Managerial v.s. Operational work

Every manager do two types of work. The first is his managerial work, which consists of planning, organizing, directing and control. The second is operational or technical work which comes with his line of work.

Both types of work is present at every level of management.  However, the amount of time spent on managerial v.s. operational work varies depending on the level of his position.

The managing director of a large organization will definitely not deal with normal customer inquiries and daily sales activities. He may, however, carry out important negotiations on a major contract or the merger of two organizations. He may also visit a very important customer personally to conclude a deal. This is the operational work of the managing director.

A lower level manager on the other hand, will probably from time to time serve customers at the counter or make certain products.  This is the operational work performed by him.

Allen (1964; p.77 et. Seq.) Identified two principles relating to the amount of managerial v.s. operational work a manager does.

  • The principle of preference for operational work
  • The principle of organisational levels

The principle of preference for operational work

When a manager is required to do both managerial work and operational work during the same period, the manager will tend to give first priority to the operational work.

According to Allen, managerial work is more difficult than operational work.  Managers are usually well trained for the operational work they do, and they usually have a lot of experience in it.  They are usually promoted from doing operational work, but they often do not get any managerial training.  So the operational work are simply better known to them.  Managerial work is also more conceptual and less repetitive than operational work.  This leads to a lack of self-confidence when doing managerial work.

One of the convenient excuses when management neglect their managerial work, is that he leads subordinates by example. He can get so preoccupied by the operational work that eh never gets into managerial work.  It is one of the tasks of a manager to lead his subordinates by example, but it should not be used as an excuse to neglect managerial work.

Senior executives often expect subordinate managers to know every detail of work that is being done by his team. This may leave the manager with very little time for managerial work.

If a manager does not spend enough time on his managerial responsibilities, his department  will inevitably erupt in total chaos.

The principle of organisational levels

The lower the level a manager holds in an organization, the more operational work he tends to perform.

A low-level manager is closer to the action. Furthermore, his opportunity to delegate is limited.  He is often more familiar with the operational work than the  managerial work.

In studies, Allen found that a top manager in a company should in theory spend about 90% of his time on managerial work and 10% on operational work. The time spent on managerial work decreases for lower levels.  First-time supervisors has to spend about 50% of their time on managerial work and 50% on operational work.

Furthermore, they found that all managers tend to give too much attention to their operational work. Most top executives tend to spend about 50% of their time on managerial work and 50% on operational work, and first-time supervisors account for 90% of their time on operational work and only 10% on managerial work.

Managerial v.s. Operational Work
Managerial v.s. Operational Work


It is imperative that all managers are aware of these tendencies and discipline themselves to spend the required  time on their managerial work.


Hannes Kruger, Management training manual.  Written for the Meat Board, Chapter 1

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