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3 minutes

3 Process-driven management styles

These three styles are mainly concerned with the functional or systems-based aspects of work – or that are themselves very process-related.

  • Command and control management style
  • Bureaucratic management style
  • Transactional management style

An example. A project-management chief for a top consultancy is running behind schedule on their latest task: a huge transformation effort for a major corporate. Income from the client has become vital to the consultancy’s bottom line. If the project succeeds, it could seal the firm’s strong reputation. If it fails, it could threaten its existence. In the white-knuckle final stretch, the project-management head feels they have no choice but to push their vision and approach for the effort to bring it home. They can’t afford any challenges to that vision from their team. Instead, they must follow their instructions and get on with it. So, they decide an authoritative approach is the way to go.

What that shows us is whether or not it has ballooned into a full-scale crisis, any high-stakes, high-stress scenario needs everyone on the team to pull together to work towards the same goal. Even more so if time is tight. There’s not enough slack in the schedule to argue in circles around certain points. For the team, the biggest priority is to make progress along the project’s timeline. So, against immense odds, the manager must take responsibility for driving everyone forward. As such, the command and control style becomes a fitting approach.

Under command and control, what the manager says goes. Hierarchy is enforced. The chain of command is crystal clear. Decision-making is locked to the centre. The reason is simple: amid high stress, miscommunication, vagueness, confusion and indecision can all pose mortal threats. Everyone must be sure of their role, what they must do and how they must do it. That doesn’t mean the manager must be unpleasant – but it does mean they will often be grave and strict. In videogame terms, this is when every player’s moves fall in line with the manager’s control pad. This is not a time for independent side-quests.

An example. A confectionery brand set up 130 years ago sells a number of award-winning products that customers have flocked to for decades. According to the brand’s market research, what customers value most in those products is that their recipes have never changed. Grandchildren can enjoy the same flavours that their grandparents grew up with, allowing younger generations to share in that nostalgia.

At the same time, the brand is facing a rising tide of regulations in its factories and ethics in its supply chains. As well as being a brand with a strong core of tradition, it wants to be seen as leading the way as a modern, ethical business.

What that shows us is that one of the most important aspects of how this brand works is process. Its recipes and production methods are key to why its products have won such a fond place in customers’ hearts. And its need to comply with new regulations and standards means that it must pay more and more attention to what goes on in its factories – and how they get hold of their raw materials.

As such, a lot of the brand is shaped by what’s set down on paper. What goes into the recipes? How should the production pipelines work? What do the hygiene rules stipulate? And what are the procurement options? All the many documents that provide answers to those questions will have a major role in defining company policy. They will also form the context in which managers do their jobs. As a part of that, they will help to determine how managers instruct and motivate their teams.

Bureaucratic management prizes logic, efficiency and order above all else. It may not welcome flexibility, experimentation or rapid decision-making. But its emphasis on structure and meticulous record-keeping ensures that everyone in the workflow knows exactly where they stand and what they must do.

An example. Senior leaders at a respected consumer website have told staff on the already busy sales team that they will need to raise advertising revenue by at least 30%. That’s going to involve a lot more cold-calling, a lot more deal closing – in fact, a lot more of everything. Knowing that their employees will be daunted by an even steeper workload, but having to keep them focused and motivated, the sales manager sets up a generous rewards system for those who meet the new targets. However, that’s accompanied by a strict ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy for those who fall short.

What that shows us is that transactional management is not focussed on inspiring people, changing the game or making room for differences of opinion. It exists primarily to ensure that staff will work towards goals, and within rulesets, that come from the top. The sales staff will just have to accept that the revised targets are the new normal. Their manager is not going to challenge, much less change, that status quo. Instead, the manager’s main responsibility is to get the team in shape and upskilled ready to deliver on the senior leaders’ new targets.

With that in mind, the use of rewards versus punishments is a cunning combination of carrot and stick. Staff will have to work out for themselves what side of that bargain they want to be on. There’s a lot in it for them if they are prepared to step up. But a lot of career risk lies in the opposite direction. Much like command and control, transactional management is hierarchical in nature and sets clear roles and goals, with the aim of supporting process. It’s not a very friendly place for blue-sky thinking or innovation. But it can be a handy driver of productivity – especially in emergencies.

Where next?

Why are management styles important to understand? What is your management style? Find out. There’s two other groups of styles to find out about, people-oriented and inspirational.

Using these different styles only comes with practice and that’s what our Managing People courses help managers and aspiring managers do, all in a safe, confidence-boosting environment