Effective Management: An Art Form or a Science?

By Chris Schneider, Director of Employee Development

There are certainly enough theories to suggest that management is a science, and sufficient data to prove these theories valid. As a discipline, institutions of higher learning place management classes alongside classes like economics, finance, and accounting, and those certainly are not forms of art in the traditional sense. Based on these simple observations, the argument sounds like it may be settled—management is a science, right? Well, not so fast.

It is accepted that no two people should be managed the same way. The human factor frequently throws a wrench into pre-conceived notions when it comes to managing people. Realistically, being able to read each situation and adjust your response accordingly quite often becomes crucial to effectively managing people. There is no formula, there is no absolute. There is feeling, intuition, and instinct, and these are not scientific terms—these are artistic terms.

So, do we approach management as a science or an art form? Do we study management, memorize it, test it, and grade ourselves and others based on accepted standards, like a science? Or do we feel our way through management situations and roll with the changing personalities, letting the big picture evolve and inspiring us to new understandings? Again, is it science or art? The answer is simply, “It is both.” This means that we do our best to see it from both perspectives.

Our Alexandria maintenance team at their branch training event on December 5th.

Science provides us with tools, understanding, and models to follow. The science of management is our toolbox. As we learn new theories or observe new methods, we add to our arsenal of options. However, managers need to be artful in their tool selection. They need to feel their way through situations and personalities and look for underlying issues or concerns and then apply the resolution they feel is best. Management should be consistent and heartfelt—it should be based in the models and theories we teach, but it should also be applied with a personal touch. Managers should consider all sides of the equation, and decisions should result in the growth of the employee.

To that end, the employee development team traveled to each of our 15 maintenance branches this fall and shared scientific management tools with area managers and branch managers. These included motivational theories, such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (which states that people’s basic human needs must be met before they can be motivated by other factors) and Herzberg’s two-factor theory (which differentiates between factors that cause job satisfaction and those that cause job dissatisfaction) as well as Hersey & Blanchard’s situational leadership theory (which states that leadership must depend upon each individual situation, and that no one management style is best). In each branch, we applied these scientific tools to our teams and work situations. Time and time again, we came up with the same understanding and the same priority: to successfully grow your people through effective management, you must know your people. The art of relationship building combined with the science of leadership and management is what creates successful teams and branches.

The challenge then becomes making time to get to know our teams. Learn their likes and dislikes, their family situation, what they enjoy about their job, and where they see themselves in six months, a year, and five years from now. Only by understanding what makes our team members tick can we use the art of management to apply the science of management. If we can successfully blend art and science, we can build a stronger team, help our employees grow and develop their careers, and become more efficient in our work to the benefit of our customers.