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« Ozodi Osuji Lectures #26: Introduction to Human Resources | Main | Ozodi Osuji Lectures #28: Introduction to Organizational Behavior »

November 09, 2005

Ozodi Osuji Lectures #27: Introduction to Management and Supervision

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji (Seatle, Washington) --- The study of management is actually a new phenomenon. This is very astonishing considering how long people have talked about leadership and management. There was actually no sustained study of management until the twentieth century.

Barbour, in England, did say a few things about management towards the end of the nineteenth century, but besides him, there was no literature on management apart from those written in the twentieth century.


During the early parts of the twentieth century, Frederick Taylor began what he called Time and Motion studies. Essentially, he believed that he could figure out how many optimal motions it would require to do something and how long it would take an efficient worker to do that thing.

How many movements would it require to lift a brick and set it up on a wall and plaster it? If it were possible to figure out the optimal times it would take to accomplish a task, Taylor reasoned that it was possible to select the right types of persons who can do a certain job optimally and train them and that they would do it in the most efficient manner. He went around measuring how quickly a job could be done by those who seem to have aptitude for certain jobs and proposed to enable employers hire the best persons to do the said jobs.

For example, how many words would the best typists type in a minute? 100 words a minute is very common among good typists. Some even have typed double that amount. The average typist many type 60 words a minute. Perhaps, those who were meant to work as typists are those who could type 80 or more words a minute? If so, Taylor proposed that employers should hire those best able to do what they needed done.

Taylor called what he was doing scientific management. Although what he was doing is no longer applicable to day’s technology, he, in fact, began the effort to study management in a scientific manner. This is very strange given peoples interest in leadership. Indeed, leadership itself was not really studied until the twentieth century. Even such fields as political science, the study of politics, apart from the scattered writings of a few political philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu, etc are a twentieth century phenomenon.

Frederick Taylor was a pioneer and his legacy is that he initiated the study of management as a field of independent study. Mr. Peter Ducker who originally trained as a journalist and political scientist began to write about management in the 1930s. Drucker actually pioneered the academic study of management.

This is amazing for when we go to schools of management like Harvard school of management we tend to think that they have always existed. These schools are, in fact, post Second World War phenomenon. That is, they are less than 100 years old.

A field that is that young, a field that fits into a human being’s life span cannot have developed good traditions and certainly cannot be said to have wisdom in it. No wonder the field of management is filled with passing fads.


After Mr. Taylor, others began to contribute to the field of management. The famous Hawthorn electric power study by Mayo showed that productivity was linked to the environment of work. The women who worked in the plant produced high or low, in accordance with the ambiance of the place. The electric lighting, the color of the walls, the interpersonal atmosphere of the work place and other factors contributed to the efficiency of work. That is to say that whereas Taylor was correct that we could figure out the best way to do something and hire those with aptitude in doing it, to do it well, nevertheless, other factors like ambiance come into play.

Folks like Mouton, Herzberg, Mary Follet, Chris Agyris, W.W. Whyte, David Riesman etc contributed the fact that other factors affected productivity. Those who are doing what they like doing and have aptitude in doing them tend to do them better than others. If a person has interest in what he is doing, he tends to do it better than those who do not have interests in what they are doing.


Abraham Maslow, in his hierarchy of needs study, showed us that people are at different levels in satisfying certain needs we all seem to have. As he sees it, people tend to have five basic needs: physiological, safety, security, social acceptance, self esteem and self actualization.

Self actualizing persons tend to be the most productive persons. But to get to self actualization, the individual must have satisfied his lower order needs. He must have satisfied his physiological needs for food, medications, clothes and shelter. When those are met, the individual must seek to satisfy his security needs. If he feels that he is relatively safe then he worries about social acceptance. Do other people like and accept him? If he feels socially accepted and esteemed he worries about his own self acceptance. Does he like himself or does he have low opinion of himself? If he has what Carl Rogers called positive self regard, he proceeds to ask: what is that I enjoy doing most? Who am I and what does that real me enjoy doing? If he figures out who he is, in fact, and what that real self likes doing, and throws himself into doing it, he tends to be highly productive. In other words, highly productive persons tend to be self realizing and actualizing persons. But before one can be self actualizing one must have satisfied ones basic needs.

(Extrapolating from Maslow’s schema, one can say that Nigerians have not met their physiological, security, and other needs and this probably explains their low productivity?)


Other observers contributed other ideas to management. McGovern (?) believed that there are two types of managerial behavior: those who practice what he called Theory X and those who practice what he called theory Y.

Theory X folks believe that human beings are inherently lazy and as such need to be closely supervised otherwise they would not work hard. Managers who endorse this pattern of management tend to closely monitor what their employees are doing. They tend to punish those who do not do what they are expected to do.

Those who embrace theory Y tend to see human beings as good and as needing little or no supervision. People are said to do the right thing if given the opportunity to do so. Thus, such supervisors tend to delegate power and authority to their subordinates and leave them unsupervised to do what they were hired to do. This does not mean that such supervisors are liaise faire and do not care for productivity, but that they trust their employees to do the right thing. Apparently, there is a self fulfilling prophecy here: people tend to do what you expect of them. Expect them to work hard unsupervised and they do so and expect them to be lazy if not supervised and they are lazy.

In the real world, people combine X and Y tendencies. Workers need supervision and monitoring, they also need to be left alone. It is not an either or situation. If you leave workers alone they probably will be less productive and if you over supervise them they may not be very productive either. Finding the right balance is the art of management.


Fiedler believes that there are essentially two types of managers: task oriented managers and emotion oriented managers.

Task oriented managers enjoy being given tasks and told to go accomplish them. They tend to judge themselves by what they do. Such managers tend to fit well to management by objectives (MBOs). They like to solve problems.

Conversely, are those managers who are over invested in the feelings of their employees? They want to make peace and make every person in the work place feel good about himself or herself. They do their best to get people to become relaxed. Whereas task oriented managers may not even notice the feelings of employees, all they want is that employees do what they are paid to do, emotion oriented managers are invested in how well the employees feel while doing their jobs; they sooth ruffled feathers.

Mary Parker Follet and Herzberg contributed immensely to interpersonal aspect of management theory. They taught managers to make sure that employees get along with each other and taught employers to respect and get along with their employees, for respected employees tend to work harder.

William Ouchi, in the late 1970s, contributed to management theory by showing us how the Japanese managed their businesses and how we could copy a bit of their style. As he saw it, the Japanese are less likely to treat employees as objects to be used and discarded, as is done in the West. Instead, employees are seen as members of the family. The employer sees himself as the parent helping his children, employees, do their jobs well. Ouchi believed that this paternalistic system of management arose from the Japanese tradition of lords and servants. The Samurai and those he led formed a strong bond, working for each other. The lord protected the serfs and the serfs devoted their lives to him.

In the modern Japanese work place, the CEO is the Samurai who protected his employees. He looked after their interests, not only by paying them well but also by caring for their lives outside the work place. As result of this paternal relationship, employees devote themselves to working hard for their boss. They could come to work at 8AM and stay at work till 8PM, doing whatever needs to be done. Indeed, when work is over, they had their quality cycles meeting where they critiqued each other’s work and tried to improve on the quality of their work.

An American, Denning is said to have gone to Japan after the Second World War and taught them what is currently called Total Quality Management. Essentially, this type of management means that every employee sees those he reports to and those that report to him as his customers.

What do customers want? Customers want the best products and services at the least prices. Therefore, the employee produces goods and services that he believes that his customers, those above or underneath him, would appreciate. Every employee treats each other as customer, always striving to produce the best products for his customers and providing the best customer care services he could for other employees. This system is said to be responsible for the high quality of Japanese goods.

There are tons of approaches to management. Most of these are passing fads. Management styles come and go. For a while, the fad was transforming the work place into a democracy, what was called industrial democracy, or participatory democracy. Just imagine a work place where all voted on how to do things. This, on paper, sounds nice. The problems are that not every person equally comes up with good ideas, ideas on new product lines and or new service lines. Those who do not come up with ideas may cling to old ideas, to old product lines and resist making changes, resist investing in new products. They may, in fact, vote against new products. After all, it takes risk to invest energy and resources in new ideas and products.

It is always safe to do things the way they were done in the past. In industrial democracy, one can just see the lazy bums who are always in the majority killing new ideas by voting against them. Simply stated, it is a bad idea to have democracy in the work place.

Max Weber seems correct in stating that we need a hierarchical work organization where the few at the top, the leaders, tell the many at the bottom, the led, what to do. Those with bold ideas will always lead the timid who are afraid to come up with new ideas, new visions, new product lines, new ideas of services to be performed.

In the late 1970s, when I was in graduate school, the fad was called flat organizations. Here, folks wanted to do away with hierarchical organizations and have every employee on the same flat line. Whereas the utopians who dreamed up this nonsense did not do away with leaders, they wanted both leader and led to relate on equal basis. Good. We know that authority must be somewhat distant from the masses otherwise the masses would not accept leadership from it. The idea of flat organizations is now dead.

Then there was the idea of work enrichment. Workers are said to be bored doing routine work, so we must vary their work and give them more interesting things to do. Good idea. The problem is that workers have different skill sets. How are you going to alternate the work of an engineer and that of a janitor? It is simply impossible. How about the work of a brain surgeon and that of a nurse, can you alternate them? How exactly do you enrich jobs? Of course, you can make those doing similar jobs exchange aspects of their jobs, but you really cannot do the same thing where people’s skills are vastly different.

With the arrival of Women’s liberation movement, we were told that women need to have flex time, to come to work at different times, for example. Instead of coming to work at 8AM and leaving at 5PM, as usual, perhaps a woman could come in at 10AM when hr kids are at school, then go home when they are back from school, adjusting her time to what suits her home needs. This is a great idea, except that we run factories (assembly line) on shifts of eight hours and the individual worker is either there or not there to work a shift.

Many fads have been tried in the work place. Yours truly once wrote that since the Igbos are democratic that the work place that would suit them was a democratic one, a participatory work place. That was me in my twenties, full of youthful idealism. Now as a middle aged man, I actually do not think that the Igbos need more but less democracy. The people seem wild and need iron discipline to get them to abide by organizational rules. I want a rigid Weberian, Prussian bureaucracy to discipline the Igbos. Indeed, I want a benevolent dictatorship to whip these unruly people into some sort of shape, to make them behave as organizational men and women (ala W.W Whyte and David Riesman). They talk out of turn and insist on doing their own things and no one listens to any one or takes direction from any one. These people need military type regimentation, not democracy. This is 180 degrees change in my management philosophy. As they say, age and experience does change folks.

Fads aside, management means understanding the goals of an organization and using human and capital resources to achieve those goals. A manager is a professional who comes into an organization, studies and understands its goals, what it was established to do and agrees to achieve those goals as if they were his personal goals. He uses employees and capital resources (money, equipment) to achieve those goals. He manufactures a product, sells it and makes profit for the owners of the business.

Management, I repeat, is effort to use men and material to achieve organizational goals. Management, therefore, entails understanding human psychology, how people behave on the job, in groups and understanding where resources are to be found and obtaining them and using both to achieve organizational goals.

Within that broad definition of management, we can split it into smaller units. Thus we teach students that management entails setting goals, planning to attain those goals, organizing people to attain those goals, (in the language of political correctness coordinating people’s activities, since no one these days says that he uses others lest he seem dictatorial), monitoring the activities of subordinates and making sure that they all do what conforms to attaining the organization’s goals, monitoring finances and how it is obtained and spent, and other such things.

Management means knowing what the organization’s goals are and setting steps to attain them and using men and materials to attain them. If you do not attain the organization’s goals, do not make profit for the owners of capital, your ass is on the street.

Management is not child’s play, it is hardball affairs. It is either you make good or you are shipped out. This is not your mother’s charity house or your father’s army; it is business (or as my Chinese friends tells you, smiling while sticking it to you, no hurt feelings involved, just “bisness”).


Supervisors are those who work directly with line staff and with them achieve their unit’s sub goals within the overall organizational goals. A supervisor is a headworker, a foreman. He does what the rest of the workers are doing but has had more experience than the rest of them and shows them how to do it.

The chair person of an academic department is a supervisor. Hopefully, he has done teaching for a long time and is a tenured professor. He helps the younger professors understand teaching. He himself still teaches, perhaps, two courses per quarter, instead of the expected three courses for full time faculty.

A supervisor is not a manager. In fact, he does not really handle money or make budgetary decisions. The chair of an academic department does not even hire other faculty. The dean does that. The dean is what you might call middle management. He supervises a school and makes hiring decisions and manages the budget of his college. Top management is the president and his vice presidents. Those make the real decisions as to where the organization, university, is going, with the approval of the board of regents, of course.

Supervision entails being able to train those with less experience than one, mentor them and enable them understand the job.

A supervisor must understand the job being done, so that he teaches others how to do it. He may or may not have high leadership skills. High leadership skills entails the ability to posit goals, vision, and establish an organization to pursue that goal, obtain people and resources to achieve that goal and motivate people as they work towards that goal.


Management is often seen as that which happens in the private sector. We call public sector managers administrators. I was never able to understand this distinction until it occurred to me that public sector managers, read administrators, did not set the goals they pursued, nor can they modify those goals. The political sector, the legislators, president and even judiciary sets the goals that public civil servants attempt to achieve.

That not withstanding, a manager is a manager whether he is called administrator or something else.

Every person, including politicians, ought to understand management: how to set goals and devise ways to achieve them, using men and materials. As I see it, politicians are public managers and ought to understand management.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji

November 8, 2005

Posted by Administrator at November 9, 2005 01:42 PM


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