You are on page 1of 6

HENRY MINTZBERG

A GREAT GENERALIST
Thinker 011

INTRODUCTION

Often regarded as an iconoclast and a rebel, Henry Mintzberg (1939- ) has certainly challenged many
traditional ideas. But he does not attack people with whom he disagrees; he just quietly, simply and with
devastating clarity, sets about proving them wrong. In his writing, which is the product of a career devoted
single-mindedly to understanding how people actually manage, he resists every temptation to pontificate about
how anyone ought to manage and emphases the need to respond to context and the importance of tacit
knowledge and the wisdom gained through experience.

LIFE AND CAREER

Henry Mintzberg was born in Canada, and has spent virtually all his working life in that country. He studied
mechanical engineering at McGill University, and after further study at MIT, returned to Canada in 1961 to
take up an appointment with Canadian National Railways. In 1963 he moved into the academic world and by
1968 he was back at McGill as a professor at what is now the Desautels Faculty of Management. He
currently holds the post of Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies and is Faculty Director of the
International Masters for Health Leadership at McGill. Mintzberg has held a number of important positions at
McGill and other management institutions, including visiting professorships at INSEAD, Paris, Carnegie-
Mellon University, Pittsburgh and London Business School. He has been a consultant to many organisations
throughout the world and from 1988 to 1991 he was President of the Strategic Management Society.

Mintzberg's writing and thinking has had a major impact on the management world and he has received a
number of awards including the McGill Lifetime Achievement Award for Leadership in Learning in 2014 and
the Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. His book The Nature of Managerial Work, published in
1973, and a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, "The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact", written
two years later first established his reputation. Based on detailed research and thoughtful observation, these
two works showed that what managers did, when successfully carrying out their responsibilities, differed
substantially from much of what was posited by business theory.

KEY THEORIES

Unlike many gurus, Mintzberg's contribution to management thinking is not based on one or two clever
theories within a narrow discipline. His approach is broad, involving the study of virtually everything managers
do and how they do it. His general appeal is further enhanced by a fundamental belief that management is
about applying human skills to systems, not applying systems to people, a belief that is demonstrated
throughout his writing.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the publisher.
How managers work

In his article The Manager's Job: Folklore and Fact, Mintzberg sets out the stark reality of what managers do:
"If there is a single theme that runs through this article, it is that the pressures of the job drive the manager to
take on too much work, encourage interruption, respond quickly to every stimulus, seek the tangible and avoid
the abstract, make decisions in small increments, and do everything abruptly."
Mintzberg uses the article to stress the importance of the manager's role and the need to understand it
thoroughly before attempting to train and develop those engaged in carrying it out.

"No job is more vital to our society than that of the manager. It is the manager who determines whether our
social institutions serve us well or whether they squander our talents and resources. It is time to strip away the
folklore about managerial work, and time to study it realistically so that we can begin the difficult task of
making significant improvements in its performance."

In The Nature of Managerial Work, Mintzberg proposes six characteristics of management work and ten basic
management roles. These characteristics and roles, he suggests, apply to all management jobs, from
supervisor to chief executive.

The six characteristics are:

The manager's job is a mixture of regular, programmed jobs and unprogrammed tasks.
A manager is both a generalist and a specialist.
Managers rely on information from all sources but show a preference for that which is orally
transmitted.
Managerial work is made up of activities that are characterised by brevity, variety and fragmentation.
Management work is more an art than a science and is reliant on intuitive processes and a `feel' for
what is right.
Management work is becoming more complex.

Mintzberg places the ten roles that he believes make up the manager's job into three categories:

1. Interpersonal

a) Figurehead - performing symbolic duties as a representative of the organisation.


b) Leader - establishing the atmosphere and motivating the subordinates.
c) Liaiser - developing and maintaining webs of contacts outside the organisation.

2. Information

a) Monitor - collecting all types of information that are relevant and useful to the organisation.
b) Disseminator - transmitting information from outside the organisation to those inside.
c) Spokesman - transmitting information from inside the organisation to outsiders.

3. Decision Making

a) Entrepreneur - initiating change and adapting to the environment.


b) Disturbance Handler - dealing with unexpected events.
c) Resource Allocator - deciding on the use of the organisations resources.
d) Negotiator - negotiating with individuals and dealing with other organisations.

Some thirty years later, Mintzberg decided to revisit his work on the natural of managerial work. He adopted a
similar approach, monitoring a day in the lives of 29 managers working in different fields. The resulting book
Managing, published in 2009, builds on his earlier work to develop a framework for thinking about

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the publisher.
management effectiveness, consisting of five interrelated threads or managerial mind sets: reflective, analytic,
worldly (familiar with cultures and ideas beyond ones personal context), collaborative and proactive.

This book also sets out Mintzbergs concerns about what he sees as the current over-emphasis on leadership
over management, especially where this focuses primarily on the leadership qualities of the individual. He
sees leadership as embedded within management and what he calls communityship, or the sense of
community which is needed for cooperative effort in organisations.
The structure of organisations

In his 1979 book, The Structuring of Organizations, Mintzberg identified five types of `ideal' organisation
structures. The classification was expanded 10 years later in his book Mintzberg on Management and the
following more detailed view of organisation types drawn up:

The Entrepreneurial Organisation - few staff, loose division of labour, little management hierarchy,
informal, with power focused on the chief executive.

The Machine Organisation - highly specialised, routine operating tasks, formal communication, large
operating units, tasks grouped under functions, elaborate administrative systems, central decision
making and a sharp distinction between line and staff.

The Diversified Organisation - a set of semi-autonomous units under a central administrative


structure. The units are usually called divisions and the central administration referred to as the
headquarters.

The Professional Organisation - commonly found in hospitals, universities, public agencies and
firms doing routine work, this structure relies on the skills and knowledge of professional staff in order
to function. All such organisations produce standardised products or services.

The Innovative Organisation - this is what Mintzberg sees as the modern organisation: one that is
flexible, rejecting any form of bureaucracy and avoiding emphasis on planning and control systems.
Innovation is achieved by hiring experts, giving them power, training and developing them and
employing them in multi-disciplinary teams that work in an atmosphere unbounded by conventional
specialisms and differentiation.

The Missionary Organisation - in such organisations it is the mission that counts above all else; and
the mission is clear, focussed, distinctive and inspiring. Employees readily identify with the mission,
share common values and are motivated by their own zeal and enthusiasm.

Strategy and planning

The relationship between strategy and planning is a constant theme in Mintzberg's writing and his views on
the subject are perhaps his most important contribution to current management thinking. In his 1994 book The
Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, Mintzberg produced a masterly criticism of conventional theory.

His main concern was with what he sees as basic failings in traditional approaches to planning. These failings
are:

Processes - the elaborate processes used create bureaucracy and suppress innovation and
originality.

Data - `hard' data (the raw material of all strategists) provides information, but `soft' data, Mintzberg
argues, provides wisdom. "Hard information can be no better and is often at times far worse than soft
information."

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the publisher.
Detachment - Mintzberg dismisses the process of producing strategies in `ivory towers'. Effective
strategists are not people who distance themselves from the detail of a business "...but quite the
opposite: they are the ones who immerse themselves in it, while being able to draw the strategic
messages from it."

He sees strategy, "not as the consequence of planning but the opposite: its starting point". He coined
the phrase `crafting strategies' to illustrate his concept of the delicate, painstaking process of
developing strategy and has been credited with inventing the concept of emergent strategy- a
process far removed from the classical picture of strategists grouped around a table predicting the
future. He argues that while an organisation needs a strategy, strategic plans are generally useless as
one cannot predict what will happen two to three years ahead.

Mintzbergs interest in strategy, strategy making and strategic thinking has been an enduring one and he has
continued to write on the subject in books such as The Strategy Process, 1995, Strategy Bites Back, 1995,
which takes a lighter look at strategy, The Strategy Safari, 1998 which reviewed and critiqued ten schools of
strategic thought, and Tracking Strategies: towards a general theory of strategy formation, 2007 which studied
strategy making in a wide range of organisations.

Management education

Mintzbergs focus on the practice of management has led him to consider how managers are trained and
developed. In 2004 he published Managers not MBAs which was highly critical of traditional MBA
programmes and created a degree of controversy in the field of management education. However, not content
just to criticise existing approaches, Mintzberg has also been involved in developing innovative programmes
of management education. He was instrumental in setting up the International Masters in Practicing
Management and the International Masters for Health Leadership at McGill University and still teaches on
these programmes. Mintzberg believes that management is a practice which cannot be taught in the
classroom but has to be learned on the job, through apprenticeship, mentorship, and direct experience. His
approach to management development is to help managers to learn from each other and to develop a
reflective approach to learning from their own experience.

IN PERSPECTIVE

Henry Mintzberg remains one of the few truly generalist management writers of today. Over the course of his
career he has produced 17 books and 170 articles, and he remains one of the worlds most influential writers
in the field of management.

Mintzbergs work covers such a wide perspective that different readers see him as an expert in different
areas. For some people he is an authority on time management, and he has written some of the most
thoughtful and practical advice on this subject; for others he is the champion of the hard-pressed manager
surrounded by management theorists telling him or her how to do their job; and for yet another group, he is a
leading authority on strategic planning.

In recent years, Mintzbergs focus has broadened still further to encompass ethical issues faced by society as
well as managers. His latest book, Rebalancing society: radical renewal beyond right, left or center, published
in 2015, argues that radical social reform is needed and that a balance between three sectors: private, public
and plural (as he calls the voluntary or not-for-profit sector) is the best foundation for a healthy society. In
tandem, he has also helped to launch a GROOC, - a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for groups. With
the title Social Learning for Social Impact, this course aims to inspire social initiatives that will change the
world and drive radical renewal in society.

For most people, however, Mintzberg is a man who, throughout his life has not been afraid to challenge
accepted wisdom and has changed our ideas about many key business activities, through truly original
thinking, supported by the scholarly presentation of research findings.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the publisher.
KEY WORKS

The editions cited here are those held in and available for loan to members from the CMI library. These may
not always be the first edition.

BOOKS

The nature of managerial work


New York: Harper & Row, 1973

The structuring of organizations: a synthesis of the research


Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1979

Structures in fives: designing effective organizations


Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1983

Mintzberg on management: inside our strange world of organizations


New York: Free Press, 1989

The rise and fall of strategic planning


Hemel Hempstead: Prentice-Hall International, 1994

The strategy process: concepts, contexts, cases, with JB Quinn, 3rd ed


London: Prentice-Hall International, 1996

Strategy safari: a guided tour through the wilds of strategic management, with Bruce Ahlstrand and
Joseph Lampel
London: Prentice-Hall, 1998

MORE RECENT BOOKS FROM MINTZBERG

The strategy process: concepts, contexts, cases, 4th ed (and others)


Harlow: Pearson Education, 2003

Managers not MBAs: a hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development,
London: Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2004

Strategy safari: the complete guide through the wilds of strategic management, 2nd ed with Bruce
Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel
Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2009

Managing
Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2009
This book is available as an e-book

Management: its not what you think with Bruce Ahlstrand and Joseph Lampel.
Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2010
This book is available as an e-book

Rebalancing society: radical renewal beyond left, right, and center,


Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2015

FURTHER READING

Rebuilding management's good name, Andrew Saunders,


Management Today, May 2011, pp44-46

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the publisher.
JOURNAL ARTICLES

Crafting strategy
Harvard Business Review, vol 65 no 4, Jul-Aug 1987, pp66-75

The manager's job: folklore and fact


Harvard Business Review, vol 68 no 2, Mar-Apr 1990, pp163-176
Originally published in 1975. This article includes a retrospective commentary by the author.

The fall and rise of strategic planning


Harvard Business Review, vol 72 no 1, Jan-Feb 1994, pp107-114

Rounding out the manager's job


Sloan Management Review, vol 36 no 1, Autumn 1994, pp11-26

Musings on management
Harvard Business Review, vol 74 no 4, Jul-Aug 1996, pp61-67

Managing on the edge


International Journal of Public Sector Management, vol 10 no 3,1997, pp131-153

The Yin and Yang of managing


Organizational Dynamics, vol 29 no 4, 2001, pp306-312

INTERNET RESOURCES

Henry Mintzbergs website www.mintzberg.org

MORE INFORMATION

e enquiries@managers.org.uk t +44 (01536) 204222 w www.managers.org.uk

p Chartered Management Institute


Management House, Cottingham Rd, Corby, Northants, NN17 1TT

This publication is for general guidance only. The publisher and expert contributors disclaim all liability for any
errors or omissions. You should make appropriate enquiries and seek appropriate advice before making any
business, legal or other decisions.

Revised March 2016

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in
any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the publisher.