Why do managers do what they do

How self evident and explanations have tended to take

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how self-evident - and explanations have tended to take the form of reductionist or localized accounts. On the other hand, management theory has tended to be more concerned with the characteristics and dynamics of the management process as a whole, and has carried the implica- tion that specific managerial practices may be inferred logically from these, without addressing
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336 C Hales or engaging with research evidence on these practices. In short, what is lacking in this body of theory and evidence is an explanatory account of the generic characteristics of managerial work. There are a number of reasons why the absence of such an explanatory account is a matter for regret. First, any body of evidence which lacks a conceptual framework or theoretical underpin- ning sheds only a pale light on the phenomenon with which it is concerned: enough to discern the surface contours, but not enough to pick out any depth or structure. Despite the recent retreat from, or even antipathy towards, 'meta-narratives' or grand theory, it can still be argued that the aim of systematic enquiry is to explain or under- stand, rather than merely describe, social phe- nomena. Without an explanatory theory, however tentative, much of the evidence on what managers do is rather meaningless: a catalogue of discon- nected actions, events and encounters. Second, and obversely, any body of theory which fails to generate or engage with empirical evidence remains only a speculative abstraction: interesting perhaps, but of little 'performative' power. Third, on a more practical level, an explanatory account of why managers do, or have done, what they do, offers a basis for anticipating possible future changes in the nature of managerial work. Under- standing which variables and processes impinge on managerial work - and how - makes it possible to do more than speculate on the effects of changes in these variables and processes. Finally, under- standing the nature of, and reasons for, the com- mon, generic characteristics of managerial work is also central to management education, training and development and to systems of managerial appraisal and remuneration. Whilst all of these have become more nuanced and sensitive to job variations, there is a danger that certain funda- mental and apparently inescapable characteristics of managerial work are being overlooked. Having pointed up some of the limitations both in research evidence and in management theory and, it is hoped, demonstrated the need for an explanatory account of the common character- istics of managerial work, this article ends by offering a first attempt at such an account, draw- ing, in particular, on a number of key concepts in Giddens' (1984) theory of structuration. Central to this account is the way in which the defining element of managerial positions - responsibility - is shaped by the resources and rules of the social systems in which managers are located, and by the way in which managers both draw upon and re- produce these resources and rules in establishing
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