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Management Style and Customer Service

Tomorrow's Academy

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Some managers have the \"soft skills\" that help them relate to employees, while others focus on tasks and results. Both types of managers may bring out the best in their staffs and, as a result, improve internal and external customer service.  Alan experienced the extremes with Betty and Marv, and internal and external customer service delivery had its strengths and weaknesses under each - but neither manager seemed well-balanced.



The posting below looks at two types of managers, task-centered one and the people-centered one and pluses and minuses of each. It is from Chapter 7, Managerial Influence on Service Delivery in the book, Creating a Service Culture in Higher Education Administration, by Dr. Mario Martinez, Dr. Brandy Smith, and Katie Humphreys. Copyright © 2013 by Soft Skills Pros, Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC []. Published by Stylus Publishing, 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102


Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academia 

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Management Style and Customer Service 


Alan's first job after completing his master's degree was working in a progressive new position in the division of student affairs as a professional development coordinator.  His responsibilities included serving on various committees related to strategic planning, budgeting, and personnel issues; providing research and assessment for marketing, communications, and professional development for division staff; and contributing to program evaluation and student learning outcomes initiatives. The position was broad but also would give Alan exposure to various aspects of student affairs. 

Alan's first director, Betty, was very businesslike and always got straight to the point. All of Alan's coworkers warned him that Betty did not like to hear about anyone's personal life because she thought people would eventually use that information as an excuse for arriving late to work or missing a day. Many of Alan's coworkers had difficulty working for Betty, and the group seemed to have some morale problems. Staff quietly complained that Betty would do better in a corporate culture environment than on a university campus. People got things done, to be sure, but everyone seemed afraid to make mistakes or offer suggestions. Alan was very productive during his first year on the job; he put in long hours and focused on his tasks. Betty was recruited to another institution with higher pay and more visibility because she ran such a \"well-oiled\" machine that produced results. 

Marv replaced Betty as the group's director. He called a staff meeting and said that his first goal was to sit down with each person to discuss ideas, concerns, and perceptions about the group and the work they were doing. Marv followed through with his goal, and because of his ongoing efforts to build relationships and include people in decisions, he became well-liked by his employees. After two years under Marv's management, however, Alan found that his group's overall performance and reputation had declined, and there was a sense that the entire group was disorganized. 

Reflecting on his experience, Alan discovered that his work was directly influenced by the different management styles of his two directors over the course of his three years.  Under Betty, Alan felt pressured and sometimes upset. At the same time, he would look back on his monthly goals and see how productive he had been.  He always felt like he delivered top-notch service to his colleagues, and he never went to a committee meeting without feeling fully prepared. Alan did witness the departure of a few valuable staff members who left because of Betty and her inability to connect with employees. Betty's approach even had an effect on how staff treated one another. Under Marv, Alan sensed a strong kinship with the team, and he felt he could go straight to his director with any concern. The social aspect of the job made work fun. But Alan's productivity and confidence suffered under Marv. Alan did not have to push himself to accomplish work-related goals, and he sometimes found himself attending strategic planning meetings without having done that little extra that he was known for when Betty was his director. Marv did not push him either, so there were no periodic checks to keep Alan on his toes. 

Some managers have the \"soft skills\" that help them relate to employees, while others focus on tasks and results. Both types of managers may bring out the best in their staffs and, as a result, improve internal and external customer service.  Alan experienced the extremes with Betty and Marv, and internal and external customer service delivery had its strengths and weaknesses under each - but neither manager seemed well-balanced. 

Managers have different management styles, which means they have different ways of communicating and accomplishing their objectives.  Managers affect how employees feel about their jobs and how they go about their work. It is just as important for a staff member to know about management styles as it is for a manager.  Like Alan, it may be easy for you to slip in some areas of service delivery and job performance based on your relationship with your manager. If you are a manager, a review of management styles will remind you of how managers influence their teams' internal and external customer service. 

Two Management Styles 

Alan's experience is not unusual. Managers who are not personable with their employees often experience communication problems with them. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for such managers to produce excellent bottom-line results, at least in the short run, much like Alan's first manager, Betty. Managers like Marv are popular with employees but sometimes criticized for not making the \"tough decisions\" because they are afraid to hurt anyone's feelings. Not all managers fall at one of these two extremes; most fall somewhere between Betty and Marv. 

As early as 1964, Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, in their popular Managerial Grid tool, laid the foundation for describing managers like Marv and Betty. Blake and Mouton describe several different management styles along two dimensions: Concern for People and Concern for Results. Their work built on earlier research at the University of Michigan that identified managers with an employee orientation and those with a production orientation. Blake and Mouton would continue to update and revise their Managerial Grid over the next 20 years, and it has remained a useful model to this day. The basic dimensions of the Managerial Grid continue to help employees and managers understand their interactions. We describe the manager who has high concern for results a task-centered manager, and the manager who has high concern for people and relationships as people-centered. 

A task-centered manager is concerned about results and focuses on policies, rules, work processes, and getting the job done. Results come about because of structure and the emphasis on tasks. The approach such a manager takes to something like committee work is to focus on each person's tasks and timelines. At the extreme, this manager does not focus on managing the relationships between employees who are on a committee unless these relationships are somehow related to getting the job done.  A manager at the opposite extreme is the people-centered manager, one who solicits employee input and pays attention to group dynamics.  This type of manager is able to motivate people and manage relationships between and among team members. The people-centered manager would probably push for an initial networking lunch or other social gathering prior to the start of major committee work. 

A task-centered manager can exhibit characteristics of a people-centered manager, and a people-centered manager can exhibit characteristics of a task-centered manager.  Alan's managers represented two extremes, but most managers have characteristics of both styles. Most situations call for characteristics of both types of management, but there are times when one style is more effective than the other.  A task-centered approach might be valuable if there is a pressing deadline, but a people-centered approach might be more appropriate when trying to mollify an angry external customer.  

Exercise 14 will help you identify your manager's management style.  If you are a manager, director, or even vice president, answer the questions with respect to the administrator who is your direct manager.  In the case of a vice president, this may be the provost or a president.  Like supervisors and department managers, provosts and presidents have specific management styles that influence their teams' dynamics and how individuals do their jobs. 

                                                              Exercise 14                                                  

Pulse Assessment: Management Style

Answer the following questions based on your first reaction, placing only one checkmark for each question under the number that best describes your response.  Use the following scale: 1= Strongly Disagree2= Disagree3= Neutral4= Agree5= Strongly Agree

My Manager....                                                                        1    2    3    4    5

1. Knows employees (direct reports) on a personal basis

2. Is very businesslike

3. Is easily persuaded by vocal employees

4. Is career-driven and expects the same of everyone else

5. Is well-liked by employees

6. Is not afraid to make tough choices

7. Tries to keep employees informed of changes and new decisions 8. Is organized and pushes the group to work hard 

Instructions for Scoring: 


Add up scores for items 1, 3, 5, and 7:  Total = _______ 

Add up scores for items 2, 4, 6, and 8:  Total = _______


- If the scores for items 1, 3, 5, and 7 fall between 10 and 20, your manager exhibits characteristics consistent with a       people-centered leadership style.      

- If the scores for items 2, 4, 6, and 8 fall between 10 and 20, your manager exhibits characteristics consistent with a task-oriented leadership style. 

Exercise 14 is called a pulse assessment because it provides a quick, general indicator of your perceptions of your manager's management style. Problems between you and your manager are more likely to surface if you ranked your manager very high for one style but very low for the other. In other words, the more extreme the scores for your manger, the more likely it is that you have had similar experiences as Alan's with Betty and then Marv. 

You can manage your manager by learning about the common strengths and weaknesses associated with the two management styles. If you improve your ability to work with your manager, that will translate into enhanced communication and interaction within your group.  This, in turn, means more effective internal and external customer service delivery. 

The Task-Centered Manager 

Most managers sought their positions because they believe their ideas can help the institution and the division or department they serve. Managers usually come into their position with goals. The differences between task-centered and people-centered managers mean that different managers will try to reach the same goal in different ways. Task-centered managers are serious, achievement-oriented, and driven by accomplishment. They focus on tasks and activities, and they expect much of their employees. Task-centered managers are not afraid of a challenge, but they may have little tolerance for mistakes and lack the social finesse to solve interpersonal conflicts. These managers invest a great amount of time at work and, to a great extent, define themselves by their jobs. It is difficult for them to take criticism or accept ideas different from their own. 

There are some things that you can do to build a productive relationship with a task-centered manager. First, remember that this manager is goal-oriented and focused on specific objectives. Look at and make sure you understand the manager's goals and objectives for the group and those that she has set for you. Ask your manager for clarification, if necessary, but do not personalize terse or blunt responses. A task-oriented manager who seems exasperated at having to reiterate goals, objectives or tasks actually respects the employee who musters the courage to ask for that clarification. 

Employees can become upset because a task-centered manager may neglect to address staff concerns or input, especially during times of change. Many task-centered managers announce changes and expect employees to start implementing them. If you lack the resources, time, or training to contribute to the change, you must tell your manager what you need to be successful. A task-centered manager is likely to assume that you have what you need to get the job done unless you speak up. The risk of not asking for needed resources or help is that you may perceive the demands of your job as unreasonable and come to resent your manager. Much like asking for clarification on some particular objective, it takes a certain level of assertiveness to make a request or voice a concern about a change your task-oriented manager has set before you. The task-oriented manager's response may not be the most eloquent, but if she is truly focused on moving the group forward, you will find that initiating the discussion benefits everyone in the end. 


The People-Centered Manager 

People-centered managers, like Alan's manager Marv, engender trust because they take the time to talk to people.  People-centered managers encourage new ideas and are not threatened by employee input.  The uncertainty of this approach is that participative decision making may be perceived as a strength or weakness.  On the positive side, staff likes to provide feedback and input.  Then, when decisions are made, everyone feels good about the decision.  On the other hand, we expect our managers to be decisive and not go back and forth because of ten employees who all have different opinions.  We want quick results, and most people lack the patience required for true consensus to emerge.  A people-centered manager who encourages participation may be perceived as indecisive or weak when he listens to the arguments for and against a particular issue. 

Whatever the perceived strengths and weaknesses of a people-centered manager, you should take the opportunity to build a productive work relationship with this type of manager.  Team meetings and one-on-one conversations provide forums to convey feedback, express concerns, and make requests that can ultimately help service delivery. 

Before Jean was hired as a policy analyst in the chancellor's office for the university and community college system in her state, she worked with a group of six people in a state government personnel office.  Jean's manager, Tony, was very people-centered.  During challenging times Tony ensured that blame was not passed from person to person, but he could sense a growing frustration among and between staff.  Jean thought that there were problems with the way the group was processing its work and these were causing miscommunication, but she couldn't put her finger on it.  Tony pressed Jean and the rest of the team for additional suggestions.  The team found a consultant who could help the group \"map\" its processes and define more clearly tasks, customers, deliverables, and timetables.  Tony agreed to hire the consultant based on the team's consensus, and over a two month period, the team identified bottlenecks in its work processes and improved its internal customer service delivery.  Tony listened to his people, and Jean and the team provided specific suggestions.  Tony's people-centered approach helped solve what turned out to be some fairly technical problems in the group's work processes. 


People-oriented managers do not ignore tasks; it is just that they are good at building relationships and they initially tend to talk to people rather than to dissect tasks. Conversely, most task-centered managers do not completely ignore the human side of institutional life, but they are good at structuring work so they tend to emphasize tasks first rather than people. Most managers have a combination of task-centered and people-centered qualities.  Your ability to work effectively with any manager on your campus will improve if you have some sense of the different attributes associated with the people-centered and task-centered management styles. A manager's unique combination of styles influences service delivery for the entire team, since it is the manager who by design is the central facilitator for the team.  But the manager's special role in the organization means that there are other ways these individuals influence employee service delivery, namely through the expectations they develop about those whom they manage.