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The Evolution of a Manager: An HR Executive’s View

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By Dr. Marie Gould
Program Director, Management at American Public University

Since I started teaching at American Public University (APU), I am constantly asked, “What is the difference between the management and business degree programs?”

Both degrees are important in the business arena and there is overlap. However, the difference is in the types of classes offered. Business degrees tend to focus on operational and quantitative courses, whereas management focuses on organizational effectiveness—the art of managing employees and processes. Individuals should be encouraged to pursue the program that best meets the needs of their desired career goals. For example, if you have been successful in your career and have decided to manage a group of employees in your department, you may want to pursue the management degree in order to learn a skillset that complements your technical expertise. If your path is a narrow focus on acquisition of discrete knowledge management and leading a business unit, then an MBA would be better suited for your education. For those interested in learning how to lead a team and gain in-depth knowledge of particular business disciplines like human resources, project management, or leadership, then management may be where you fit in the educational spectrum.

The Evolution of New Management Processes

As an experienced management executive, what I’ve learned throughout my career is that the role of a manager continues to evolve, much like the entire field of human resources (HR). There was a need for a personal touch in the middle between meeting leadership expectations and building and retaining a high-performance workforce. Many years ago, in the 1960s, we had personnel departments. They were seen as the paper pushers, instead of the active managers. Each function within the department was responsible for providing the organization with information on “how to.” At the end of the 1980s, the field started to transition to what we know today as HR. Other than the name change, what’s the difference?

Management practitioners understood that they needed to show their value to the organization by tying their strategies to bottom-line results in order to add value to the business. As a result, there was a movement to become business partners with the line managers of an organization in an effort to showcase their expertise. In order to take on this new role, the field had to leave the administrative duties behind. Many departments started to outsource the daily administrative operations so they could concentrate on being strategic partners for HR operations.

I was one of those strategic partners tasked with getting the employees ready to embrace and implement new processes in order to support new organizational initiatives For example, empowering teams and the notion of a flat organization. This focused on the Great Game of Business to get teams within departments to work together in order to get projects done versus having a hierarchy with individual managers making decisions. Another initiative would be to roll out of training and hiring programs in order to introduce the concept of inclusiveness and diversity of thought among employees at all levels. Sounds like a tall order, because it was. However, I found a group of dedicated individuals who were ready for the challenge—the managers. They wanted to show their value, which they did, and they didn’t want to be seen as employee “babysitters,” or paper pushes. Rather, they wanted to take part in improving employee culture and developing the workforce to be the best it could be. These efforts paid off in droves for the organization because it helped us to attract, develop, and retain top talent.

The results for many other organizations moving through this transitional phase were a quantifiable success. Organizations took notice and the role of HR and the role of the manager changed. Their mission changed to empower employees to grow and become more effective. Today, managers want their direct reports to grow in order to be promoted up or transition into another area to showcase their specific expertise. The manager has become the coach of the team.

In order to be a successful coach, I believe it is important to grow in areas such as leadership, employee development, team management, and mentoring. These subjects are taught in management degree programs and they’re incorporated in organizations that have strong core values and desirable cultures. Management programs tend to focus on employee and leader development. On the other hand, there are individuals who like to manage the operational side. These individuals will need to take courses in accounting, finance, operations management and related degrees. While these degrees could be helpful for all managers, many choose to focus on skills that enhance organizational design and effectiveness. The “people” managers tend to major in management, whereas the “operations” managers tend to major in business.

About the author

Dr. Marie Gould holds a master’s in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University, and a doctorate of business from Capella University. She is the Program Director of the Management program at American Public University. Her experience is in the areas of human resources, instructional design, online learning, management, and more. Some of the organizations that she has been active and held leadership positions include: Society for Human Resource Management, Organizational Development Network, Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, Students in Free Enterprise, and Delta Mu Delta.

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