Organizing Service Work

The root of the trouble is the concept of staff-and-line. The root of the trouble is the belief that there is such a thing as staff function. There are only management functions, running a business, managing a business-producing function or managing a supply function.

Above all, service work does not belong in top management. It does not belong in the central office. For service work does not affect the business as a whole it only deals with techniques and tools. Since work is a help to operating managers, it should be organized as the tool of operating managers.

This means service work should not, as a rule, be in the hands of professional specialists. There will be exceptions. Negotiations with the union, for example, have become highly centralized; and contracts have become so complicated as to require expensive and highly trained experts. Management should be trying to reverse this development by pushing union relations back to the local managers, which is where they belong. But there will remain the need for company wide labor relations activity staffed by specialists. This should, however, be considered a co-operative venture serving operating managers rather than a central-office staff. There may also be service activities which cut across the organization. An employment office, for instance, may do the selecting and hiring for the factory, for the office, the engineering department, the accounting department, the sales etc. There may be need for modern methods of office management in twenty places within the company and yet no one may be enough to justify having one man full time to work on the problem. This situation can be handled either by having the employment office part of the organization of the largest employer of labor for instance, manufacturing with the other areas using its services on a fee basis. Or it might be handled by setting up office management as a co-operative venture of all the interested areas, financed by them, and managed by appointees from all the interested areas in succession.

There remains a need for a headquarters organization in the large company. The members of the chief-executive team charged with objectives in the key areas need a small high-grade staff of their own. But this should not be a central office service staff. It should be as small as possible and should never exceed a mere handful of people. It may not be practical to pay the top-management men responsible for these areas more money the smaller their own staffs, it would not be a bad idea, and it would be vastly preferable to the present system under which the importance of a service staff and its contribution tend to be measured by the size of the payroll it amasses.

This central-office group should preferably be staffed with men who have experience as operating managers rather than with specialists. It should have no authority – line, functional or advisory – over operating managers. It should never be allowed to hold power over promotions in operating management; for whoever controls a man’s promotion controls the man.

The scope of the work of these groups should be rigidly limited, too. They should not, as a rule, work out policies, procedures or programs for operating managers. Such work should always be entrusted to people from operating management specially assigned to the job. The central-office group may indeed contain one man whose job it is to organize such task-force teams for specific policy-formulating assignments. But it should never do the work itself. These assignments are one of the major development opportunities within the business. To have them pre-empted by service professionals deprives a business of one of its most badly needed opportunities to develop managers. And since operating managers will have to apply the new policies, use the new tool, run the new programs, it is only they that can decide what these should be.

  • U.K.Singh

    Good article to recognise reasons for conflict between line and staff.