #6: Motivating and controlling a large and diverse group of subordinates. Dealing with inadequate performance, interdepartmental conflict, and the like. The general management jobs in this study gave the incumbents authority over what was usually a large and diverse yet interdependent group of people. The people typically had different points of view, different stakes in organizational decisions and outcomes, and sometimes quite different personalities. But the GMs had to depend upon them all, because they directly affected areas for which the GMs were responsible.

The GMs in this study often talked about motivating good performance, and nearly half said that the most difficult decision they had to make in the past few years was in regard to replacing a key subordinate. In each of these cases, the subordinate was not performing adequately, and the GM had to make difficult judgements regarding whether the person could ever improve, how much longer it might take, and the costs and risks of inadequate performance in the interim. I even watched Michael Richardson agonize over such a problem. In that situation, two of the key people reporting to one of his subordinates had recently quit, and some of those who remained were very upset about the way their boss was managing things. Richardson had already tried a few solutions to "the problem" that had not worked, yet he did not want to make an irreversible decision unless it was absolutely necessary. He had known this person for fifteen years and had put him in his current position. The whole situation was agonizing for the subordinate, for Richardson, and for those around him, some of whom were pressuring him to act in very different ways.

The GMs in this study also frequently commented about conflict and communication problems among subordinates and their departments. Bob Anderson told me that "The editorial side of the organization and the business side of the organization are two different worlds. Like oil and water, they don't mix well." Richard Poullin pointed out that "The. creative people and the operating people would be at each other's throats in five minutes if we didn't constantly work to avoid these problems."

I witnessed a number of instances in which a GM had to become involved in a problem between subordinates from different departments. On some occasions, the conflicts were based on relatively simple misunderstandings. But in some cases, the problems were heated, very complex, and not at all easy to resolve. When I visited John Cohen, two of his young and ambitious subordinates were almost at each other's throats. Each sincerely believed the other person to be the source of conflict. One felt that the other was attacking him for political gain, the other saw the first as creating big problems for the company and refusing to listen to intelligent advice. After speaking to both of them, it was not at all obvious to me how to cool them off and resolve their differences without considerable effort.

Managing subordinates was a moderate-to-very-severe challenge in all the GM jobs in the study. Considerable evidence from elsewhere suggests that this is probably the norm for GM jobs, as well as for most other middle and upper level management jobs?

The Overall Demands: A Summary

All of the demands associated with GM job responsibilities and relationships are summarized in Figures 2.1 and 2.2. Any one of the problems and challenges shown in these figures could make a job difficult. All six together add up to what can be a particularly stressful situation and a very difficult time-management problem. Many of the general managers in this study worked sixty or more hours a week, and some confided that the job could absorb 120 hours if they did not set some limits on themselves. Moreover, they usually worked in a rapid-pace, high-pressure environment. John Thompson, one of the GMs who had recently started in his first general-management role, expressed the problem this way:

Before (in his previous job) it was easier to stop at 6:00, to turn off the job in my mind, and to go home. Now, even if I leave at 6:00, I find myself thinking or worrying about something on the way home and at home. There is always something.

Tom Long put it this way:

It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to see me each day, and how many different problems they come up with. We could schedule meetings all day and all night if we didn't try to control it.

Of course, general-management jobs are not unique in the time they require or in the pressures involved. Other professional and managerial jobs can be very time-consuming and stressful. Nor can the demands listed in Figures 2.1 and 2.2 be found only in GM jobs. To a degree, almost all management jobs have somewhat similar demands; but general-management jobs seem to be unique with respect to the overall diversity of demands.

No other managerial or professional job places a person in a position where he or she must deal with long-, medium-, and short-run tasks, as well as with a very diverse group of specialists in a variety of different kinds of relationships. All other jobs somehow limit the diversity of demands. For example, lower-level management jobs do not have the long-run responsibilities. Other higher-level management jobs do not have the same variety of specialists as subordinates. Staff jobs and traditional professional jobs seldom have many subordinates at all. Only GM jobs contain all this task- and people-related diversity. Ultimately, therefore, it is the diversity of complex demands that makes the job a general management job, that makes it different, and that makes it particularly difficult.

Differences in Job Demands

Although the GM jobs in this study shared the same six basic demands, there was considerable variation among them in terms of the overall intensity of those demands, the relative importance of the six problem areas, and the exact nature of each demand. For example, although all of the GM jobs in this study presented the incumbent with difficult decision-making problems, figuring out what to do was much more complex in some settings than others. Likewise, although all the jobs contained difficult implementation problems, getting things done was clearly much more demanding in some situations than in others.

In general, it appears that at least two major factors help create these kinds of differences associated with GM jobs (see Figure 2.3). First of all, differences in the job itself appear to be important. There seem to be a number of different kinds of GM jobs that are common today, each of which has a slightly different configuration of responsibilities and relationships. Second, differences in the business and corporate contexts seem to be very important. Running a banking business, for example, can present very different problems from running an automobile parts business. And running that business in a small, young, western company can present very different problems from running it in a large, old, eastern corporation.

Seven Different Kinds of GM Jobs

Before World War I, for all practical purposes there was only one type of GM job in the United States: a chief executive officer (CEO) reporting to a board of directors, with full responsibility for a functionally organized company. Even up to World War II, probably 95 percent or more of all GM jobs were of this single type. But in the past forty years, as businesses have grown larger, more diverse, and more complex, different kinds of GM jobs have emerged in some significant number. These jobs have been "invented" along with more and more complex organizational structures to help corporations manage their large size and diversity. Today there are at least seven different, commonly found types of GM jobs. These include what I will call the functional CEO; the multidivisional CEO; the group GM; the autonomous division GM; the semiautonomous division GM; the product/market GM; and the operations GM. Briefly, the seven types can be described as follows:

1. CEO in a functionally organized company: This is the "traditional" GM job, which reports to a board of directors (or chairman) and has functional managers reporting to it.

2. Corporate CEO in a multidivisional company: The most obvious difference between this and the first type is that general managers, in addition to some staff functional managers, report to this position. Furthermore, the multidivisional CEO usually has fewer short-run responsibilities.

3. Group GM: This type of GM job reports to a general manager and has GMs reporting to him. A typical group GM, for example, might report to a multidivisional CEO and have six or seven division GMs reporting to him. This job also tends to have fewer long-run responsibilities than a CEO and fewer important external lateral relations (e.g., to bankers).

4. Autonomous division GM: This type of GM is in many ways like the traditional job (#1), except that it reports to a GM, not a chairman or a board of directors. Like the group GM, it tends to have fewer long-run responsibilities than a CEO, more short-run responsibilities, and fewer corporate external lateral relations. Often the key responsibility in this job is for profit.

5. Semiautonomous division GM: This GM job is like the last, except that it has fewer downward but more internal lateral relations (to corporate staff), it reports more closely upwards, and it tends to have slightly fewer responsibilities overall. For example, a typical semiautonomous division GM might report to a Group GM (who has several other divisions with related products/services/markets) and have to rely to some degree on corporate (or group-level) personnel, legal, accounting, public relations, and financial staff.

6. Product/market GM: This type of general manager tends to have even fewer types of subordinates and more lateral relations. Typically, for example, mostly marketing people will report to this job, but the GM will be responsible for coordinating the manufacturing and engineering people associated with his business (or businesses). This job also has still fewer long-run responsibilities.

7. Operations GM: This final type of common GM job tends to have the least overall long-run and the most short-run responsibility. It tends to have mostly manufacturing or sales/service personnel reporting to it and to have some lateral relations (which, unlike the P/M GM, it does not have to coordinate closely). A typical operations GM might be the manager of a plant or a group of plants who is only partially responsible for a calculated "profit," and who has some personnel, accounting, and other staff reporting to him.

Of these seven types, the functional CEO, autonomous division GM, and the operations GM are probably the most common in existence today. The multidivisional CEO and group GM are probably the rarest (accounting for only about 1 percent of the total). For example, there are probably fewer than 1500 group GMs in the U.S. There are undoubtedly even more types of GM jobs that are even rarer and less visible today (such as, for example, "Sector" GMs) or are slightly different from the seven types described here.

Of the GMs in this study, two were operations GMs (Allen and Long); four were product/market GMs (Gaines, Martin, Jackson, and Donahue); three were semiautonomous division GMs (Poullin, Thompson, and Sparksman); five were autonomous division GMs (Anderson, Cohen, Franklin, Firono, and Papolis); one was a functional CEO (Richardson); and none was a group GM or mutidivisional CEO GM. The absence of the latter two types was purposive, although in retrospect it was a mistake. (When designing the study I was warned not to include GMs who were managers of GMs because those jobs may be "different." Implicitly, the assumption was that there may be two types of GM jobs.)

Some people might argue that only the first four types of GM jobs are really GM jobs (or perhaps just #1, #2, and #4, or even just #1 and #4). In doing so, they implicitly apply a relationship-oriented criterion in defining the job. For example, the most common restrictive definition assumes that all GM jobs, like the traditional one, should have no lateral relationships of any consequence inside the firm and always have all relevant functions reporting to them. But such a definition misses, I think, the core of the job, which is responsibility-oriented. All of the seven types of GM jobs identified here have some multifunctional responsibility for a business or businesses; that is the real essence of a GM job.

One of the giant corporations in this study had six of the seven types of GM jobs within its structure. Figure 2.4 shows in a rough way how these six types of GM jobs were different yet related in this one setting. The corporate CEO job in that corporation was unique in that it had long-run responsibilities that were much more demanding than its short-run responsibilities. The operations GM job stands out for the opposite reason; it had short-run responsibilities that were much more demanding than its long-run ones. The product/market GM job was most different because it had the greatest lateral relationship demands. And the group GM job stands out because, when the incumbents had autonomous division GMs reporting to them, they were in the unusual position of having both a boss and a subordinate who had more autonomy (in a lateral sense) than they did (which did not make the group GMs very comfortable).

The overall pattern in Figure 2.4 is that as one moves down the hierarchy in a very large corporation, GM jobs tend to be less demanding on long-run issues and more demanding on both short-run issues and lateral relations. Given the nature of modern organization structures, this is not surprising.

Different Business and Corporate Settings: The Impact of Size, Age, Performance Level, and Other Factors

Although significant differences in job demands were created by differences in the type of GM job involved, even more and larger variations resulted from differences in the business and corporate contexts. This is so because while there seem to be roughly seven different types of GM jobs today, variations in numerous dimensions make for dozens of different types of business and corporate contexts. These dimensions included such things as: the growth rate of the business; the rate of technological change; the level of profitability (or loss); the ambitiousness of top management; the diversity of products and markets; the sheer number of products and yearly volume; the nature of the GM's immediate boss; the way the overall firm is structured; the number of employees involved in the business; the types of people involved; the maturity of the products and markets; the number (if any) of very large customers or suppliers or unions or regulators; the degree to which businesses and functions are interdependent; and the nature of the organization's culture. Of these factors, three seem to be particularly important: size, age, and performance level.

Some of the contexts in this study were much larger than others. Paul Jackson was responsible for a multibillion dollar business in which tens of thousands of people were involved. Michael Richardson was responsible for only a few million dollars of business in which only a few hundred people were involved. These size differences appear to be very important in making job demands different in different settings.

To some degree, the relationship here is very straightforward; the GM jobs associated with larger businesses and larger organizations tended to be "bigger" jobs. That is, they tended to be more demanding overall than were jobs in smaller contexts. For example, in large contexts like Gaines' or Jackson's, the job responsibilities were made more complex by the sheer volume of issues, decisions, and activities; hence decision making was more difficult. Furthermore, job-related relationships were usually much more numerous, and getting things done through others much more difficult.

But at the same time, size also made job demands different in some qualitatively important ways. First of all, job demands in large and small contexts were different because of differences in the informational environment. In the large settings, the GMs could seldom get as much detailed information for decision making as one could get in the small settings. To a degree, this changed the nature and the problems associated with decision making. For example, in a small setting such as Anderson's or Richardson's, the GMs could often monitor daily operations visually and intervene directly to get information. In large settings this was rarely possible, often because facilities were geographically dispersed. In a smaller setting, the GM could often approach resource-allocation decisions with a very detailed knowledge of all the issues involved. Again, this was rarely possible in the large settings, and that changed the nature of the resource-allocation problem.

To an even greater degree, the job demands in large contexts and small contexts were qualitatively different because of the human environment. In large contexts, the GMs tended to have to work through much more elaborate and bureaucratic structures and systems. For example, in the large settings, the "managing-up" demand was often different from that in small settings because the boss was physically located somewhere else and because there were formal planning and control systems that affected their relationships. Managing laterally was often different because there were usually more specialist staff groups in existence and because informal relationships among line and staff groups were often more adversarial. The managing-down demand was often different because, unlike in the small settings, one simply could not deal with everyone on a face-to-face, one-to-one basis; there were just too many people. Managing-down problems were also different in a large setting because of the bureaucracy (the rules and procedures and formal systems) that usually existed.

Some of the contexts in the study had much more mature products and markets than others. For example, the GMs in the two banking businesses (Allen and Thompson) were working with products and markets that, for all practical purposes, were over fifty years old. But one GM in a high-technology industry (Papolis) was working with products and markets less than a decade old. These differences in product/market maturity do not seem to produce differences in job demands that are as dramatic or straightforword as differences in size, but age differences do seem to be very important.

First of all, the information- and decision-making environment in older contexts was more standardized and routine. After years of experience with a product and a group of customers, potential new directions for the business, resource-allocation alternatives, and potential operational control problems were often well known. As such, the overall level of uncertainty was lower. These businesses were generally less turbulent, usually because they were not growing very fast. All of this affected the decision-making demands.

Furthermore, the human environment was usually different, too. In older contexts, I often found an older workforce, one that tended to think of itself as professionals or craftsmen (for example, bankers or tire makers). They tended to have relatively strong beliefs about right and wrong ways to do their jobs. Obviously, these factors all affected relationship or implementation demands.

Some of the businesses and corporations in the study were performing much better than others. For example, when Bob Anderson, Richard Poullin, and Dan Donahue stepped into their jobs, their divisions were all losing money. They were put in to "turn things around." But when Tom Long and John Thompson started their jobs, their businesses were doing quite well. Their predecessors had been promoted for just that reason.

Such differences in profitability affected GM job demands in a number of ways. In low-performing contexts, decision-making demands tended to be more difficult for two basic reasons: first, there were more decisions to be made. When things were going well, the GMs did not have to aggressively consider new directions for their businesses or new ways of allocating resources. When performance was low, others obviously did. Second, the speed with which decisions had to be made was higher in the low-performing contexts. GMs in high-performing contexts could relax to some degree, but those in turnaround situations had to move quickly before the firm "died."

Performance differences also seem to affect the relationships or people demands. In the "turnaround" contexts, the GMs found themselves more dependent on people simply because more had to be done by others to change things. And they usually found themselves with at least some subordinates who were performing very poorly. Dealing with this latter problem often tended to be a major demand for Donahue, Poullin, and Anderson in their first few months on the job.

A variety of other contextual differences also created differences in job demands, although less dramatically than those just described. For example, the diversity of products and markets associated with the job seems to be important. In the more diverse contexts, it was much more difficult to comprehend all the details associated with the products and markets; it was also more difficult to relate to what was often a more diverse set of people. In those contexts with more political and economic turmoil, the uncertainty associated with decision making was higher, and the decision-making demands more difficult. In those contexts with a "difficult" immediate boss, the managing-up task was obviously more difficult. And so on.

All of these factors, and their effects on GM job demands, were implicit in Figures 2.1 and 2.2. These relationships are summarized in a more explicit way in Figure 2.5.

Although relatively little research has focused on differences among managerial (especially executive) jobs, that which has is consistent with our findings here. So is the extensive organizational research from the past two decades which has focused on identifying key variables that cause variations within organizations.

Summary and Discussion

Two characteristics of the GM jobs in this study are particularly striking. First they were, on the average, extremely demanding in terms of both decision making and implementation. Informational contexts, characterized by major uncertainties, great diversity, and high volume -- in combination with human contexts, characterized by large numbers of people, diverse orientations, and dependent relationships -- almost always posed serious intellectual and interpersonal problems for the incumbents. Furthermore a casual look at basic business trends suggests that not only are these jobs very demanding, they are becoming increasingly so (see Figure 2.6). Corporate diversification and growth, technological developments, governmental regulation, and international competition all conspire to make the demands associated with GM job responsibilities more complex. At the same time, changing worker attitudes to authority figures, the increasing heterogeneity of the workforce, the increasing size of the workforce, and the increasing education level of the typical employee all make the demands associated with GM job relationships more difficult to manage. Of course, to some degree, these same trends are making all management jobs more difficult. But at the general management level, I suspect they are making very difficult jobs into ones that are potentially -- at least in a few cases -- impossible.

Second, the fifteen GM jobs in this study were different in many ways. Despite sharing some "core" similarities, the jobs varied considerably in terms of the demands they placed on the incumbents. This variation seems to be caused by differences in the type of GM job, the businesses involved, and the corporations involved. The patterns of differences identified here are important for a number of reasons. As new types of GM jobs have emerged over the past few decades, and as the diversity of organizational size and product/market age have increased, the differences among GM jobs have undoubtedly been growing. They will probably continue to grow in the future. As such, the effects of these patterns will also grow. And, as we shall see next, these patterns are related to differences in the characteristics of effective GMs.

Copyright © 1982 by The Free Press

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