Benefits and limitations of staff


There are, of course, many important benefits in using staff. The necessity of having the advice of well qualified specialists in various areas of an organization’s operations can scarcely be overestimated, especially as operations become more complex. The US Army learned this the hard way in 1898: In the Spanish-American War, troops were sent into Cuba in woolen uniforms despite the tropical heat and were expected to take territory although they lacked accurate road and topographic maps.

Today, staff advice is far mo-re critical for business, government, and their enterprises than it was in the past. Operating managers are now faced with making decisions that require expert knowledge in economic, technical, political, legal, and social areas. Moreover, it may be necessary, in many instances where highly specialized knowledge is required, to give specialists some functional authority to make decisions for their bosses.

Another major advantage of staff is that these specialists may be allowed the time to think, to gather data and to analyze, whereas their superiors busy managing operations cannot do so. It is a rare, operating manager especially at top levels, who has the time take the time, to do those things that a staff assistant can do so well.

Therefore, not only can a staff help line managers to be effective, but as problems grow complex, staff analysis and advice are becoming an urgent necessity. Moreover despite the danger of multiple command even functional authority delegated to staff specialists is often imperative.

Limitations of Staff

Although staff relationships are usually necessary to an enterprise and can do much to make it successful, the nature of staff authority and the difficulty and the difficulty of understanding it lead to certain problems in practice.

Danger of Undermining Line Authority

Operating managers often view staff personnel with skepticism. Too frequently, a president brings in staff executives, clothes them with authority (frequently very vague) and commands all other managers to cooperate. The proposals of staff specialists are received by the president with enthusiasm, and pressure is brought to bear upon the managers involved to put them into effect. What is actually taking here is that the authority of department managers is being undermined; yet, grudgingly and resentfully, the proposals will be accepted because all will recognize the high tide of the staff specialists’ prestige. A continuation of this situation might harm or even destroy operating departments. Capable managers, not willing to submit to indignity or wait until the tide ebbs, might resign; or they might put the matter bluntly to their boss — fire the staff specialists or get along without the line managers.

Operating departments represent the main line of the enterprise, and their managers gain a degree of indispensability. If staff advisers forget that they are to counsel and not to order, if they overlook the fact that their value lies in the extent to which they strengthen line managers, and if — worse yet they undermine line authority they risk becoming expendable. If there is an expendable person in an organization, it is likely to be the staff assistant.