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Should the manager concentrate on the task or the people?


Many business communication scholars and theorists consider a task-oriented manager as autocratic, but in some instances it is necessary to separate the task from the  employee performing that task.  This post explores when it is necessary for the manager to stay objective and to focus only on the task.

Typically in a task oriented business environment, employees are doing a specialised  kind of task and receive instructions from the top. The business offers a limited amount of goods and services. Employees are expected to follow  instructions to complete their tasks,  know exactly what are expected from them and how they will be compensated when they achieve their goals  for the month.  Rules are important in this kind of environment, but employees often consider this as a sign that they are perceived as being untrustworthy.  Many employees embrace the opportunity to specialise in an environment where they can safely follow a routine. However, modern businesses that offer many different products and services rather adopt a human relations approach or strive to be a learning organisation. A task-oriented business applies principles that are totally  contrary to a learning organisation where the business grows by using the expertise and knowledge from its employees to instill innovation.  The manager is part of this learning process and encourages learning (see my post on the learning organisation).  In a human relations business environment, the happiness of employees and building relationships with employees are the most important consideration.

In my view the ideal of course is that both the task and the employee should be considered by the manager.  At the end the business also has to look after itself to achieve its financial objectives.  But the employee performing that task plays a huge role in that and wants to feel empowered.

But when should the manager consider the task and not the person who is performing the task?

There could be more examples, but I would say that particularly during annual performance appraisals of employees, the manager should separate the employee from the task.  The  manager needs to consider whether the employee actually did what he or she was paid to do and has to stay objective, especially if that employee did not perform well.  Being honest with an employee about his or her work performance might discourage the employee, but it can also help the employee to grow and to learn.  Learning is also about becoming aware of your own shortcomings and to try to improve.  If the manager has good relationships with employees, this might be a very hard thing to do, but at the end both the business and the employee will fail.

Can you think of other instances?

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