Received 30 April 2020; Revised 28 May 2020, 8 June 2020, 29 June 2020, 27 July 2020; Accepted 28 July 2020.
This is an open access article under the CC BY license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode).
This paper aims at illustrating the multidimensional role of the manager and its mutual influence on organizational culture from a management students’ perspective. The main part of the text was based on own qualitative research – interviews, a questionnaire, and a narrative collage – which was conducted over a 10 year period among management students. Ninety-seven students from the Jagiellonian University and the Gdańsk University of Technology took part in the research. In order to gather, analyze and interpret the data, and to achieve reliable results, we followed the thematic analysis rules. We investigated the empirical material, provided by the management students responses to the research questions posed in the questionnaire, in the search for interesting threads, seeking a definition and an understanding of the term “manager” and the specifics of a manager’s work. We also presented several quotes from the data in accordance with the principles of data analysis in qualitative research methodology. Four different prisms were identified: gender, relational, constant learning and professional, described as the areas of managerial duties, features, and expectations. The article’s key value is the focus on students’ perception – an idealized construct of the managerial role, which states a benchmark for their own actual and prospect managerial performance. Such a perspective is very important for practice as well as for education. From a practical point of view, some management students will manage teams or organizations in the future. They should be aware of managerial duties’ elaborate character and the multiple demands on the role’s performance. They will shape the role by themselves. On the other hand, from an educational point of view, it is essential to give students some insight into their prospective role, understand the elaborate organizational relations, and the activities that appear in organizational culture that always influence management.
Keywords: manager, managerial role, organizational culture, culture, leadership
The word ‘culture’ is one of the most frequently used nowadays. It became a keyword for several organizational problems. Both academic and day-to-day worlds are filled with various definitions of the notion. Thus, it seems irrational to compare them. The most important issue is to understand the change that has been seen in the perception of culture. According to Wright (1998), the crucial differences between older and modern perspectives are:
- the older perspectives claim that culture is constant, usually in balance, static, the communities are homogeneous, and it is possible to prepare a checklist for each culture;
- the modern perspectives perceive culture as an active process of creation of meanings (Krzyworzeka, 2008, p. 185), culture is hegemonic, places are not frozen, people use their relations on different levels with different groups.
Several studies on organizational culture relate to its different aspects and contexts. These issues often appear in reference to leadership roles and the mutual influence of organizational culture and leadership. Schein (1992) as well as Kavanagh and Ashkanasy (2006) assume that organizational leaders are the key source of influence on organizational culture. In this approach, those are the behaviors of leaders that shape people’s reaction to changes and innovations in organizational cultures (Fishman & Kavanagh, 1989; Lundberg, 1988), support creativity and innovation within the organization (Ogbeibu et al., 2018) and promote and consolidate preferred attitudes and practices, e.g. corporate social responsibility (Castro-González & Bande, 2019; Chen, 2011). The issue of organizational culture has always been a multidimensional and complex matter that requires further exploration from various perspectives (Amiri et al., 2014).
The purpose of the paper is to illustrate how management students perceive the managerial role and its dominant impact on organizational culture. The research questions that we tried to answer are whether management students are aware of the complexity of the role, what qualities do they expect from managers, and how they imagine the construction of their own managerial role (if they become managers). To formulate the conclusions, we analyzed existing theoretical investigations and conducted our own qualitative research, exploring student opinions. In order to interpret the accumulated empirical material, we used thematic coding and categorization procedures based on the inspiration of the organization’s ethnography (c.f., Angrosino, 2010; Kostera & Krzyworzeka, 2012; Glinka, 2013). The ‘ideal’ managerial role that appeared from the research material is presented in the context of submerging all the roles in each organizational culture and in connection to the several possibilities of cultural understanding. The gathered knowledge seems valuable for several parties: for any organization that is always a unique culture with a wide array of organizational roles, including embedded managerial ones; for managerial education institutions to understand changing expectations towards managers; for all the organization participants, who either manage or are managed, to understand the influence they have on management.
Organization and its culture
Koźmiński and Latusek-Jurczak (2011) claim that the character of organizations is: intentional (they are used to gain established aims), social (they consist of people, their emotions, relations, etc.), to some extent formalized (some are based on law, others on customs or informal social agreements), economic (to survive they have to gather material resources from the background). It should be added here that those organization features appear with different intensity in different kinds of organizations. But some of them just do not show up, e.g. in the whole social world there are plenty of informal organizations that are not intentional, formalized, or economic.
According to a simplified definition, an organization is a social group created to achieve a goal (c.f., Koźmiński & Piotrowski, 1996; Griffin, 2017; Nierenberg, 2011) that would be unattainable for the individual (Malinowski, 2001). As Koźmiński and Obłój (1989) notice, interest in the topic of linking organizations and organizational culture emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was associated with an attempt to explain the successes of Japanese companies and their relative advantage over American businesses, which resulted in the need for practice to explain this phenomenon.
Hatch (2002) notices that modern organizations can be presented as inter-imposing spheres of culture, physical structures, technology, and social structures that function in particular background and create that background at the same time. All those four elements not only shape the organization and its background but also have common spheres. It means obviously that they are inter-connected but, more widely, that there are no issues, ideas, theories that have no connection to other issues, ideas, or theories; that come from an intellectual vacuum. That multidimensional perspective allows for a better understanding of the rich and elaborate world of organizations.
It is clearly visible that an increasing number of areas of our lives become organized more and more – starting with jobs and concluding with spare time, e.g. holidays (c.f., Kostera, 2003; Ritzer, 2003). We become the members of several organizations, playing there very different and sometimes excluding roles, sacrificing our time, engaging our competences or health. The American sociologist Amitai Etzioni (1964) thinks that we are born in some organizations, and then we are educated within organizations and, finally, leave a significant part of our professional life there. Other sociologists (c.f., Smith & Preston, 1977) think that people organize themselves (cooperate in groups) to gain some goals. It needs to be financial profit and help those in need or provide environment protection (c.f., Jemielniak, 2019; Jemielniak, 2020). What differentiates organizations is their goal, but also the size or ownership (Kostera, 2003). That means we can distinguish between organizations based on obligation and voluntary ones, with the latter being able to be divided into formal and informal organizations. Formal organizations are based on norms and regulations. The relations that appear within them are rather formal, official, and instrumental. They can be separated into public (their main goal is common good), private (their goal is to generate profit), and non-governmental (their goal is to realize their statutes) (Ibidem).
Irrespectively of the kind of organization, people, who are an absolutely crucial part of organizations, create their own very unique culture. It appears through intentional and non-intentional activities in formal and informal situations. The broad span of organizations’ perspectives as metaphors was already well described in the 1980s by Morgan (1986/2006). Hatch (2002), after a detailed analysis of several definitions of culture since the 1950s, concluded that anthropology, which has always been interested in culture, tried initially to understand what was typically human and what made people different from other creatures, and subsequently tried to connect specific cultures to specific groups, compare them, and finally treat them as if the people were the cultures (Hatch, 2002, p. 208). Such attitude enabled researching organizational cultures (as being obviously the groups in sociological meaning). The professional studies of some organizational aspects (like industrial human relations) appeared at the beginning of the 20th century (e.g., Mayo, 1945). But deeper and more popular studies were developed in the 1980s (e.g., Hofstede, 1980; Schein, 1985; Deal & Kennedy, 1982), treating organizations as local communities that create and retain their own specific cultures. As Kucharska & Kowalczyk (2018, p. 454) claim: “[c]ompany culture shapes social structures and attitudes, morale, and motivation of employees.” Smircich (1983, p. 342-353), on the other hand, analyzed the managerial and organization theory literature and perceived the existence of three different meanings of culture as: an independent variable, an internal variable, and a root metaphor. The perspective of the independent variable means understanding that the national culture and cultural context influence several elements of the managerial process – in this perspective, various phenomena observed in the organization can be explained using culture, e.g. national (Ajiferuke & Boddewyn, 1970; Kostera, 2003). The perspective of culture as an internal variable means that organization’s internal culture influences efficiency; it can be shaped or even manipulated, and managed to achieve goals (c.f., Kostera, 2003). Culture as a root metaphor states that the organizations are different cultures; the organization is seen as a form of human expression, subjectively but with some common patterns that enable organized activities). The last one is of an anthropological character.
As Kostera (2003) notes, culture seems to be a medium that helps people perceive and understand the world and – due to symbols – enables communicational processes. Hofstede pointed out that culture is a collective mind programming that distinguishes one social group from another. For this reason, the national culture within which the organization operates is so essential for organizational culture because it determines fundamental values characteristic of specific states and nations. According to Hofstede (1980; 1984; 2001; 2010), the main differences between national cultures follow key dichotomies:
- individualism – collectivism;
- power distance (small or large),
- degree of uncertainty avoidance (small or large);
- masculinity – femininity;
- long-term orientation – short-term orientation;
- indulgence–restraint orientation.
Effectively influencing people requires knowing the specifics of the cultures in which they are rooted in the sense of national, regional, professional, and even caste culture. Norms and values are respectively prescriptive and affective dimensions of declarative and procedural structures and practices of cultural knowledge, enabling filtering of certain pragmatic changes. Schein (1992) pointed out that norms and values are partially visible and made aware of participants in a given culture. Activation of cultural knowledge generates practical second-order knowledge aimed at the most effective and socially pragmatic ways to implement well-established cultural knowledge depending on contextual factors, such as the situation or environmental signals (Patterson, 2014).
Suppose each organization is a distinct culture, usually non-monolithical and ambiguous. In that case, it possesses its specific features that make it so different – they are the assumptions, values, symbols, rituals, tales, taboos, patterns of communication, and other visible artifacts (Hatch, 2002; Schein, 1985). It is very difficult to analyze them and conclude about the hidden core of each culture. But they can be described through qualitative research, and mid-range generalizations can be made. People always build their own group (and its culture) through symbols. They can move and act freely within the group and also emphasize its unique character. Many influential researchers of organizational culture construct their definitions based on such attitudes – e.g. Czarniawska-Joerges (1992, p. 60) treats it as a ‘bubble of meaning’ and Geertz (1973, p. 5) defines culture as ‘the nets of meaning’ created by the human who remains outstretched inside. It is worth recalling the processual and dynamic character of culture.
The manager’s influence on shaping organizational culture
For the purposes of this article, we adopt an approach to organizational culture consistent with the assumptions of the interpretive paradigm. We perceive culture as a network of meanings, values and norms, which are reflected in diverse groups, subcultures, and organizational actors (Kostera, 2003; Sinclair, 1993; Schein, 1992). This approach is the opposite of the functionalist approach to culture as a real being and a coherent subsystem of the organization (c.f., Sułkowski, 2013). Some system models take into account organizational culture as one of the components of the system (Peters & Waterman, 2004; Sulkowski, 2002; Morgan, 1986/2006), but some researchers ignore the importance of culture for the functioning of the system (Leavitt, 1965; Koźmiński, 1996). The perception of the manager’s roles and his influence on the organization’s culture is consistent with the adopted epistemological and ontological assumptions, i.e. the selected paradigm.
The classical theory of management says that it is ‘the process of organizing and directing human and physical resources within an organization so as to meet defined objectives’ (Hyman, 1999, p. 377). Key managerial roles are planning, coordination, controlling, and motivation. Generally, they represented the rational side of the enterprise ‘concerned with establishing routines and procedures for administering the work’ (Ibidem, p. 378). But the expectations towards modern managers have changed and even increased over the last 50 or 100 years. The area of managerialism and leadership is a very popular subject of research. Ciuk (2008) pointed out that 35 thousand definitions of leadership exist in the field of management sciences. Many studies concerned the attempt to identify the characteristics of an ideal manager (e.g., Galton, 1892; Bass & Bass, 2008), the roles performed in the organization (e.g., Mintzberg, 1975), or the adaptation of management style to a specific situation (e.g., Fiedler, 1967). However, according to Weber (1947), the assumptions of the Ideal Type assume that it is only an analytical construct, consisting of the characteristics of a given phenomenon, which does not occur in nature. Similarly, Koźmiński (1996) points out that each organization has its own specificity of functioning, so one can only talk about the desirable characteristics of the manager (e.g. appropriate psychophysical features) that can contribute to their success. As Mostovicz (2009, p. 570) mentioned: “Hence, ‘ideal’ does not try to describe a particular behavior but looks to capture the logic of reality we use meaningfully as an inspirational benchmark.” Our times are filled with ‘best’ recipes or solutions for shared problems. But – as many practitioners would say – the best recipe, the best solution is the one that works in your particular case, tailor-made just for you. Achieving these effects, however, requires the manager to be familiar with organizational culture. Knowledge of organizational culture also has other benefits for managers, to mention just some (Kostera & Kownacki, 1996; Sułkowski, 2002; Koźmiński & Jemielniak, 2011; Griffin, 2017):
- including informal means of creating organized activities, such as language, social norms, folklore, ceremonies;
- better understanding of the nature of relations between the company and its environment, which depend on the interpretation of the environment by employees;
- explanation of the essence of organizational changes that consist not only in changing the technology, organizational structure, or skills of employees;
- paying attention to the symbolic meaning of even the most rational aspects of organizational life, which allows one to get to know and understand them better;
- enabling participants to understand the mission and strategy of the organization and to identify the primary goal of the organization by the participants, integration of participants; integration around the measures adopted to achieve the goals of the company, and increasing employee involvement, the use of uniform measurement methods and criteria for assessing effects, the improvement of ways of working and reformulation of goals if a change is needed, forming boundaries between groups;
- offering a common language and conceptual apparatus;
- defining group boundaries, acceptance and rejection criteria;
- determining power rules and status criteria, enabling avoidance of conflicts over power, negative emotions, and aggressive actions, how to achieve a position of authority, how and when you can criticize those in power, their decisions, and proposals.
Organizational culture is inculcated by members of the organization in the acculturation process. In this process, the manager played an essential role who, by their own behavior and reactions to others’ behaviors, promotes or eliminates specific activities within the organization. Moreover, organizational culture helps in understanding the specifics of common problems, giving organization participants common norms and values. Knowledge of organizational culture also improves communication and evokes similar levels of interest in reality and homogenous reaction to changes. In this way, employees’ behavior is standardized, which reduces the need for management control (c.f., Koźmiński & Jemielniak, 2011). Organizational culture is characterized by a high degree of inference and most often follows three possible change scenarios, indicated by Gagliardi (1986) as evolution (slow, natural change), revolution (sudden and drastic), and a “vicious circle” (change occurring spontaneously, without management control).
In considering the mutual relations between change processes, leadership, and organizational culture, Latta (2009) underlines that organizational culture influences and is influenced by several organizational processes. He bases his well-recognized OC Model on two crucial assumptions: that ‘[d]ifferent dimensions of organizational culture influence change implementation at each stage of the process’ (Ibidem, p. 6) and that ‘[a] leader’s degree of cultural awareness will determine his or her effectiveness in facilitating organizational change’ (Ibidem, p. 7).
The manager can promote a new culture through, among others, being a model through their own conduct, a system of prizes and penalties, training and workshops, or in the most difficult variant, even by exchanging staff. However, the manager must understand organizational culture and act as a cultural spokesperson, cultural assessor, and facilitator of cultural modification to develop culturally sensitive and competent organizations (Lundberg & Woods, 1990).
Despite the current tendency to view management as a limited activity aimed at the maximization of shareholders’ profit – a view characteristic of the ideology known as managerialism (for presentation and critique, see Parker, 2002), management has been regarded as a much broader social role. Mintzberg (2009) famously defines this role as based on practice and in which art, craft, and science contribute different essential qualities to the whole process. The reference to art means that there is a need for creativity and going off the beaten path in management. Such activities may induce others to follow a manager. Craft is strongly linked to own professional mastery, the specific experience that is gained individually. Science provides some technical knowledge and tools that can be of use for more repetitive activities. Mintzberg’s practical perspective of managing is consistent with Czarniawska’s (1991; 2010) view, emphasizing that management always happens in a specified cultural context, which in turn means it is influenced strongly and permanently by all the collective fears, expectations, choices reflected also in national and international economics and politics.
The managerial role, seen this way, is complex and multidimensional. Managers are key characters whose task is to react to social issues that appear both in the internal and external environments. Management should not strive to reduce differences but to draw from them and learn how to better interact with the environment and its dynamics (Ackoff, 2010). Kostera (1996), following the ideas of both Ackoff and Czarniawska, proposes that the managerial social role consists of three dimensions: the professional, the organizational, and the societal (see Figure 1). Management is a process developing and emerging in and through these three dimensions, with each containing a different set of expectations and challenges. The professional dimension concerns the expectations referred to managerial efficiency at work and also the expectations referring to the manager’s education, experience, and ethical standards. These expectations are expressed towards the manager by the professional community. The organizational dimension consists of the expectations referring to the ways of the manager’s behavior towards co-workers (where management style is also included) and expectations related to the manager’s reaction to employee behaviors. The societal dimension includes the expectations referring to the influence of the managed organization on the surrounding environment and also the expectations referring to the reaction of the manager on the environmental influence on the organization (Kostera, 1996).
Figure 1. The three dimensions of social managerial role
Source: Kostera (1996).
As Figure 1 illustrates, the dimensions overlap and thus generate new quality in the common spheres, making the role even more complicated. Peter Drucker, who never officially embraced the label of “humanistic management”, claims nonetheless: management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what organization is about, and it is the reason that management is the critical, determining factor (Drucker, 1990, p. 221, in Loza Adaul & Habisch, 2013, p. 196).
In 1991, Barbara Czarniawska and Rolf Wolff published a work in which they correctly predicted the future sequence of three powerful roles in organizations: leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs (Czarniawska, 2010). They observed that the sequence of their appearing in the organizational context was supposed to be connected with the tides of “collective fears and hopes, performed at the organizational stage” (Ibidem). Each organization functions in a particular economic, political, and cultural background. In other words, all of those emotions within and around organizations shape the organizational managerial role. The researchers asked the crucial question, “Who sets the order of the roles’ appearance?” (Ibidem, p. 73). To give a more complex view of the ‘idea storms’ that people had to face through years, the prediction also included some of the most important of those factors. In 2010, Czarniawska supplemented the prediction for the next years.
The author suggests that after the global financial crisis in 2008/2009 there will be the era of managers (Table 1).
Table 1. The organizational roles through the years
1920s – entrepreneurs
1929 – economic crisis (depression)
1930s – leaders
1939-1945 – II World War (political crisis)
1940s – managers
1950s – entrepreneurs
1960s – leaders
1968 – war in Vietnam and youth movements (political crisis)
1970s – managers
1973-1975 – oil crisis
1980s – leaders
Increasing leadership medialization and organizational practice standardization
1990s – entrepreneurs
2000 – dot.coms’ death
2000s – entrepreneurial leaders with high bonuses
2008/2009 – financial crisis
2010s – managers?
2020s – Covid crisis
Source: Czarniawska (2010, p. 79) and 2020s own concept.
Those multidimensional perspectives show a wide variety of possibilities to influence organizational culture by the manager. He is usually at the intersection of several flows, both internal and external. The same as culture undergoes permanent processes. The manager is also influenced by those – on the one hand, he is its reproducer. Alvesson (2002) even claims that managers are better understood in organizations, as they are transmitters of the culture than those who make changes in it. But as communication is a permanent part of the culture, also in this sphere, the manager becomes the most influential person in the organization. Using the informative function of all communicational tools, he shares with his subordinates the rules and norms, established by the top management (or owners/shareholders). He has to introduce and implement established strategy or organizational politics. He is also obliged to inform the subordinates about the aims to follow and the means of strategy realization. In that case, excellent communication skills are necessary, e.g. fluency in interpreting and explaining precise and difficult information.
On the other hand, the manager is also a creator of organizational culture elements (and some communicational patterns). He performs not only the patterns of communication, but also the patterns of behavior – e.g. he sets the border between the formal and informal sphere, to a limited degree he/she dictates his/her ways of building relationships and creates their different kinds. Such a way of communication usage shows that it is a part of creating and evaluating enterprise strategy; its role is to overcome the crises and enable the regular updating of enterprise activity (Ollivier, 2010).
METHODOLOGY AND RESEARCH METHODS
We carried out research in the years 2011–2020 involving 97 students from the management faculties of the Jagiellonian University and Gdansk University of Technology. The selection of the sample for research was purposeful in accordance with the principles of conducting qualitative research (Flick, 2010). Our goals were a reconstruction of the respondents’ point of view, describing mechanisms of constructing social situations, which is also associated with social constructivism and ethnomethodology. The study was conducted by students of management, who already had knowledge in the field of management supported by passing exercises and passing exams in management basics. In addition, they were students for whom we conducted classes and we had systematic contact with them, reading recommended articles, and taking discussions during classes. It is worth pointing out that most of the students who participated in the study declared that they intended to perform work in accordance with the undertaken field of study in the future.
The way we perceive organizations depends on the underlying paradigm, which is a reflection of ontological and epistemological assumptions (Kostera, 2003). The interpretative paradigm was selected for the purpose of this study; it is focused on the intersubjective perspective of individuals (Burrell & Morgan, 1979, p. 28). But, as Corbin and Strauss (2015) noted, qualitative research (of inductive character) is carried out for more reasons, e.g. ‘to explore how meanings are formed and transformed, to explore areas not yet thoroughly researched, […], to take a holistic and comprehensive approach to the study of phenomena’ (Ibidem, p. 27). Connected with the interpretative paradigm is the cultural metaphor that implies that ‘the social world is constructed by the people who live within’ (Burrell & Morgan, 1979, p. 15) and the organization is a ‘special form of human expression’ (Smircich, 1983, p. 353). According to Whetten (2002), each theory should provide answers to three crucial questions – what it takes into consideration, how its parts are connected, how the research was made, what methods were used, and why those links are so important and interesting.
What was considered?
The authors sought the answer to the question of how management students of two Polish universities, Gdansk University of Technology and Jagiellonian University, perceive the managerial role in organizations and its influence on the shape of organizational culture.
How was it made?
The researchers carried out qualitative research, inspired by organizational ethnography, over the years 2011–2020.
- Procedure: the first part was a semi-structured questionnaire survey in the form of an open-ended question. It was made in January 2011. The students received one open question during their final test – “what should the definition of a modern manager be?.” Some students wrote just a few, most important words, mainly adjectives, but others gave half-page descriptions. All the materials were anonymized, coded, and divided into thematic categories. Participants: two groups of management and economics students were subject to this research. Altogether, 47 respondents replied.
- The second part was an in-depth interview (open, unstructured, non-standardized) – conducted in May 2016. The interviews were carried out on a group of 30 students in the field of culture and media management as part of the subject of management. Such interviews give the interlocutors the opportunity to express themselves freely and the researcher a fuller insight into the analyzed issues (Gudkova, 2012). The interviews were then transcribed and all the subjects’ data were anonymized. After completing the course, students were asked to describe what a manager is to them, what they associate with this concept. Most often, students referred to the manager’s most adequate metaphor, explaining how they understood it.
- The third part was a narrative collage – in January 2020. As part of using the narrative collage, a narrative method to study a collective organizational imagination, 20 students of humanities management were asked to write a fictional story about a day in a manager’s life, which was to illustrate the specifics and scope of his work. The authors played the role of an active editor, which involved arranging, combining, preparing connections, and interpreting the collected research material (Kostera, 2015, p. 81) On the basis of fictional stories, they depicted, in their opinion, real problems concerning the specifics of contemporary management.
The study was based on three data collection procedures using interviews, questionnaires, and a narrative collage. Then the material was subject to coding procedures. We used the coding traditionally, which consisted of sharing, analyzing, comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizing data. For the purposes of this article, we adopted procedures for the analysis of empirical material taken from the organization’s ethnography research (Kostera, 2003; Angrosino, 2010). We used descriptive analysis, which is the process of separating components from a continuous data stream, i.e. separating topics and certain regularities from the data set (Angrosino, 2010). We analyzed the collected research material, and based on this, we created codes, then a list of codes, and again we analyzed the material based on this list of codes (see Kostera & Krzyworzeka, 2012; Glinka, 2013). Interviews, collages, and questionnaire responses were coded sentence-by-sentence, and in vivo, i.e. fragments of the text (quotes) were characterized to the extent that they themselves could serve as codes symbolically denoting the interlocutor’s statements. After establishing and verifying the codes’ list, they were combined into thematic categories organizing the research material. The codes were not quantitative but were used to analyze the qualitative relationship between the data.
As the research has been conducted gradually and consequently, for almost 10 years, the following parts were analyzed individually at first. The data generated by the questionnaire, in-depth interviews and a narrative collage were subject to thematic analysis that led to our final categories. The crucial aim in our methodological sub-chapter is to explain “how researchers might conduct theoretically and methodologically sound thematic analysis research that aims to create sensitive, insightful, rich, and trustworthy research findings” (Nowell et al., 2017, p. 1). To reach it, we will illustrate the whole process of the thematic analysis according to the following steps (Ibidem, p.4): at first, we tried to familiarize with our data – the materials we gathered from a questionnaire, the stories that were written according to a narrative collage methodological requirements and the transcribed interviews were read and re-read by both of us so as to find similarities, some repeatable ideas. There was a researcher’s triangulation introduced within the first step. All of those activities led us to generate initial codes. They were found by marking parts of the students’ statements colorfully in the Word files. There was no need to use a more complicated tool as we had the main theme (managerial role) fixed in advance. The next step was searching for themes that started to emerge while connecting pieces – initial codes – together. Still, within the researcher’s triangulation, we were reviewing themes, defining and naming them ultimately. The result was a description of an elaborate, multidimensional managerial role in organizations that always performs within a particular organizational culture (Figure 2). It can be called producing a report on the whole, long-term research.
DISCUSSION OF THE RESULTS
In the article, we adopted the ethnographic convention for presenting empirical material, which is why data obtained in the course of research is presented by thematic categories. As part of the descriptive analysis, we searched for relationships between data (c.f., Angrosino, 2010; Kostera, 2003). In this way, we were looking for common patterns, threads and regularities in the form in which they are perceived by the members of a given group. We paid special attention to both consistent elements and discrepancies in the information obtained. The following are key categories extracted from empirical material from interviews, questionnaires, and narrative collage. Currently, our reality is so structured and so susceptible to change that the role of a manager must follow the permanent changes, try to adjust to them, or, if possible, possess such a set of features, skills, and abilities that enable one to predict some areas of potential change. Based on students’ responses, the set of perspectives presented here shows the complicated, multisided character of the managerial role.
Figure 2. The dimensions of a managerial role
– from the students’ perspective
Each of the following paragraphs focuses on different aspects of the managerial role and is a result of the whole, three-level research. The first paragraph describes a manager’s personal features and skills perceived by the prism of gender; the second considers their functioning in groups, teams of co-workers and, generally, in the organization; the third underlines the dynamics expected from the modern manager in their education and development; the fourth focuses on the imaginative assets.
The empirical part includes quotes from interviews, narrative collages and surveys, which make it possible to convey the specificity of the complex social reality constructed by the participants (Kostera, 2003; Krzyworzeka, 2015). As Kostera emphasizes, quotations are the key evidence in qualitative research and perform the same methodological role as numerous in quantitative research.
1. Gender prism: Strict as a father, caring as a mother
The first scene where the modern manager is presented refers to their personal characteristics. The title of this chapter is a paraphrase of one student’s sentence, and it sounds archetypical. It could be useful to analyze the personal features listed by students in a great number through the lens of archetypes, particularly through the main personality archetype – anima and animus. Archetypes – as Karl Gustav Jung described them – are shared by the whole of humankind (Kostera, 2010). They exist in the collective unconscious in two dimensions simultaneously: intersubjective one (common for all the people) and individual one (as our own). Because, generally, they are empty and open to accept content, we can place there our own interpretations of the existing world. They inspire our creativity and spirituality to find new solutions, unprecedented experiences. Anima is the feminine side of human personality and contains all the roles that women can play. The other side is animus, the masculine part of personality, which contains potential man’s roles. Jung believed that women also possess animus features in their unconscious domain and men possess anima features but their presence and potential appear only in particular contexts. And both domains are not identical to biological genders. But ‘good managers are able to shift the activity from Anima ethos to Animus ethos, and conversely, depending on situational demands’ (Ibidem, p. 87). One student described a woman manager in her collage, assigning her the role of a caring, but also rebuking mother:
Ania is a management graduate, laureate of numerous awards in the field of management and marketing. Employees feel authority from her, but they know that she will listen to them. Ania’s responsibilities include distributing work, motivating, and coaching as well as applying penalties, helping the team at work and resolving conflicts. [...] A manager’s work is not easy, but it gives a great sense of control [Katarzyna].
According to the respondent, it is important for the manager to have appropriate management education. The researched students seemed to notice the above necessity independently, without deepened knowledge of the archetypes’ theory. Their ‘ideal type’ of the modern manager should consist of the male and female’s features and change their management style according to the situations encountered. Students marked the features, popularly assigned to men, such as being assertive and authoritative. In other words – they thought that a modern manager should show their power: have their own opinions and have no fear of making independent decisions. They also ought to be entrepreneurial – search for new assignments and solutions treating them as the Promised Land. The manager must be demanding and consistent (like a father), expect permanent excellence in everyday tasks from themselves and from others. Being self-confident and methodical enables them to fulfill their role(s) fluently.
During interviews, there were often comparisons between organizations and families, where everyone was assigned a specific social role. Six students saw the analogy between a manager and a father, about which one of the respondents said as follows:
[t]he father influences the upbringing of his children, just like the manager shapes the behavior of employees. He must take care of his family, make everyone feel good in the family and build the authority to be listened to. The father’s relationship is incredibly extensive and applies to many levels. A good manager should approach their subordinates with goodness, but when it is needed – they must be strict and consistent, because such behavior is educational [Michal].
This approach was also associated with paternal authority, which almost like in the ideal type of Weber, a manager should have. According to another student:
Authority, knowledge, willingness to help, justice, dedication to work and people are the most important features. This should be adapted to the current needs and situation [Agnieszka].
Considering the features that could be said to be rather feminine, students mentioned, firstly, having great empathy with other workers. Most of the group members perceived this ability as the most important. They wanted the manager to understand workers’ problems, be helpful and supportive. Through their eyes, they should be also nice and cultural. Those features must be reflected in their appearance. The modern manager should be presentable, which means looking good and neat and modest. But also, like a mother, should take good care of friendly relationships with co-workers; should give rewards or punishments depending on the situation to bring up their ‘children’ properly.
The modern manager in this first scene seems to be androgynous (Ibidem, p. 102), which means that they integrate both male and female elements. But this portrait was enriched also by features that cannot be traditionally attached only to one gender but can be possessed by both – intelligence, precision, and hard work.
2. Relational prism: Human among people
The most important concerns in the second scene are a manager’s relations with other workers. Students strongly emphasized that the manager should be open to their subordinates – know their qualifications and skills really well, as well as recognize problems and needs. And also ought to know how to discover and develop their strengths and minimalize their weaknesses. One of their crucial tasks should be building an efficient team, motivating, and encouraging particular actions, especially under difficult conditions. One student described the imaginary day in the manager’s life in his narrative collage:
The morning begins quite intensively by checking that all work is done on a regular basis, there is no backlog. Employees report any problems that require consultation with the manager, and also resolve conflicts that arise between people at work. [...] In the afternoon the manager works in the field – they will meet clients regarding new orders. They spend the afternoon on paperwork, checking documents, transfers, and invoices. The manager’s day does not end with business hours. In the evening they go to a conference about new trends in management [Ewa].
This image indicates the importance of maintaining good contacts in the organization and conflict prevention, as well as care for relations with stakeholders. Also, the manager should not just assign the tasks but help their team with them and be able to cope with stress, crisis or any other problematic situations. Also, appreciation is really important. Praising the team when the results are at a high level can be understood as showing respect (also as parental care – see the section above). It may be particularly important when the teams are multicultural. Students thought that the manager should be objective in assessments and identically fair to all of the workers. In interviews, there were references to a team leader in various types of team games. In this approach, students emphasized that motivating the team is an important role of a manager. One of the respondents associated it with the captain of a football team:
The captain is a good team spirit, who motivates and drives to action [Marek].
Another student indicated:
They lead the team and lead to victory [Remigiusz].
Another important matter – using students’ opinions – is communication. They expect a modern manager to pay great attention to dialogue – to talk, agree, and negotiate solutions, solve problems democratically through discussions and analysis with the team, and listen to what people propose. The manager should also be really precise and clear in their orders, goals, and demands towards subordinates. The staff has to know exactly what they are supposed to do and that they are able to do it. Threads of communication both within the organization and with the environment, appeared in many interviews. One student illustrated this imaginary story in her narrative collage:
As soon as they arrive at work, the manager greets the employees they meet in the corridor. They share company-related news for a while. The manager goes to their office, taking with them the correspondence that was waiting for them at the reception. Sitting in the office making the calls they planned. Viewing mail. [...] On this day they scheduled a short interview with a website journalist writing about plans for the development of the facility [...] After work they return home, work-related telephone calls still come, which the manager tries not to ignore [Malgorzata].
This statement indicates the manager’s perception as a link in communication within the organization and with the environment. Students expect the manager to plan and create their development paths and provide the necessary training. When they are adjusted to workers’ abilities and needs, they would also improve efficiency, which could be profitable for the company.
The manager is perceived as the most important person responsible for the atmosphere at work. Students’ opinions vary in how they should build it. Some think that all the workers, including the boss, ought to integrate also after work, during informal meetings; a good superior ‘should be firstly for the subordinates, secondly for themselves.’ The others want the manager not to be a friend, but a supervisor. Even while speaking, they should be official and give orders formally. One respondent would even like the manager not to have the ‘predisposition of expanded intimate or social contacts with the subordinates’.
Some students perceive the managers a bit less materialistically, more magically, or better – non-humanly. It usually leads to positive results:
A manager can be a good spirit who always appears at the right moment to motivate their staff to act. Because of this, they are not an obtrusive person whose instructions subordinates have enough of. The manager–apparition is a subtle person in proceedings and economical in judgment, they try to be always where they are needed, always at the time when they are needed. [...] However, let us not be fooled, where in space, the invisible, watches over the efficient operation of the organization. They give a lot of autonomy to subordinates, but do not get along with them. Although, sometimes they can be a demon and act destructively [Laura].
The manager initially treats their lower-ranking colleagues in a polite and pleasant manner. They seem to be a real “sheep” that would not hurt any person. However, at the right time, this manager sheds this skin and shows their true face. They transform into a formidable “wolf” that is just waiting for the slightest mistake of their colleague. Then they show no mercy for him, criticizing him for every mistake [Leon].
But sometimes, anagerial actions are perceived as “the goal justifies the means” attitude:
The manager has to be something of a magician. The position of a manager in practice is often associated with various types of manipulation, just as a magician diverts our attention to get a certain “magical” desired effect, so the manager properly manages their employees [Aleksander].
To sum up some important ideas of the section, we could use the considerations of Robert I. Sutton: “Good bosses shield their employees from distress and distraction in diverse ways, whether behind the scenes or publicly. They work day after day to enhance their self-awareness; stay in tune with followers’ worries, hot buttons, and quirks; and foster a climate of comfort and safety. They also learn to identify which battles their people consider crucial to fight, and which they see as unimportant. When bosses can’t protect people – for example, from layoffs, pay cuts, or tough assignments – the best ones convey compassion, do small things to allay fears, and find ways to blunt negative consequences” (Sutton, 2010, p.109).
3. Professional prism: The specialist
Barbara Czarniawska compiled a typology of four different activities at managerial positions in professional organizations (Czarniawska, 2010, pp. 91-92):
- the managers who support the professionals – “it means that one profession helps the other” (Ibidem, p. 91);
- the managers who do not disturb the professionals at their work – they tolerate the second profession to the extent which is absolutely necessary;
- the managers who disturb the professionals at work – they usually think they can improve professionals’ performance;
- the managers who think they are the leaders in the army – they use patterns of leadership from computer games.
According to one student, a good manager
is decisive and full of understanding for their employees. They work with them, help them, exist in the organization, and try to understand its needs [Barbara].
Apparently, the statements also appeared in other interviews. For example, another student identified key areas of managerial activities:
[they] manage resources, allocate tasks, wisely select colleagues, are a voice of reason, work according to plan, head a group [Andrzej].
After the research, we could say that students’ idea of the professional face of the manager is very elaborate. They would like the manager to cooperate smoothly with other workers, of varying professions, but also to be professional in their own work duties. The manager should have an extended knowledge in their field, should be the professional authority. It was marked by a great part of students. They ought to be not only experienced but should also develop actively and dynamically. The manager is expected to be well educated in their profession and know foreign languages to communicate easily with other cultures. They should also possess several soft skills like psychological, sociotechnical, and negotiational, that are helpful for managing people.
The last idea is the skills we could call organizational. Students perceived the technical side of organizing work as extremely important. Their opinions seem to be similar to the idea of treating management as a ‘service’ (Ibidem, p. 94). It means that a manger’s service should be organizing the work for the employees, instead of organizing the work of them.
4. Constant learning prism: Creative leader for our times
The last perspective that has not been mentioned yet is spirituality and creativity (Hatch et al., 2010), which also seem to be a necessary managerial attitude. Several researches (e.g. Ibidem) showed that apart from the rational, technical skills, modern managers – business leaders, should inspire to release the creativity, follow deep values, and ensure subordinates that changes are unavoidable but profitable (c.f., Kostera, 2013) In other words, the manager ought to focus also on ethics and aesthetics. According to this fact, contemporary business leadership can be divided into three faces of the same organizational role: manager, artist, priest (Hatch et al., 2010).
Concerning students’ responses, we have to say that they reflect and correspond with the theory mentioned above. Most of the features and skills of the rational manager were already described in the article. We could add good knowledge of the company’s mission, vision and goals, and self-discipline in setting goals.
As far as the artistic face is concerned – students underlined strongly that the manager should be creative, think and act innovatively. They ought to have their own passion and be open to the environment to follow the changes. One of the students made associations with a curator in an art gallery, who cares about the harmonious development of employees also in the field of aesthetics, as well as perceives the beauty and value in employees:
If we compared the organization to an art gallery, then of course the manager would be the gallery curator – exhibition supervisor, who ensures that the contents of their collection of works have something to convey and can please the eyes of every visitor. [...] Each employee would be an individual, a separate image – a work of art having its own value and special content. If the paintings from the room were hung up, however separately, each of the works would appear to be something separate, which could constitute oneself. However, this combination of works in one space gives the whole group a unique character and shows that the group concept emerges from the images and the best features [Beata].
Another student associates the role of a manager with the work of a conductor:
The manager can be metaphorically described as a conductor in an orchestra. The entire crew awaits their instructions and carries them out in accordance with the intentions of the manager. This can lead to harmony, but also a lack of it, if the leader does not have the appropriate competence [Zbigniew].
Another student associated the manager with the magical function and the apparent possession of supernatural forces that can be used to achieve specific goals in a creative way:
A manager reminds me of a magician in a circus – the position of a manager in practice is often associated with various types of manipulation, just as a magician diverts our attention to get a certain “magical” desired effect, so the manager manages their employees in the right way [Sebastian].
To describe the spiritual face of the manager we could use some other students’ opinions – they should be charismatic, have a vision of the future, and something that seems to be particularly important. They must be honest and scrupulous. Spirituality also refers to sense making of the surrounding phenomena, which students also pointed out:
The manager is an initiated priest. By virtue of their position, the manager controls employees by means of rules that they set themselves and which the staff cannot influence. Their words are indisputable, and their deeds are protected by increasingly new legal acts. They do not take responsibility, and their conduct is justified by their high position [Mateusz].
Several researchers (c.f., Kostera, 1996; Alvesson, 2002; Kucharska, 2017) claim that each organizational role is deeply submerged in organizational culture: both are mutually influencing and constructing of each other. The students seem to realize those connections. The aim of the investigation was to learn and understand the students’ ‘bubble of meaning’ (Czarniawska-Joerges, 1992, p. 60), Weberian Ideal Type of the managerial role. The crucial findings of the study are a wide span of students’ expectations towards the managerial role. On the one hand, a perspective of a multidimensional, elaborate managerial role is neither new nor surprising after the theoretical investigations. On the other hand, it was really surprising how much management students know and expect from the manager’s role.
The research conducted at different universities, with different students, with the usage of qualitative methods, showed a common, very dynamic construction of the managerial role. We categorized them into four unique, very detailed prisms. Generally, the interviewees would like the manager to have a ‘natural’ ability to be the leader, to be the multidimensional leader, who uses their different faces to plan and foresee the future, who is always ready for the changes and easily adapts to them. At the same time, a manager does not forget that people are crucial for each organization. Each set of characteristics (as presented in the article) is a different set of expectations, rather impossible to be fully achieved.
Why do we find the students’ opinions so precious? Firstly, some of the researched students had already attended their last term in management studies. What is worth mentioning – those were part-time studies and full-time students. It means that a greater part of students have both studied and worked. All of them had at least a few years of work experience. And it was visible in their replies. Their vision of the modern manager was based not only on university theories, but also on their personal experiences – either good or bad (or both simultaneously). They had worked with particular managers; some of them had worked as managers themselves, so they were comparing theory with practice during the research. Secondly, if we educate prospective managers, business leaders (Hatch, 2010), the matter of how they define this organizational role or whom they perceive as a good manager, should be a priority. Students’ definitions could help us also in understanding labor market demands and – taking a step forward – in adjusting or shaping them.
LIMITATIONS AND FURTHER RESEARCH
The research was of inductive character, which means that the research sample was relatively narrow, and results cannot be generalized. As the other qualitative research investigations, it was also aimed at illustrating some fragments of the social reality. It would certainly be worth repeating similar research on the same group of students after a period of a few years when they have performed on the labor market and confront their previous expectations with the organizational reality. The other possibility of developing the research could focus on the leadership characteristics that the organizations will face during and after the COVID pandemic. Considering the concept of Czarniawska (2010), where surrounding emotions and incidents create the managerial/leadership roles, it will be very interesting to see which one will dominate. Due to the global COVID crisis, we have focused on a few perspectives: it seems that the demand for charismatic individuals with an attractive vision can increase. On the other hand, when the economies and private businesses became weakened or even destroyed, maybe it will be necessary to build a new world from scratch, so the traditional entrepreneur will be needed the most. Certainly, the future will show who will be trusted after that enormous collapse of mutual human trust, and that could be an interesting area for further research.
It is worth emphasizing the application possibilities of our research in organizations because they can help better understand the perceptions and fears of management students in relation to a modern manager’s challenges and roles. On the one hand, managers should be aware of young employees’ fears and expectations towards managers. On the other hand, the conducted research indicates the key problems and concerns of management students, the knowledge of which can contribute to better adaptation in the workplace. Research results also indicate the important role of organizational culture in the management process and better adaptation to working conditions.
What is the most valuable is that the respondents perceive the manager as an organizational role that gives sense to organizational reality. It also means that the manager undoubtedly aims to introduce order and reduce uncertainty. Weick (2016) writes that people give meaning to the unknown and put stimuli in a frame of reference that they know, making it easier for them to understand certain phenomena. For this reason, when describing the manager’s multidimensional role, respondents referred to metaphors that allowed them to emphasize the most characteristic features of the phenomena in question. As Gareth Morgan (1997) argued, metaphors allow us to better understand the surrounding social reality by referring to another fragment of it. Metaphorical thinking prefers the common features of the phenomena studied but disregards the differences between them, which are the limitations of metaphorical thinking (Kostera, 2003; Hatch, 2010). Apart from that, the use of metaphor in scientific research serves to describe and translate the organizational world, which Hatch (2010) considers as a valuable activity serving to show many perspectives.
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Artykuł ma na celu przedstawienie wielowymiarowej roli menedżera i jego wzajemnego wpływu na kulturę organizacyjną z perspektywy studentów zarządzania. Główna część tekstu została oparta na badaniach jakościowych - wywiadach, kwestionariuszu i kolażu narracyjnym, które zostały przeprowadzone na przestrzeni 10 lat wśród studentów zarządzania. W badaniach wzięło udział 97 studentów z Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego i Politechniki Gdańskiej. W celu zgromadzenia, analizy i interpretacji danych empirycznych oraz rzetelnego ich przedstawienia zastosowano zasady analizy tematycznej. Zgromadzony materiał empiryczny poddano analizie w poszukiwaniu istotnych wątków, definicji pojęcia „menadżer” i zrozumienia specyfiki pracy kierowniczej z perspektywy studentów zarządzania, odpowiadając jednocześnie na postawione pytania badawcze. W pracy zawarto cytaty z wypowiedzi badanych zgodnie z zasadami prowadzenia badań jakościowych. Zidentyfikowano cztery pryzmaty: płci, relacji, nieustannego uczenia się oraz profesjonalny, opisane jako obszary obowiązków, cech i oczekiwań wobec kierowników. Nadrzędną wartością artykułu jest skupienie się na percepcji studentów - idealistycznej konstrukcji roli kierowniczej, która stanowi punkt odniesienia dla ich rzeczywistych i przyszłych działań menadżerskich. Taka perspektywa jest istotna zarówno dla praktyki zarządzania, jak i edukacji menadżerskiej. Z praktycznego punktu widzenia niektórzy z badanych studentów zarządzania będą w przyszłości zarządzać zespołami lub organizacjami. Powinni mieć zatem świadomość rozbudowanego charakteru obowiązków kierowniczych i zwielokrotnionych wymagań wobec pełnionej roli, którą sami będą kształtować. Z drugiej strony, z edukacyjnego punktu widzenia jest istotne, aby dać studentom pewien wgląd w ich przyszłą rolę oraz zrozumienie skomplikowanych działań i relacji organizacyjnych, które pojawiają się w kulturze organizacyjnej i oddziałują na proces zarządzania.
Słowa kluczowe: menedżer, rola kierownicza, kultura organizacyjna, kultura, przywództwo
Marta Szeluga-Romańska has a Ph.D. in management science and is adjunct professor in the Faculty of Management and Economics at the Gdansk University of Technology. A graduate of Sociology at the University of Gdansk, she is interested in humanistic management, common-good organizations, and unobvious management areas.
Anna Modzelewska has a Ph.D. in management science and is adjunct professor in the Department of Management and Social Communication at the Jagiellonian University. A graduate of journalism and social communication at the Jagiellonian University, her scientific interests focus on issues of organizational structures, leadership, as well as the functioning and social impact of the media.
Conflicts of interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Citation (APA Style)
Szeluga-Romańska, M., & Modzelewska, A. (2020). The managerial role in organizational culture as perceived by management students. Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Innovation, 16(4), 177-206.
4 The leadership can be defined as ‘the process of influencing others to achieve certain goals’ (Hyman, 1999, p. 358).
5 We could define entrepreneur as ‘a person who undertakes the risks of establishing and running a new business. Entrepreneurs are characterized by their initiative and enterprise in seeking out new business opportunities; inventing and commercializing new goods and services and methods of production’ (Ibidem, p.224). Also ‘Their aim is to create new worlds, although the financial aspect is often hidden there’ (Czarniawska, 2010, p. 85).
6 Taken from own research.
3 Some issues described in the article were inspired by the unpublished Ph.D. thesis of Marta Szeluga-Romanska titled “The role of the manager in the process of communication”, that was defended in 2014 at the Faculty of Management and Economics of the Gdansk University of Technology.