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Energy Efficiency : For Engineers and Technologists. English Heritage in Stained Glass: Oxford. Nightmares and Dreamscapes. Defying Hitler : A Memoir. Obviously, this is an ideal and wholly natural procedure for administrative training, and applies to the development of technical and human skill, as well as to that of conceptual skill. However, its success must necessarily rest on the abilities and willingness of the superior to help the subordinate. Another excellent way to develop conceptual skill is through trading jobs, that is, by moving promising young men through different functions of the business but at the same level of responsibility.
Other possibilities include: special assignments, particularly the kind which involve inter-departmental problems; and management boards, such as the McCormick Multiple Management plan, in which junior executives serve as advisers to top management on policy matters. For larger groups, the kind of case-problems course described above, only using cases involving broad management policy and interdepartmental coordination, may be useful.
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In the classroom, conceptual skill has also been evaluated with reasonable effectiveness by presenting a series of detailed descriptions of specific complex situations. In these the individual being tested is asked to set forth a course of action which responds to the underlying forces operating in each situation and which considers the implications of this action on the various functions and parts of the organization and its total environment.
On the job, the alert supervisor should find frequent opportunities to observe the extent to which the individual is able to relate himself and his job to the other functions and operations of the company. Different methods may be indicated for developing different people, by virtue of their backgrounds, attitudes, and experience.
But in every case that method should be chosen which will enable the executive to develop his own personal skill in visualizing the enterprise as a whole and in coordinating and integrating its various parts. The purpose of this article has been to show that effective administration depends on three basic personal skills, which have been called technical, human, and conceptual.
The administrator needs: a sufficient technical skill to accomplish the mechanics of the particular job for which he is responsible; b sufficient human skill in working with others to be an effective group member and to be able to build cooperative effort within the team he leads; c sufficient conceptual skill to recognize the interrelationships of the various factors involved in his situation, which will lead him to take that action which is likely to achieve the maximum good for the total organization.
The relative importance of these three skills seems to vary with the level of administrative responsibility. At lower levels, the major need is for technical and human skills. At the top, conceptual skill becomes the most important of all for successful administration. This three-skill approach emphasizes that good administrators are not necessarily born; they may be developed. It transcends the need to identify specific traits in an effort to provide a more useful way of looking at the administrative process. By helping to identify the skills most needed at various levels of responsibility, it may prove useful in the selection, training, and promotion of executives.
When this article was first published nearly 20 years ago, there was a great deal of interest in trying to identify a set of ideal personality traits that would readily distinguish potential executive talent. The search for these traits was vigorously pursued in the hope that the selection and training of managers could be conducted with greater reliability.
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This article was an attempt to focus attention on demonstrable skills of performance rather than on innate personality characteristics. And, while describing the three kinds of administrative skill technical, human, and conceptual , it also attempted to highlight the importance of conceptual skill as a uniquely valuable managerial capability, long before the concept of corporate strategy was well defined or popularly understood.
It still appears useful to think of managerial ability in terms of these three basic, observable skills. It also still appears that the relative importance of these skills varies with the administrative level of the manager in the organization. However, my experience over the past 20 years, in working with senior executives in a wide variety of industries, suggests that several specific points require either sharp modification or substantial further refinement.
In my experience, outstanding capability in one of these roles is frequently accompanied by mediocre performance in the other. For example, a production manager may be most efficient if he puts all his emphasis on obtaining a high degree of reliability in his production schedule. He would then resist any external pressures that place a higher priority on criteria other than delivering the required output on time. Or a sales manager may be most efficient if he puts all his emphasis on maintaining positive relationships with customers. He would then resist all pressures that would emphasize other values, such as ease of production or selling the highest gross margin items.
In each case, the manager will probably receive strong support from his subordinates, who share the same values.
But he will encounter severe antagonism from other departments with conflicting values. Having both is rarely possible. Consequently, I would revise my original evaluation of human skill to say now that internal intragroup skills are essential in lower and middle management roles and that intergroup skills become increasingly important in successively higher levels of management. In retrospect, I now see that what I called conceptual skill depends entirely on a specific way of thinking about an enterprise. I am now far less sanguine about the degree to which this way of thinking can be developed on the job.
Unless a person has learned to think this way early in life, it is unrealistic to expect a major change on reaching executive status. Job rotation, special interdepartmental assignments, and working with case problems certainly provide opportunities for a person to enhance previously developed conceptual abilities.
But I question how easily this way of thinking can be inculcated after a person passes adolescence. In this sense, then, conceptual skill should perhaps be viewed as an innate ability. In the original article, I suggested that specific technical skills are unimportant at top management levels.
I cited as evidence the many professional managers who move easily from one industry to another without apparent loss of effectiveness. I now believe this mobility is possible only in very large companies, where the chief executive has extensive staff assistance and highly competent, experienced technical operators throughout the organization. An old, established, large company has great operational momentum that enables the new chief executive to concentrate on strategic issues. In smaller companies, where technical expertise is not as pervasive and seasoned staff assistance is not as available, I believe the chief executive has a much greater need for personal experience in the industry.
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He not only needs to know the right questions to ask his subordinates; he also needs enough industry background to know how to evaluate the answers. My extensive work with company presidents and my own personal experience as a chief executive have given me much more respect for the difficulties and complexities of that role.
I now know that every important executive action must strike a balance among so many conflicting values, objectives, and criteria that it will always be suboptimal from any single viewpoint. Every decision or choice affecting the whole enterprise has negative consequences for some of the parts. The chief executive must try to perceive the conflicts and trace accurately their likely impact throughout the organization.
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Reluctantly, but wittingly, he may have to sacrifice the interests of a single unit or part for the good of the whole. He needs to be willing to accept solutions that are adequate and feasible in the total situation rather than what, from a single point of view, may be elegant or optimum. Not only must the chief executive be an efficient operator, but he must also be an effective strategist. It is his responsibility to provide the framework and direction for overall company operations.
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He must continually specify where the company will place its emphasis in terms of products, services, and customers. He must define performance criteria and determine what special competences the company will emphasize. He also needs to set priorities and timetables. He must establish the standards and controls necessary to monitor progress and to place limits on individual actions. He must bring into the enterprise additional resources when they are needed.
Moreover, he must change his management style and strike different balances among his personal skills as conditions change or as his organization grows in size and complexity. The remedial role saving the organization when it is in great difficulty calls for drastic human action and emphasizes conceptual and technical skills.
The maintaining role sustaining the organization in its present posture emphasizes human skills and requires only modest technical or strategic changes. But the innovative role developing and expanding the organization demands high competence in both conceptual and intergroup skills, with the technical contribution provided primarily by subordinates.
In my view, it is impossible for anyone to perform well in these continually changing roles without help. Yet because effective management of the total enterprise involves constant suboptimizing, it is impossible for the chief executive to get unanimous or continuous support from his subordinates.
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If he is overly friendly or supportive, he may compromise his effectiveness or his objectivity. Yet somewhere in the organization, he needs to have a well-informed, objective, understanding, and supportive sounding board with whom he can freely discuss his doubts, fears, and aspirations. Sometimes this function can be supplied by an outside director, the outside corporate counsel, or the company auditor.
This role has been largely overlooked in discussions of organizational requirements, but in my view, its proper fulfillment is essential to the success of the chief executive and the enterprise. I now realize more fully that managers at all levels require some competence in each of the three skills. Even managers at the lowest levels must continually use all of them.