The Functions of Management
Effective management relies on the fulfilment of a core set of responsibilities – duties every manager must perform in order to achieve strategic objectives.
In theoretical terms, these foundational responsibilities are known as functions of management and are widely recognized as:
They do not exist in isolation, but rather work together as part of an ongoing process, with each function a development of the one before.
This article will take a close look at each function in turn and what it involves, plus the benefits of implementing this theoretical approach to management.
Where Did the Functions of Management Come From?
The functions of management were first identified in the early 1900s by Henri Fayol whose scientific management theory, known as Fayolism, remains highly influential in business management and administration academia.
Fayol’s original theory included staffing as a fifth core function, but his work has since been revisited, and staffing has now been incorporated into the planning, organizing, leading and controlling functions used today.
The four functions of management are universal – that is to say, they do not apply to a specific profession but are applicable to leadership roles in all industries.
You could consider them as the key transferable skills required for managerial positions.
Depending on their seniority, some managers are likely to spend more time focusing on particular functions than others.
However, because they are all interdependent, it is important to understand the process as a whole.
What are the Four Functions of Management?
As discussed above, the four functions of management are planning, organizing, leading and controlling; they cover the whole managerial process.
Under each function sits a number of associated tasks and responsibilities.
The first function lays the foundations for everything that follows, and those responsible for it need strong decision making skills.
In the planning stages, managers assess an organization’s current position, determine future goals and create a roadmap for how to achieve them.
They take into account influencing factors like the state of their market, customer base and competitors.
They also consider the resources available to them, like the current workforce and financial capital.
Planning itself can be split into multiple forms:
Top-level management is typically involved in strategic planning, focusing on the organization as a whole and its long term business objectives.
Tactical planning often falls to middle management, and is the planning of short-term objectives in a specific area that contribute to the wider strategy.
In a nutshell, a strategic plan determines the best course of action, and a tactical plan focuses on the finer details at an operational level.
Following on from the planning phase, the next function of management involves putting the wheels in motion.
Those responsible for the organizational function need to ensure that the right resources are available and put to the most effective use.
This can involve collaborating with multiple departments, for example with finance for budgeting or human resources if there is an additional staffing requirement.
It may also include outsourcing to third parties if necessary, such as bringing a digital marketing agency on board to run a specific campaign or hiring contractors to install new operational equipment.
Perhaps the most fundamental part of the organizing stage is delegation.
Managers need to understand their workforce and the strengths of individual team members to make sure the right tasks are assigned to the right people.
They also need to ensure that work is distributed fairly and evenly, so employees do not become overburdened.
If they do so, it can have a major impact on engagement and productivity.
Essentially, 'organizing' is the management function that ensures the smooth, effective and cost-efficient operation of a business.
Once plans have been determined, and the organizational structure put in place for their execution, the next function of management is ongoing leadership.
The primary role of a manager here is to provide continued support and encouragement to those they are in charge of.
This involves the use of interpersonal skills to offer clear direction and to inspire and motivate employees to achieve their best.
It is all about creating the optimal working environment. A key skill here is understanding different leadership styles, and the type of situations they are most appropriate for.
For example, you may have a workforce that is more than capable of fulfilling their duties with minimal supervision, so you can adopt a more hands-off leadership style, showing employees that they are valued and trusted.
If, however, you have certain staff who are underperforming, you may need to offer mentorship or switch to a leadership style that is more akin to coaching.
The last of the four functions of management, controlling is the constant evaluation of a plan's progress.
Tasks involved in this aspect of management include monitoring performance of staff and quality of work, continued spend and budget analysis and tracking deadlines.
Controlling requires adaptability and problem solving, as managers will often have to make adjustments along the way, whether that be to increase a particular budget, invest in additional staff training, restructure a timeframe or to take on new employees.
Another key aspect of the controlling function, and strongly linked to leading, is employee engagement.
Managers are responsible for providing constructive feedback and guidance, rewarding employees for a job well done and overseeing promotional opportunities, and anything else that relates to workforce management in line with business objectives.
Why Is a Theoretical Approach to Management Important?
Effective management requires a certain level of intuition, but it also takes experience to master.
What a theoretical approach gives is insight that would otherwise take years to gain.
In specific relation to the functions of management, theoretical approaches lay down a blueprint for leaders to follow, outlining the core responsibilities of managerial roles, no matter the particular business or industry, or indeed the size of the organization, they are in.
These approaches are based on decades of large-scale research, and are continually revised to align with current organizational practices and trends.
When managers apply this scientific approach, it enables them to strategize in a way that yields greater results, boosting productivity, engagement and growth.
Essentially, instead of relying solely on their own judgement, they can turn to tried and tested practices that have proven successful.
Tips for Applying the Four Functions of Management
Whilst every organization has a unique set of goals, the foundational practices for achieving them remain constant.
Below, you will find tips on how to implement the functions of management to full effect.
These tips do not just apply to managers employed within a business. Some are also useful for the self-employed person managing themself.
Tips for Effective Planning
In the planning stages, perform a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
In doing so, you can pinpoint your greatest assets and determine how best to use them to capitalize on the opportunities available to you.
It will also help you spot challenges in advance, so you can take the appropriate steps to overcome them and they do not prevent you from achieving your objectives.
This is the foundation of effective planning, along with setting realistically attainable targets and deadlines.
Tips for Effective Organizing
Every manager needs to hone their organizational skills to ensure workplace efficiency.
Be sure to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the resources at your disposal.
Detail each task that needs to be completed before assessing the talents, experience and current workloads of employees.
This will help you assign each task appropriately, and prevent the disruption of having to shift roles around at a later date.
You might also consider investing in technology for the automation of certain tasks, freeing up valuable resources for other duties.
This will of course depend on your budget, which also needs careful consideration at this stage if it falls under your jurisdiction.
A clearly communicated chain of command is also important for effective organization. Establish who is responsible for overseeing what, who reports to whom and how performance analysis is to be carried out.
Tips for Effective Leading
A strong leader is one that unites people under a common goal.
Try to lead by example and demonstrate the kind of behaviour and commitment you expect from those you manage.
It is also important to encourage your staff to achieve their full potential.
In doing so, you will create an engaged workforce that is fulfilled, loyal and dedicated.
Tips for Effective Controlling
Controlling is all about keeping your ear to the ground and adapting as circumstances change.
You need to be in touch with what is going on, knowing if deadlines are being met and if individuals are performing to the expected standard.
Remember, there is a fine line to be had between controlling and micro-management.
The latter can often stifle employees and get in the way of productivity.
Project management software is a useful tool to adopt. It allows you to set key milestones, track progress and communicate effectively without constantly hounding staff for updates.
The functions of management are a useful resource for anyone in a position of organizational authority.
They offer guidelines for how to implement an effective management strategy and successfully achieve business goals.
Of course, they are not set in stone, and there are many other management theories that can be referred to.
However, the principles outlined here remain applicable to all sorts of industry, and there is a lot of valuable insight to be taken from focusing your management style and strategy on the core functions of management.