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What Does a Manager Do?

Becoming a manager requires a radical shift in thinking. Here's how to succeed at your new role as a manager by knowing what a manager's real job is. 

By
Stever Robbins
April 8, 2014
Episode #308

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What does a manager do? So many of them don’t know their own job. That’s because one of the hardest professional transitions to make is becoming a manager, yet in any growing organization, you may be forced into that transition, ready or not.

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It was a tense day at Green Growing Things. The Audrey IIs were agitated, because Melvin and Europa were fighting. Europa, with her experience secretly running the economies of the entire Eastern Bloc, has naturally been overall manager of the new store. Melvin has been in charge of the inventory department.

Europa ordered 16 bags of potting soil for the Audrey IIs without telling Melvin. He’s livid. She says, “I saw that the plants’ roots were showing, poor things. Someone needed to order soil, so of course, I did it. I pride myself on being a team player and doing what needs to be done!”

Melvin thinks differently. “Europa has no respect for me! She just tramples over my projects willy-nilly! We don’t have anyone scheduled to receive orders that day, and there’s no room in the warehouse to store the extra soil.”

Neither is wrong. The problem is that their roles have changed and they never got clear about the new ones.

Growth Drives Changes

In a small business, everyone does everything. Europa handles billing, customer service, and inventory. When a customer complains their Audrey II ate their cat, she knows off the top of her head that the customer was behind on payments, so they don’t qualify for Free Pet Replacement™. Thus, there’s no need to order more replacement pets for inventory.

The business grows. There are more customers, so many that it’s a full-time job for 3 people to handle customer calls. Those people are 100% devoted to customer service. Someone else handles collections. And someone else handles inventory.

The people who did everything when the organization is small do fewer jobs more deeply as the company grows.

As organizations grow, jobs get narrower and deeper.

Europa has a choice: she can either be one customer service person in the department, or she can rise into management. As a manager, however, her job is very different from simply doing everything she did before.

Managers Get Things Done … Through Others

With three people doing Customer Service, someone has to coordinate. Someone must assign customers to service reps and spread the workload between them. If there’s too much work, someone needs to hire more staff people. Someone must also help the team define customer service standards and train new team members in those standards.

This mysterious "someone" is a manager.

Front-line workers do things. Managers don’t do thing, they get things done … through other people. A customer service rep serves customers by giving them a new pet to replace the one that was eaten by an Audrey II. A customer service manager serves the customer by hiring, training, and helping the reps provide replacement pets.

The manager does the job by building an organization, not by doing the work directly.

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