Academic Insight: The Traditional Functions of Management And The COVID-19 pandemic: 5 Questions for Business Managers

Written by: Brady Drake

Photo by Gary Ussery

When I first agreed to write this column for Fargo INC!, one of the goals was to bridge the gap between academia and the business world. In prior editions of this column, this was accomplished by taking a management concept or theoretical principle from the academic world and to figure out a way to make it relevant, applicable, and hopefully interesting to the business community. For this month’s edition, I want to switch things up a bit.

Due to my personality, upbringing, educational training, and work experiences, I am a thinker and a planner.  I am very inquisitive, and over the years, I’ve learned how to ask the right questions. During these recent months, I’ve had more than enough time to think and to ponder on issues within my discipline of management and how changes in our world will affect not only the practice of management but also the education and training of future management students within higher education settings.

Historically, scholars in the field of management have settled on four major activities or functions to describe the management process. If you were to pick up any modern management textbook, the following four management functions would be covered in depth:

  • Planning: “defining goals for future performance and how to attain them.”
  • Organizing: “the deployment of organizational resources to achieve strategic goals; involves assigning tasks, grouping tasks into departments, and allocating resources.” Organizational resources can be classified into the categories of human, financial, physical, and information.
  • Leading: “using influence to motivate employees to achieve the organization’s goals.”  
  • Controlling: “monitoring employees’ activities, keeping the organization on track toward meeting its goals and making corrections as necessary.”

Here’s an example of what the management process looks like in my role as a college professor.  As the manager of my courses and classrooms, the four functions of management might look something like this:  

  • Planning would involve developing learning objectives, developing course syllabi, and developing lesson plans.  
  • Organizing would involve determining the appropriate structure of the class (lecture, flipped classroom, team-based), developing the appropriate course assignments, and selecting the appropriate resources or learning platform(s) for students to use in the course.  
  • Leading would involve creating a positive learning environment through positive daily interactions with students and explaining the connection between the course material and the students’ future careers.  
  • Controlling would involve evaluating student work and performance (grades and feedback) based on the established learning goals and objectives for the course.  

Due to COVID-19, Concordia College, as well as other educational institutions, had to suddenly transition to a remote learning model. Thus, I had to make some changes to how I would manage my course and classrooms. This change in the environment required me to re-think each management function (Planning, Organizing, Leading, Controlling) as it pertained to my courses and my students and to make appropriate changes for the Spring 2020 semester. Even now as I write this month’s column, I’m having to re-think and make changes in anticipation for the upcoming Fall 2020 semester based on the current social distancing guidelines while also considering that those guidelines could change in the future. This highlights and gives an example for how the environment in which an organization operates contributes to the “complexity and uncertainty” of management. Now, obviously academia is different than the business world. In academics, while we may have the luxury of “do-overs” in future semesters, that may not be the case for some businesses. In some circumstances, a business may need to get it right the first time, or run the risk of losing customers and market share or possibly going out of business.

As I said earlier, I want to switch things up for this month. For this month, I’d like to hear from individuals in the business community. Specifically, I’d like to hear some of your first hand experiences regarding how the management process and functions had to shift or adapt due to the pandemic and what the future might bring as a result of these changes. To help facilitate this, I have drafted five questions below as they pertain to each of the management functions for your consideration:

  1. Due to changes required in response to COVID-19, which of the 4 management functions did your organization utilize the most?  If you had to rank them in order of priority, what would that ranking order be and why?
  2. When it comes to Planning, what changes or shifts to organizational goals had to occur?  
  3. When it comes to Organizing, most organizations shifted to an organizational structure that required more emphasis on virtual teams and employees working remotely from home.  Will this be the new organizational work structure for your organization going forward?  What effect will this have on the need for technological resources and training for current and future employees of your organization?
  4. When it comes to Leading, how did your organization deal with employee morale and keeping employees motivated in a virtual setting?
  5. When it comes to Controlling, how did your organization monitor and evaluate productivity for employees working remotely?  Did workplace productivity increase, decrease, or stay the same?

These are just some of the questions that have been on my mind.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, and perhaps, it might have generated additional questions to be posed.  It is my hope that these questions would be a conversation starter to learn more about what is occurring in the workplace so that I can share this information with my management students in order to help them become more aware and better prepared for a future workplace of complexity and unpredictability.  I look forward to hearing from you and learning about your experiences.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.