Len Holmes
The Business School, University of North London (at time of presentation)

Prepared for Conference on "The Strategic Direction of Human Resource Management: Understanding and Practising Human Resource Management"

Nottingham Business School, December 1995


Please do not quote without permission of author


"If you're that good, you're a real manager." (Scott and Rochester, 1984: 178, emphasis added)

With its echoes of Kipling's poem 'If', this is the final sentence of a book was published by a major paperback publishing company in conjunction with the then British Institute of Management, as part of a series titled 'Effective Management Skills'. The final chapter summarises the book in terms of 'the core of management', describing what a 'real' manager does. The book was the first in the series, and carries the title 'What is a Manager?'. Its first chapter asserts that

"Most of the troubles in our organisations start from misunderstandings about what 'managing' means and from failures to think out what abilities it needs. They're the fault of 'Managements' who don't manage. They're the fault of 'Managements' who don't require their managers to act like managers. They're the fault of managers who don't act like managers because they don't think like managers. They're the fault of people in management jobs who don't see themselves as managers and so don't manage in any real sense." (op cit, p.3, emphasis in original) The explicit message seems clear. For organisations to be managed effectively, each individual manager has to act like a manager, to think like a manager, to see oneself as a manager, to be a real manager. The book continues by distinguishing between a manager and a non-manager (a businessman, an administrator, an accountant, and so on), presenting the definition of a manager as someone who 'gets things done economically through other people' (p.36, emphasis in original). In subsequent chapters the authors discuss issues about deciding priorities, dealing with conflicts, the skills required by managers, ways of thinking as a manager. Then, in the final chapter, the authors start with the assertion that

"At the core of every real manager's approach to his job is a certain basic orientation plus a range of skills and habits of thinking that he applies to every management question he deal with." (p.177)This presentation of the real manager as a heroic figure is reinforced by a cartoon picture of a statue on a pedestal, around which flies a singing bird, and looked up at by a dog and another bird on the ground. On the statue is an oversize medal inscribed 'A REAL MANAGER'.

Although presented in such heroic terms, the views expressed in Scott and Rochester's book reflect commonly stated assumptions about management and managers. The development during the 1980s of what is claimed to be a new set of organisational practices (and their underlying theorisation), referred to as 'human resource management', was accompanied by a renewed interest in the education and development of managers.

"With current programmes of organisational change inspired by human resource strategies the manager is seen as central to the achievement of organisational effectiveness to a degree greater than ever before; and the critical skills and competences of managers are defined more ambitiously than previously." (Salaman, 1995: 3)In this paper I wish to subject the key assumptions made to critical examination, and consider the implications for management education and development.


A number of key reports about management education and development in the UK called for major change in this area, basing their analyses and proposals in terms of the purported links between 'managerial skills' and both organisational and national economic performance:

"The vital role managers play in the UK economy is becoming increasingly important because of the rapid rate of change in today's world. It is essential that managers are equipped with the abilities and skills necessary to cope with their demanding task...This report constitutes a valuable contribution to the current debate on management education and training." (Foreword to Mangham and Silver, 1986)

"One of the most important resources possessed by a nation is its managerial skills. Ideas can only be turned into wealth when combined with effective management. The ability to create more wealth is vital if the growing expectations of society are to be met. Those services which spend wealth must also be well managed to ensure the maximum benefit from the resources available." (op cit: 6)Handy et al (1988) state that their own report (Handy, 1987), published contemporaneously with that by Constable and McCormick, was based on a similar view:

"The common concern of the sponsors was a worry that perhaps we were neglecting in Britain one of the key competitive factors, the quality of management." (p.1)

The flurry of activity which followed immediately from the Handy and the Constable and McCormick reports has been well documented (eg Silver, 1991). Changes to the Diploma in Management Studies, expansion of MBA provision, the establishment of the employer-led Management Charter Initiative, and the development of National Vocational Qualifications in management have all taken place in the wake of the 'debate' which ensued. More recently, the Economic and Social Research Council established the Commission on Management Research, which stated in its consultative document that

"[i]mproved management within organisations contributes to quality of life, effectiveness, competitiveness and economic success. Good management is essential to ensure that resources are harnessed to achieve objectives. Those objectives may be [to] generate profit in the private sector or to provide effective policy and services in the public sector. Good management contributes by encouraging organisations to innovate, market and compete, and governments to operate effectively. Good management underwrites the economic performance of the UK as a whole." (ESRC, 1993)

The sum total of the combination of these and other interventions seems to be that of more education and training, for more managers, delivered thorough programmes which have been restructured to ensure more relevant qualifications, with more management educators undertaking high quality research of clearer relevance to managers' concerns. As one would expect, the proponents of such initiatives stress the important and positive contribution they will make. Typically this consists of assertions linking the initiatives being promoted with the desirable aim of improved organisational performance, which will result in greater economic success for the country and enhanced quality of life for its citizens. 'Management' is taken to mean the functions and practices of managers; the aim of management education, training and development is to bring about desired changes in managers' practices. The exact prescription of what is desirable in managers' practices, and how these may be brought about by planned processes of learning and development, are matters for (applied) research. But the principle that such a prescription can be effectively made is taken for granted. Implicitly, the relationship between management education, training and development (METD) and both the actions of managers and key social processes affecting organisational survival and success (or failure), is considered to be one of linear causality.

This commonly accepted view may be expressed in terms of a formula for success, which can be summarised in a set of four statements:

A. Good management education, training and development results in good managerial performance;

B. Good organisational management is the aggregate of the good performance of individual managers;

C. Good management results in organisational success;

D. Successful organisations result in national economic success

The term 'good' in the above formula may be substituted by other terms. Thus, in the 1970s, the term 'effective' was commonly used, and much research was undertaken into the nature and determinants of managerial effectiveness (Drucker, 1967; Reddin, 1970; Burgoyne, 1976; Morse and Wagner, 1978; Brodie and Bennett, 1979). More recently, the term 'competent' has risen to prominence, particularly following the McBer Consultancy research for the American Management Association (Boyatzis, 1982) and the work of MCI (see Holmes, 1994, for discussion of other factors influencing the growth of the 'competence movement'). 'Organisational success' is usually taken to mean long-term achievement of goals, whether measured in financial terms for commercial enterprise or/ and in social terms for public service and voluntary organisations. Whatever the type of organisation, and however 'good management' is defined, the relationship of linear causality between 'good' management education, training and development and corporate success, and thus to national economic success, is taken for granted.


However, such a formulation is highly contestible. First, the assumption that national economic success is the outcome of the aggregate of the success of individual firms ignores the development of transnational companies (TNCs). Such firms may be successful in achieving their own goals at the expense of particular national economies. Even if we limit the assumed connection to that of national firms, the effect of macro-economic, social and political factors cannot be ignored. Francis (1992) summarises the research on Britain's 'flagging performance in international markets' in terms of two separate line of thinking, one at the level of the firm and the other at the level of the macro-economy. Francis states that there has been little attempt at bridging the two approaches. Moreover, the very issue of national economic success is itself highly contestible. As Rose argues,

"The still far from finished mission to build an economic system that produces efficiently and distributes rewards justly ... calls for an effort to understand economic life more fully ... The understanding to be gained from looking, sympathetically but unsentimentally, at past attempts to explain work behaviour can contribute to the underlying task of discovering better forms of control over economic life." (Rose, 1988)

Even if we bracket the supposed link between national economic success and aggregated organisational success, we still encounter difficulties with the statement that 'good management results in organisational success'. There is a question over the logical status of this statement; to use a traditional philosophical distinction, we need to consider whether the statement is analytic or synthetic. In terms of the formulation, one of linear causality, the statement 'good management results in organisational success' appears to be synthetic, ie one of purported contingent empirical fact. This assumes that both 'good management' and 'organisational success' may be separately and ostensibly defined, and the conditions leading to the former examined without reference to the latter. This would allow for the empirical possibility that the lack of organisational success may be the consequence of factors other than 'poor' management, eg macro-economic circumstances, and for the empirical possibility of organisational success despite 'poor' management.

Yet common usage of the term 'management' is that it is a purposive activity intended to achieve organisational goals. And in general terms, organisational success is taken to mean achievement of certain broad goals, profitability, survival, growth etc, albeit that there remain issues about the timescales for judging these, the relative ordering of priorities and possible conflicts between goals. Thus the attachment of the epithet 'good' to management would connote 'management resulting in the achievement of organisational goals'. So the statement is equivalent to saying 'management which results in the achievement of organisational goals results in the achievement of organisational goals', ie it is tautologous, an analytic truth. The discovery of what constitutes 'good management' would thus be undertaken by semantic analysis of the notion of 'organisational success'. Indeed, the MCI's attempt to define 'management standards' seems to be based on this view; the 'key purpose' of the occupation of a manager is defined as 'to achieve the organisation's objectives and to continuously improve its performance' (MCI, 1991).


This indicates the problematic nature of the concepts of 'manager', 'management' and 'organisation'. One key aspect of the confused nature of the concept of management is lack of a clear distinction between management as an aspect of organisation (or 'organising') and the function and activities of managers. The meaning of 'management' is commonly taken to be equivalent to that of the activities and practices of managers. A clear example of this is the Consultative Document of the Commission on Management Research, which frequently makes statements which move from discussion of management to references to managers:

"There is an essential 'duality' in management research. It both draws on and contributes to social science and draws on and contributes to the experiences and knowledge of managers." (para.6)

"Management is, however, an inherently problematic process. Managers must constantly improve their operations and performance, and must constantly respond and to new challenges effectively." (para. 10) (ESRC, 1993, emphasis added)

This conflation of the terms creates difficulties both in ensuring conceptual clarity and in empirically-based analysis.

Essentially it is a reductionist approach, whereby the social processes of management are treated as functionally equivalent to the individual actions of managers. Early writings on management (eg Fayol, 1949; Urwick, 1943) tended to posit some general principles as the functions of management, then deduce the activities and skills required of individual managers. Yet a number of researchers have clearly shown that the actual behaviour of managers differs from that which is deduced from such general principles (Stewart, 1967a, 1967b, 1976; Mintzberg, 1973). These studies do not so much show that managers do not do what they should do, according to the principles of management identified, but could do so, eg if they received appropriate education and training. Rather, they show that what managers actually do cannot be adequately described and explained using the conceptual framework derived from such principles.

But, on the other hand, there is a problem in attempting to arrive at general principles by induction from empirical studies of what individual managers do (Whitley, 1989). First, there is the question of how such individuals are selected for study, particularly as many who are commonly agreed to come within the category of 'manager' do not in fact have the term included in their formal job title, and many whose job title includes the term may arguably be excluded from the category. Moreover, there are difficulties in determining which aspects of the activity and behaviour counts as managerial. Empirical studies have shown that there is considerable variety in the behaviour of individual managers, thereby raising the question of whether to restrict the category of 'managerial' activity to the common areas or to allow for variety in managerial activity per se. How then do we deal with activity excluded from the category of 'managerial'? Finally, a simple inductionist approach assumes a high level of similarity and harmony amongst managerial behaviour, and so would not be able to handle conflict between managers.

Such questions, problems and difficulties point to the need to ensure that a conceptual and empirical distinction is maintained between what individual managers do, and how management is effected within organisations. Moreover, it points to the need to examine and attempt to explain how such distinctions have been lost in conventional discourse.


The rise of management

It is clear that management, as it is now understood, has developed over a relatively short historical period in the context of great economic and social disruption. The 'genesis' (Pollard, 1965) of management lies in the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the modern bureaucratic state. Indeed, the nature of the changes in society taking place in this period were the source of many of the key themes of the 'founding fathers' of social science, particularly Comte, Marx, Durkheim and Weber. The nineteenth century, certainly in Britain and the USA, was the period in which 'organised society' became established, that is, when civil society took on a form based on organisations. One widely accepted view is that the rise of the capitalist mode of production enabled

"the concentration of ownership of workplace, means of work, source of power and raw material in one and the same hand, that of the entrepreneur." (Weber, 1928: 302, quoted in Pollard, op cit: 18)

The concentration in the hands of the entrepreneur of the surplus value, created through the capitalist mode of production, enabled the growth in size of firms; and the risks involved were lessened with the introduction of limited liability which created the legal distinction between the firm and the owner(s). Such growth in size itself created problems

"which are easily soluble in a workshop but become major difficulties in a factory; ... the entrepreneur loses the ability to maintain direct contact with his labour force and has to make use of an intermediary management staff." (Pollard, op cit: 20)Even then, such 'management staff' were mainly superintendary, and it is only with the later development of 'Scientific Management' in the US and related developments in the UK (Child, 1969: 38) that 'modern management' begins to take on the form that we now see.

The form that 'modern management' takes is certainly characterised by the designation of particular positions in organisations as 'managerial', exercising authority over aspects of the work process (and usually of workers), and where such managerial positions are themselves linked together in some form of authority structure. The development of this form has taken a route from entrepreneurial authority based on property rights, through managerial authority initially based on delegated agency as representative of the entrepreneur, to managerial authority based on expertise. That is, the development was social, not merely technical, concerned with the legitimation of authority.

"The sharp rise in industrial unrest immediately before 1914, and the growing force of socialist demands which accompanied it, encouraged some of the more perceptive employers to go some way beyond ownership of industrial property as legitimisation for their authority." (Child, 1969: 39)

"The common problem entailed by this transition process [from direct employment and control to large-scale bureaucratised/ 'Taylorised' organisation] was the transference of the loyalty and accepted subordination from the tradition work-group to a wider collectivity and a larger social frame. Bureaucratisation was not just a technical process associated with increasing size and complexity, but a sociological transformation." (Littler, 1982: 192)

This transition was certainly based on the claim of rationality made for the developing sets of management techniques that had been developing during nineteenth century industrialisation, particularly those concerned with costing and accounting, and workplace design (Pollard, op cit), but which were consolidated in the 'Scientific Management' approach promoted by Taylor and others.

It is important, however, to recognise that this had to be accomplished, and was not the necessary outcome of some deterministic process. The rhetoric used by Taylor in 'The Principles of Scientific Management' bears witness to the perceived need to achieve legitimacy for his ideas. He opens with a reference to a speech by President Theodore Roosevelt to State Governors, about conserving national resources and national efficiency. From this he goes on to state his purpose in writing. First, he will point out the loss the whole country is suffering through inefficiency; secondly, he will

"try to convince the reader that the remedy for this inefficiency lies in systematic management..."

Third, he will

"prove that the best management is a true science, resting upon clearly defined laws, rules, and principles .... [and] to convince the reader that whenever these principles are correctly applied, results must follow which are truly astounding." (Taylor, 1911, 1967: 7, emphasis added)

Taylor goes on to assert that the principle object of management should be to gain the maximum prosperity for the employer and each employee, a view which was far from universally shared at the time; he hoped that "at least some of those who do not sympathise with each of these objects may be led to modify their views..." (op cit.: 10, emphasis added)The new scientific approach would result in

"an almost equal division of the work and the responsibility between the management and the workmen. The management take over all work for which they are better fitted than the workmen..." (op cit: 37)ie work involved in establishing rules, laws, formulae to replace the workers' judgment, and planning the work (which takes time and effort) to allow the workers to get on with the performance of the labour according the management's prescriptions.

The point of elaborating this rhetorical, persuading aspect of Taylor's writing is to emphasise that his claim for managerial authority based on expertise, ie rational application of scientific and technical knowledge, was itself an ideological project as much as a development of rational technique. This links with alternative explanatory approaches to the study of the origins of management, summarised by Reed (1989). One alternative approach sees this in terms of the development of a new elite gaining and expanding its power in a society becoming dominated by corporate institutions:

"[I]n this way, the strategic significance of corporate management structures within both private and public sector bureaucracies is traced to the political power accruing to managers as a result of the indispensable socio-technical functions they perform." (op cit: 67)The other approach traces the development of management in terms of the need for control over work performance in a 'detailed and disciplined fashion', in the interests of capitalists:

"Bureaucracy was created as a way of moving beyond .... general directives [by owners] to specific detailed control of the work process." (Clawson, 1980: 248, quoted in Reed, 1989: 70)

According to this explanation, the rise of management was a matter of class control rather than technical efficiency. However, Reed suggests that while such explanations, technical efficiency, political power and class control are mutually exclusive in respect of the primacy they assign to the key factors at work, they do indicate there was a complex interaction between such factors.

Work organisations

Of course, sociological study of work organisations has undergone profound development over the past two and half decades. A key aspect of this has been the critical examination, theoretically and empirically, of the structural-functionalist framing of the object of enquiry as, primarily, a rational-technical instrument for goal achievement which can be made more effective and efficient by the application of principles (to be discovered by empirical study). A variety of frameworks for analysis have emerged, posed as alternatives to the 'systems orthodoxy' (Silverman, 1970), based on sociological traditions other than the functionalism which hitherto dominated. Although no new 'orthodoxy' has arisen, these various approaches challenge the stereotypical view of management as the disinterested application of rational techique for the achievement of instrumental goals, for the benefit of all. Rather, organisations are 'negotiated orders', appearing fixed but being constantly socially constructed and sustained through social interaction. Or they are structures of power and domination, locales in which wider societal configurations of domination and struggles between dominant and subordinate groups are reproduced. Or, yet still, they are symbolic constructions, whereby organisational members express and give meaning to their participation in terms of values, ideologies, rituals, ceremonies. Or they are social practices, complex and multifaceted engagement of various negotiations, contests and collaborations that enable collective productive activity, at least for the time being (Reed, 1992; see also Morgan, 1986).

The image of management as the application of rational-technical forms of work organisation, undertaken in the interests of efficiency and economic growth, to the mutual benefit of all, is thus severely challenged by such empirically supported and theoretically coherent alternative perspectives on the origins and the nature of managed organisations. Rather, the development of management has to be seen as, inter alia, an ideological project inextricably linked with the development of work organisations based on hierarchies of authority, within a developing capitalist socio-economic system. The sociology of 'management knowledge' is thus shown to involve a considerable 'legitimatory' content, concerned to gain social acceptance of managerial authority, and not merely 'technical content' (Child, 1969). Child argues that such legitimatory content was chiefly directed at non-managerial groups. However, the forms of surveillance and control developed by management may be seen as a technology for reforming workers as 'productive subjects' (Rose, 1990; Townley, 1994). Whilst appearing to be concerned with 'humanising' the workplace, the human relations approaches developed from the early years of the twentieth century to their contemporary expression in the prescriptions of human resource management, certainly in its 'soft' form, may be seen as a complex of disciplinary practices for constructing new subjectivities, in Rose's phrase, for 'reshaping the soul'.

Analytic, synthetic ... or ideological?

In considering the statement 'Good management results in organisational success', we must, then, move beyond the question of its logical status, ie analytic or synthetic. Rather, we may see it as a discursive element in the ideological project that seeks to construct management as an essential feature of the most rational form of organising human collaborative productive work and at the same time construct managerially structured organisations as that most rational form. 'Organisational success' means success of a managerially structured organisation. Of course, that ideological project is not complete. Whilst alternative forms of organising commercially oriented productive activity have been pushed to the margins in the economic sphere, the form of organising public services is still a matter of social and political dispute. Thus calls for greater application of management approaches in areas such as healthcare and education are part of that continuing ideological project. The introduction of business management approaches into these spheres may be seen, not so much as an empirical issue about how such activities may be best organised, but as the transformation of such organisation into managerial organisations.


However, it would be a mistake to equate the ascendancy of management, as an aspect of the form of organisation that has gained dominance, with the ascendancy the members of a particular group, ie managers. The managerial form of organisation provides for the creation of positions within a social order; it does not, in itself, guarantee that such positions are filled. Whilst an organisation, and positions within it, may have a continuing existence beyond the presence of the particular individuals occupying those positions for particular lengths of time, it can only do so if there is a continuing supply of individuals. And not just any individuals will do; they must engage in activity which sustains, or at least does not undermine, the social order which provides for the positions they occupy. Thus the reproduction of (non-managerial) workers as 'productive subjects' is a continuing task facing work organisations (Townley, 1994). Moreover, the reproduction of managers is also a continuing task. Although we may talk of the 'managerial elite', and consider the extent to which managers form a new class, intermediate between capital and labour (bourgeoisie and proletariat) (Wright, 1978; Ehrenreich and Ehrenreich, 1979; Abercrombie and Hurry, 1983), such a group had to be brought into existence and has to be reproduced inter-generationally.

Moreover, any implicit assumption that the nature of what it means to be and act as a manager can be 'read off' from an analysis of management as an aspect of organisation would be to take a functionalist stance, the manager as social object. Yet the implicit, and often explicit, assumption in management education and development is that managers are social agents. The longstanding dilemma and debate in the social sciences regarding structure versus agency is replicated in an unresolved form in the divide between the writings on management as an aspect of organisation and those about and for managers. Fox (1994) argues that theorists such as Giddens (Structuration Theory) and Bhaskar (Critical Realism), who attempt to deal in a non-reductionist way with the dilemma, are highly relevant to theorisation of management and that

"a theorization of management would be highly important for their concept of agency and thence society and the social. For to 'manage' means, amongst other things, to 'handle, wield (tool, etc)' (Concise Oxford English Dictionary), and their emphasis on agency is crucial to their conception of both the social and the human." (op cit: 589, emphasis added)

Certainly it is clear that an adequate theorisation of management education and development must deal with both management as an aspect of organisation and managers as individuals.

Of course, many studies of managers, particularly thse which have focussed on managerial work, have identified clear contrasts between the idealised view of managers engaging in disinterested rational planning, problem solving and decision making. Thus traditional views that managers plan, organise, motivate and control are shown by empirical studies by Stewart, who says:

"When we turned to what is known about the manager's work in practice, we found that the research into what managers do gives a different picture from traditional accounts of the functions of a manager. The reality of management is less planned, orderly, rational or objective than these suggest." (Stewart, 1985: 20)

Similarly, Mintzberg asserts:

"If you ask a manager what he does, he will most likely tell you that he plans, organises, co-ordinates and controls. Then watch what he does. Don't be surprised if you can't relate what you see to those four words." (Mintzberg, 175: 49)

Hales (1986) reviews the now classic empirical studies by Stewart and by Mintzberg, and other studies by various researchers over a period of three decades, all of which present a picture of managerial work as much more fragmented, diverse, and varied than previous theoretical writings had suggested. However, Hales points to severe limitations in such studies, constraining any attempt to derive generalised conclusions on what managers do. Inconsistencies in the categories and concepts used make interpretation of findings problematic; this particularly applies in respect of confusion between managerial behaviour and managerial jobs. Moreover, the studies of behaviour are 'unsituated' in respect of the relationship of the actual behaviour to required or expected behaviour. Finally, he argues, the studies do not distinguish between managerial and non-managerial behaviour.

Hales does, however, take from such studies the conclusion that the concept of 'role' would be a useful analytical tool for examining what managers do, particularly because of the distinction which it holds between performance and expectations. Now although the term 'role' has been used within social theorising as a way of attempting to deal with the structure-agency problematic, the concept of 'role' appears to be different in differing treatments of role theory. Wilson (1970) distinguishes between what he calls the 'normative paradigm' and the 'interpretive paradigm'; Salaman (1980) distinguishes between structuralist and interactionist views; MacKinnon (1994) makes the same distinction, using the terms sociological and interactionist schools of role theory. In the 'normative'/ 'structuralist'/ 'sociological' approach to role theory, the emphasis is upon the structured expectations that arise within a relatively stable and consensual system, in relation to the position occupied by the role-holder. These expectations are given, acting rather like institutionalised scripts, thereby constraining the behaviour of the role-holder. Role performance thus becomes highly structured and patterned. In Turner's (1962) terms the emphasis is on role-taking. Contrary to this emphasis, Turner points to the role-making aspects of human interaction. MacKinnon describes this as

"a self-conscious and creative process of constructing performances within the loose organizing framework of a role." (op cit.:85)Similarly, Salaman refers to Strauss' emphasis on

" ... negotiation - the process of give-and-take, of diplomacy, of bargaining - which characterise organisational life." (Strauss, 173: 304, quoted in Salaman, op cit: 130)Performance is thus devised in response to the imputed expectations of others, rather than merely adopted.


Because of these problems with role theory (and other problems, elaboration of which is prevented by lack of space here), I shall examine an alternative notion for examining the nature of managerial agency, that of identity. Theorisation of identity has itself followed a number of paths, mainly within sociologically-oriented social psychology and interpretivist approaches within sociology. Weigert et al (1986) attempt to locate the development of such theorisation within the (mainly American) historical and socio-cultural period over a forty year period from Erikson's neo-Freudian approach developed in the 1940s through to the 1980s. They frame their analysis in terms of five different theoretical paths, although the different approaches often drew upon the work of earlier social and psychological theorists. Of course, there is much overlap with role theory, and in some approaches, particularly in the symbolic interactionist tradition, the concepts of role and of identity are effectively the same. Weigert et al discuss approaches to identity theory in terms of

"[t]he human quest to answer the seminal question, What is a human being that we are mindful of ourselves and of one another?..." (op cit: 30)They argue that responses to this seminal question make use of symbols historically available, traditionally deriving these from 'mythical, religious, theological, humanistic, philosophical, and everyday world views' (ibid), but now increasingly from the disciplinaes of sociology and psychology.

Human identity is both 'totally social and uniquely personal' (op cit p.31). The notion of 'social identity' emphasises this 'totally social' aspect of what it means to be human; the notion of 'personal identity' relates to the 'uniquely personal'. A social identity exists within a particular social order, placing an individual within that social order as the occupant of a socially recognised (and thus socially meaningful) position, one of a type. To be a manager is thus to have the social identity of manager, an identity which was not and is not available to individuals outside of a social order in which such a position is meaningful. A personal identity might be considered to exist as the unique 'self' which the individual experiences reflexively as having a continuing reality beyond that of the ascriptions tied to her/ his social identity, or identities: the answer to the question 'who am I (really)?'. This too is a key issue for considering what it is to be a manager, as each individual manager makes sense of the 'kind of person I am' (Hill, 1992; Watson, 1994). Of crucial importance within (sociological and recent social psychological) theorisations of identity is the recognition that the possible answers to such a question are themselves socially produced and socially emergent, rather than transcendent, asocial or pre-social self-cognitions. Theorisation of identity must therefore taken account of its dialectic nature, accounting for personal and social identity, the two aspects of being that Harré calls a duality in 'the metaphysics of psychology'.

Such approaches to identity theory appear to be of considerable utility in research concerned with managers, ie as individuals who are also members of a social grouping that takes its significance from the social phenomenon of management. Whilst considerable research has been carried out which is concerned with managers' work, beliefs, attitudes, feelings etc, such research mostly involves established managers, that is to say, those who might be considered to have already established both a social identity and a personal identity as a manager. Whilst such research may examine tensions and conflicts in the relationship of social to personal identities, they do not help us understand the process by which such identities are attained, or, to put it another way, how real managers are 'made'. What is needed is a conceptual framework for theorising such a process, and appropriate sources of empirical material. In terms of the latter, we might therefore focus on those who are aspiring or current initiates to managerial positions, management novices. We might also focus on those whose established identities have hitherto not been (socially and personally) seen as managerial, but which have recently been subject to social 're-identification' (eg in areas such as education and healthcare). In the remainder of the paper I shall use some of the material obtained in interviews with a number of individuals in such situations. These include graduate management trainees, students on management courses (a number of whom are not yet in formally designated managerial positions). The theoretical framework I shall use is that of Harré's 'identity projects' model.


The processes by which social and personal identities are attained are referred to as 'identity projects' by Harré (1983). A social identity project involves 'efforts to acquire the attributes of an existing social identity'; a personal identity project is concerned with establishing uniqueness. In terms of a manager's career we might hypothesise that social and personal identity projects are undertaken in sequence; the individual must first succeed in claiming the right to the social identity as manager, then achieve recognition as making a personal difference. The difficulties of transition typically experienced by managers undergoing promotion (Parker and Lewis, 1981) might be interpreted as arising from the need to re-engage in a social identity project (achieving recognition in the new position).

Harré develops his approach on the basis of a rejection of the Cartesian polarisation of psychological concepts on a single dimension, with the inner/ subjective/ mental at one end and the outer/ objective/ behavioural at the other. He seeks to map the conceptual space for personal psychology through a multi-dimensional model, the basic elements of which are two dimensions: the mode of 'display' and the mode of 'realization'. Psychological attributes may be displayed publicly, where others may observe, or privately, ie with only oneself as the audience. They may be realized as the property of individuals, or of collectives, that is the right to judge might reside in the individual or in some social collective.


Figure 1


This map is used by Harré to formulate four phases of development in identity projects, as transition is made from one quadrant to the next. The first phase, the transition from quadrant 1 to 2, he calls 'appropriation'. This involves processes by which 'theories' are adopted from the public-collective sphere and incorporated in the private realm of thought. This is then followed by the phase of 'transformation' (quadrant 2 to 3), whereby individuals take over their social appropriations, transforming these in terms of their own experience. Such transformations are then brought into the public arena (quadrant 3 to 4), 'publication'. In this phase the individual is subject to the assessment of others, a hazardous process which may result in affirmation of identity or stigmatisation. Finally, the phase of 'conventionalisation' (quadrants 4 to 1) takes place whereby the individual's personal biography is taken as an accepted part of the social order.

If we apply this model to managerial identities we might consider the first phase as one of appropriating the ideology of management (as conveyed in lay understandings as well as formal prescriptions, and realized in organisational practices as well as discursively). An individual comes to an understanding of what a manager is and should be, and what a manager does and should do. This leads to a phase in which the individual relates such understanding to what she/he has done, is doing and/or aspires to do and be, transforming the general understanding to one which connects with personal experience. At the stage the individual will be developing the basis for a claim to the social identity as manager, which is then published and asserted through some form of public display. Positive assessment by others will result in affirmation of the identity, which will then be conventionalised in the individual's own biography, and in the social order ie the management structure of the organisation.

Although presented in form of a simple temporal sequence of separate phases, in reality the process is likely to involve a more complex mix of movements through the phases, with tentative moves from one phase to another, iterations and reworkings, and accumulative developments. Moreover, research into the process based on responses of individuals within an interview will tend to yield their discursive interpretations of the overall process to date, rather than unequivocal descriptions of separate phases.

'Theories' of being a manager

The phase of 'appropriation' involves the individual developing some understanding of what a manager is and does, and should be and do, derived from the manner in which these are publicly represented and displayed. The phase of 'transformation' involves their interpretation of their own experience in the light of such understanding, relating what they have done and currently do to what they understand managers do.

In the case of the novice managers interviewed this may be seen in the way that they tend to refer to public criteria for what it means to be a manager. In the case of graduate management trainees in a public sector organisation, this often involved reference to the grading structure. Thus, in one sense, a manager is someone on the appropriate, managerial, job scale. However, this was, in itself, not sufficient; rather, it was the nature of the work that was important.

MB : I suppose I'm not really a manager, in a management role; but in the sense of the work that is done and the grade at which I work, in that sense I suppose it is.

MC : My job title is Business Planner; I'm not a manager as such ... it's not my title. Well, to be really specific about everything, I think a lot of what goes on, I think, at [this organisation] is on rank and I'm on [job evaluation] level 2, which all the Management Development people are, and they're all managers as such.

A junior manager working in a residential home for people with learning difficulties described her position, as senior support worker, in a somewhat self-effacing manner:

NJ : It's the lowest realm of the management ladder, I'm afraid ... (laughs).

The emphasis on what a manager does was often expressed in terms of a distinction between managing people and managing projects and processes. In addition, although an individual did not manage others, the interaction they had with others was regarded as significant. Thus a novice manager would often point out that while they did not manage any staff directly, their work was managerial in the sense of managing projects or processes.

MA : Right, well I'm managing processes rather than people, as a product manager I am sort of responsible for the pricing process, the promotions, the place -who we sell it to - and also the product specification itself. Obviously, a lot of my decisions affect a lot of other people and also I obviously have to share my decisions with other people, confer with them before actually doing anything, but it's the initiative, if you like, that would often come from myself...

MG: Well I don't have a team to manage but I do have full responsibility. I mean I'm the only person working on this project so I have to manage my time .... I have to go out and visit a lot of people to persuade them that the new products that I am coming up with are sensible and they are what the business needs.

NC : I work in constantly changing teams of people who are usually on higher grades than me, and basically I'm responsible for production, from the minute they get their initial ideas, right through to when the thing is delivered. So it's more project management than people management. And that's a very big part f my job, you know ... if there's any problems that occur at any stage then it's up to me to sort them out and liaise with printers, and the external contractors for design sometimes, illustration, photography ...

NH : Indirectly [a managerial job], because although I am not managing staff, I am managing projects. I am budgeting schemes for the mentally ill people, so I oversee the running of various schemes. I am actually on a management committee for several different schemes ... So I do staff recruitment and am involved in all that.

The tentative nature of responses by these individuals who do not directly manage subordinate staff contrasts sharply with those of individuals who do manage staff. Here the replies were direct and straightforward:

ND : Head of buildings, plural, operations ... kind of facilities manager, if you like...My direct responsibilities are for security, cleaning, room bookings, and fabric and buildings maintenance....

[Interviewer: So how many people who you call supervisors or managers do you have reporting to you?

ND: Reporting to me directly? My deputy, one, site officer, two... directly to me, three.... there's many other managers and supervisors, the site superintendents, but they go up to the sites officer and the sites officer reports directly to me...

NE : [my job title] It's actually termed as an office co-ordinator ... [which involves] first of all supervising seven people, that's administration, and that includes a payroll system for four hundred and fifty people, and that brings me into contact with security officers themselves or security guards...

Emerging from such responses is some basic, tacitly held model of what is involved in being a manager and doing managerial work. Direct authority over others ('managing people') is a sufficient criterion for being (having the identity of) a manager. However, it not a necessary criterion for having the claim on a managerial identity. This may be tentatively asserted when the work involves significant autonomy and significant responsibility for determining and co-ordinating projects and processes, particularly where these are of major importance to the organisation, and where this brings the individual into a (honoured) relationship with important people within and/or outside the organisation.

Although the novice managers without responsibility for managing staff used other criteria for making a tentative claim on a managerial identity, when asked what they saw as the key aspects of being a 'good' manager they tended to refer initially to aspects managing people.

MB : ... hmm, understanding your job, understanding the people you're working with and how you relate to each other, being sensitive to their needs, respecting them , that sort of thing...

MA : I think being able to delegate to the right people. I mean, coming back to the people management bit, you might not always have the time to listen to these issues, but you should be able to delegate the responsibility of that to someone else to ensure that, you know, the job was done ... and to do that, I think you need to know who you're working with and also be a good communicator...

Origins of ideas about managing

The problematic nature of the process of constructing a managerial identity may be seen to be reflected in the lack of a clearly identifiable source of specification of such an identity. Although there is a considerable volume of literature on 'how to manage', ostensibly written in popular style and widely available, most respondents did not refer to this as the origin of their own understanding of managing. Some referred to general conversation with social contacts as a key source:

Interviewer : Was there anything you did about management before taking the DMS course, or going on short courses?]

NA : No, no not really. A lot of friends I have are sort of managers, so I hear them talking about their problems all the time ...

Those who had formally studied aspects of managing within their degree courses tended to discount the study of theory in favour of contemporaneous or later practical experience:

NC : It was through actually doing it that you learned what you learned

MA : Well, at university you do learn a lot of theory about management skills ... and my view of management is you can't become a good manager just through theory...

MB : It's not a set of logical steps, it's not written down anywhere as a set of rules, you know. What I've said and a whole lot more which are all part of leadership and management, and everything else...

For most, the observation of other managers was a significant source of their developing understanding of being a manager.

NJ : You were asking what I know of management books and things. Well, I don't know anything at all, but I have always made a study of people that are in management positions, what makes them good. And I know immediately why I like someone as a manager, so I think I would be a good manager later on ...

NB : ... looking at different managers who are successful and trying to learn from them. I think that helps and then you go from one organisation to another and you see very different managerial styles, and it helps you to, I think, you learn....I would not necessarily copy but try to adapt ... thinking what it is that makes the person seem effective ...

Significantly, many respondents made negative evaluations of other (established) managers:

NA: I do think people are rather sort of wishy-washy actually, and in the [management] meetings I attend quite often not many decisions are reached .... I think people do look for more leadership from the top.

I'm surrounded by all these managers and I do watch them. And in fact quite a lot of them classed as managers don't really manage

NE: [speaking of the dominance of managers with military backgrounds] I think one of their problems is that within the military [they are not used to] being accountable really. It's a bit different to a business really. I notice that in them, and other non-ex-military people notice as well... especially the accountants feel that they're a bit too quick to snap and say 'yes I know' without looking into the context of things.

NK: I am still actually considering whether I actually want to really be a manager, in the real sense ... because from what I see of managers who are, in terms of managing the whole staff team... they are not very popular... and a lot of them are actually very ineffective

Such negative comments have a character very different from mere complaint They may be seen as challenges to the moral right of such individuals with the title of 'manager', to hold that identity. This combination of positive evaluations of established managers (whom one can emulate), and of negative evaluations (whose right to be such is challenged), may be seen as the novice managers claiming to know what are the attributes of managerial identity and to have the right to judge others' claim on that identity.

A further development from such evaluations is where novice managers are able to compare themselves with established managers undertaking the same course.

NC : ...on the course there are a lot of the other people who do have management responsibility and they've got such better jobs than I have, and yet I was able to work as well as them... it gave me the confidence to think 'well if they can do things as well as them, then I'd be able to be a manager too'.

NB : I haven't been yet in a position where I've had to manage people on a large scale at all, but looking at people [on the course] that did, I certainly don't think it's going to be a problem when the situation arises.

Such evaluations of and comparisons with others who have established managerial identities might thus be taken as indicating that the novice has completed the phases of appropriation and transformation. They have achieved an understanding of the attributes of a manager, and related these to themselves and their own experiences. They too can be managers.

Claiming an identity

In Harré's model, the next stage in developing and acquiring such an identity requires 'publication', some form of public display that evokes assessment by others. This can be seen in way that many respondents talked about 'credibility', of 'pleasing' superiors, of being seen to make a difference.

MA : I think you've got to have sort of credibility amongst the sales force, and I felt that, perhaps, this [leading a conference session] was a good way to sort of establish myself...I just decided that myself - no-one said 'I really think you should lead the session at this conference because you can establish credibility' - I mean, my predecessor said to me before he left, he said 'you know, an important thing is to make sure you establish yourself fairly quickly ..

NA : So in a way ... actually that was a sort of managerial project because what I had to do was, with fairly limited resources, I had to find somewhere where I could set up a computer ... etc etc... I got people in to input the data within a month or so ... well quite quickly. ... so he [immediate superior] was quite pleased with that.

For an established manager, the first managerial post after a career in the army led to a self-estimation that he was capable of a higher position.

ND : That was cleaning manager ... I don't consider it part of my employment career because it was my first step out of the army, to get my feet, and I realised that I'd grossly undershot my mark, my target... I started looking at advertisements [for jobs] ... and I noticed one.. which was double in salary and the responsibility was far, far greater than I had at the time. So I applied for it and got it basically...

In this manager's case, the 'public display' in terms of applying for the job was followed by further public display, expressed as 'getting stuck in'.

ND : I got stuck in, and got stuck into many things,... and started putting quite a lot of things right. And my line manager at the time [...] said 'we're going to upgrade you, we're going to cange your title to "head of...", and make you a spending head because of the title'...

Here the manager has successfully achieved recognition in the identity, affirmed through the change of status accorded by others. Significantly, in terms of his own biography, he discounts the period spent as cleaning manager 'as part of my employment career', although it was clearly a significant element in the transformation phase.

Another established manager faced a challenge to his right to his job (coming in from outside the organisation) by others who 'felt they should have the job rather than me'. In this case he took the matter to his own manager, suggesting that disciplinary action was required.

NE : I initiated that then to the administration manager, who's over the whole department. I just explained to the admin. manager that I thought I'd tried my best and I thought the person was totally unreasonable. And suggested there were reasons for this behaviour, which I explained, which I thought was my perception of why they were behaving that way. And it came to a head, where they had to be disciplined because it was almost worse than sabotage, it that's the word...

Here we observe public display in terms of the manager's attempt to show the senior manager that he (the manager) had undertaken the actions appropriate to being a manager, and to request support ie confirmation of his identity as manager. The attempt was successful, providing such confirmation, which would then affect the social situation in which that manager functioned.

Of course, such public displays are hazardous, and the individual risks judgement that they have failed to demonstrate their right to the desired social identity. This aspect may warrant further exploration, in the form of research with individuals who have experienced such adverse judgements. The emergent structural changes in managerial occupations and careers would, ostensibly, be resulting in many instances where individuals have been confronted with adverse judgements, often in contrast to confident expectations. Studies such as those by Collin (1986) on subjective career, and Scase and Goffee (1989) on 'reluctant managers' might be fruitfully reworked in terms of the notion of hazard in the 'publication' phase of Harré's model.

This short, somewhat rough, exploration of the conceptual model of identity development which Harré proposes, does appear to have considerable merit in the analysis of managerial identity. It thus potentially provides a way of linking the particular patterns of development of individual managers with the ideology of management as it has historically developed, both in terms of texts and material practices. Unlike the functionalist models of managerial effectiveness and of competence, which seek to derive prescriptions (and possibly explanations) of managerial behaviour from organisational requirements, the model examined pays due attention to the equivocal and uncertain nature of the attempts by individuals to achieve recognition and acceptance as managers. The model thus appears to have sound conceptual basis and to be potentially fruitful in devising empirical research strategies.


The phrase 'the making of managers' has been used as, or in, the title of three reports in recent times (BIM, 1963; Handy et al, 1987; Constable and McCormick, 1987). However, these reports have focussed mainly on formal processes of education and development for managers. The response to these, and contemporaneous debate, has been attempts to specify the content and mode of such formal processes, usually from assumptions about the nature of management. These assumptions may be located in the ideology of management that has developed historically and culturally over the modern period, broadly speaking over the past two centuries and particularly the past century. Conceptually, such assumptions are flawed, and the continuing concerns about the apparent comparatively low level of 'competence' or 'effectiveness' of British managers. The unresolved nature of these concerns may be unresolvable, without an adequate theorisation of both management and of managerial identity. Thus the reports have not addressed the question of how real managers are made, or of how managers are really made. This can only be accomplished by an adequately theorised, empirically-based examination of the process by which individuals become managers. However, that theorisation must itself examine the nature of management in work organisations, which inevitably concerns the nature of the current social and moral order, and raises the prospect of 'discovering better forms of control over economic life' (Rose, 1988).


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