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Natalia Rossingol

The 4 Functions of Management: A Deep Dive

New to management? Learn about the four functions of management - planning, organizing, leading, and controlling.

The job of a manager is multi-faceted, and not that easy to describe. You may say that managers hire and fire people, hold meetings, and share feedback. And this is not wrong, of course.

However, basic management is much more than that. Management is complex. It embraces responsibilities of different kinds, and this fact may confuse those in charge of teams. Where do you start? What are you expected to do?

The best way to figure it out is to use a systematic approach. For example, interpret management as a system of functions. In this article, we will discuss the four functions of management - an approach that simplifies the understanding of this process, breaking it down into logical parts based on managers’ core responsibilities.

What is management about?

The characteristic feature of management is that it enables you to achieve results by uniting the efforts of other people. You don’t have to get all things done by yourself – you manage others, performing different roles.

Julie Zhuo, the ex-vice president of product design at Facebook and the author of “The Making of a Manager,” explains that effective management is rather about building a cohesive team, creating smooth and efficient work processes, and supporting your team to achieve their goals:

Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group working together. It’s from this simple definition that everything else flows.

Of course, building a truly successful team requires a set of particular skills and abilities. What are they? The four functions of management provide the answer. 

The four functions of management

The functions of management were originally described by Henry Fayol, a French mining executive, who developed a theory of business administration. Fayol identified five functions – planning, organizing, command, coordination, and control. Over time, these five functions were combined and reduced to four.

Let’s analyze each of the four functions of management in more detail, and see how exactly managers can achieve organizational objectives and goals by focusing on specific managerial tasks.

four functions of management


We know that plans can often be ruined by different circumstances. This is why we should never take plans too seriously, as a gospel. Plans should rather be seen like a reference, like something that can be easily adapted according to requirements.

Yet, plans are important - they give you a feeling of solid ground under your feet.

During the planning phase, managers analyze the current situation, identify possible challenges, and decide what steps need to be taken to deal with them. This involves evaluating factors, both internal (like available finances, personnel, and other resources) and external (global economic tendencies, customers, and competitors.) 

This is why an important component of the management planning function is resource allocation – identifying available resources and assigning them appropriately to achieve organizational goals with maximum efficiency.  The term “resources” covers a wide range of things, like individuals and teams, time and money, facilities, technical skills, and intellectual property.

Managers must do a lot of thinking to assign the right employees to the right projects, based on their experience and skills; to assign material resources wisely, so that people can complete their projects; and to be careful enough to create a fair work environment.

To allocate resources successfully, managers can use resource management tools – like Runn that allows you to see and book available resources, this way scheduling projects with ease.

While planning, managers set goals and directions for the organization. They establish timelines and seek approval from other departments and seniors to ensure alignment. After that, a plan can be considered ready for use.

There are three main approaches to planning:

Strategic planning

This is a long-range type of planning that determines the future of a company. Making a strategic plan means identifying the role of your company in the business world, and analyzing possible opportunities and threats.

Strategic planning is carried out by top management, like CEOs and other seniors. To make a plan as good as possible, top management should use the input from middle management and even frontline workers - because typically, they are well-familiar with the current state of things, know what problems need to be solved, and have access to customers. For this reason, they can provide good down-to-earth ideas.

Richard Rumelt, a professor at the University of California and the author of “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy”, underlines that a good strategy consists of three elements:

  1. Diagnosis – the identification or classification of the situation, which lets you compare it to similar situations that happened in the past and use that experience to handle the current one.
  2. Guiding policy – the approach to overcoming obstacles.
  3. Coherent action – consistent and coordinated things that need to be imposed on a company in a centralized manner.

In contrast, bad strategy is just a “superficial restatement of the obvious combined with a generous sprinkling of buzzwords.” To put it differently, it’s a statement that is meant to sound high, but which doesn’t have any real meaning behind it. It’s not a strategy, it’s an illusion of it.

Bad strategies are not focused on real challenges and are often mistaken for goals. Unfortunately, as Rumelt points out, they are popular – leaders are scared to make decisions and hope that success will eventually come if they just think positively.

But what’s worse, sometimes companies don’t even have a strategy and are not aware of it. 26 executives, interviewed by Rumelt, couldn’t describe their strategies, instead talking about things 360-degree feedback and updates.

That is why strategic planning is important – not only because it gives you some certainty, but also because it provides you with a direction.

The first natural advantage of good strategy arises because other organizations often don’t have one. And because they don’t expect you to have one, either. – Richard Rumelt    

Tactical planning

This type of planning concerns short-term goals, which can usually be reached in one year or sooner. Tactical planning is more targeted and action-oriented than strategic, and it’s focused on a specific department or area, like finances, marketing, or personnel.

For example, if a strategic plan is to increase market share by 10% over the next 5 years, a tactical plan will include specific actions like launching new campaigns.

Tactical plans are normally created by breaking down strategic plans and goals into smaller, more measurable ones. Yet, they don’t cover the specifics of day-to-day work.  They are more flexible, as they can be reexamined when necessary.

Typically, tactical planning is carried out by middle management.

Tactical plans contain the following elements:

  • Goals. To develop your goals, you could use the SMART pattern, according to which goals should be:
  1. Specific – Specific goals lead to specific results.
  2. Measurable – Goals that can be tracked and evaluated.
  3. Attainable – Realistic goals.
  4. Relevant – Goals that suit your business.
  5. Time-bound – goals that have a deadline.
  • Tactics. Tactics include the process of researching, developing, and implementing the best solutions needed to achieve smaller, short-term goals.
  • Actions. These concern specific actions that support the goals described by tactics.
  • Timeline. To increase efficiency, each action must be finished within a particular time period. 
  • Resources. They need to be appropriately allocated.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat. – Sun Tzu, a Chinese strategist and philosopher

Operational planning

Operational planning concerns daily actions within a company. It describes things that need to be done to achieve tactical goals – which, in turn, support strategic goals.

It’s usually carried out by department and project managers.

Operational plans are very detailed. For example, they might include information on the frequency of meetings or equipping new employees.

Looking to improve your operational efficiency? Check this guide.


A team is not a bunch of people with job titles, but a congregation of individuals, each of whom has a role that is understood by other members. – Meredith Belbin, a British management consultant

The organizing function of management is about creating a work environment that would positively influence productivity. This includes department structuring, cooperation among departments, and assigning employees with roles and tasks that fit their abilities.

In other words, the organizing function concerns the administration of a company and the synchronization of resources – human, financial, physical, and informational ones.

While planning concerns what needs to be done in the future, the organizing stage is focused on the ways and means of how these things can be achieved. It covers the following processes:

  • Defining responsibility for each individual on the team.
  • Establishing relationships among team members, including people who work in different departments.
  • Determining the rules and regulations.
Management of many is the same as management of few. It is a matter of organization. – Sun Tzu

Depending on how people within a company collaborate and make decisions, they will develop a particular organizational structure. Christine Organ divides organizational structures into the following types:

Centralized /decentralized

In a centralized model of organizational structure, which is a traditional one, there is a chain of command and clearly defined roles, each of which has its own responsibilities.

In contrast to it, in a decentralized structure teams are given certain levels of autonomy. In other words, decentralized teams are self-managed, as they have decision-making power. Unlike the centralized model, which is top-down, the decentralized is rather bottom-up.

While a centralized structure will make sense for a group of inexperienced workers who need guidance, a decentralized one is more adaptable and can help companies successfully deal with rapid changes.

Hierarchical / circular

A hierarchical structure reminds a pyramid, with upper management at the top and the rest of the staff on the levels below, each of which decreases in authority.

A circular org chart is an alternative to the traditional hierarchical one. It’s drawn from the center out: the center represents the company’s top official, and the outermost circles – frontline workers and individual contributors.

The difference between the two structures is more psychological. While the hierarchical structure shows the organization as authoritarian, the circular one creates an impression of inclusion and better communication.

Read on: The Long & Short of Organizational Design

Vertical / flat

A vertical structure is characterized by a clear chain of command. In a flat organizational structure, a person can report to more than one senior.

By creating a structure that aligns with the organizational goals and needs, you can clarify expectations, provide accountability, foster efficiency, and make the criteria for promotion clear.


Although movies portray leadership as a high-drama activity – with heroes running into burning buildings or bravely fighting alone against hordes of enemies – real leadership is about very simple, practical things. Do what you say and say what you mean. Admit when you’re wrong. Enlist the opinions of others in decisions that impact them. – Scott Berkun, “Making Things Happen”

To achieve a common goal, a team needs a leader – someone who will motivate team members to work better, explain why what they do is meaningful, someone who will direct them when they need guidance, and who will be willing to take risks for the sake of the company’s well-being.

It’s important to point out that management and leadership are not identical. Leadership is about having a vision, while management is rather about implementing that vision. Leaders motivate, while managers make sure that the job is done correctly. Leadership requires leadership skills and management - management skills.

Simply speaking, leaders can be managers – but not necessarily. Sometimes, it’s a regular worker who drives others to success. And vice versa, managers are not necessarily leaders.

However, they are often expected to be, as they typically have more power.

To understand what the leading function is about, let's take a look at the three main types of leadership:

  1. Autocratic. Here leader has total control over the rest of the employees. Team members have no influence and cannot make any business decisions. This type of leadership, which is traditional, discourages innovation and kills trust among team members. However, it makes sense for situations where decisions have to be made quickly, and for newly-created teams who typically need more guidance.
  2. Democratic. In this model, everyone has a right to a voice. Everyone is welcome to present their ideas, and discussions are encouraged. This leads to higher productivity and creativity. Democratic leadership is considered a very effective model. Yet, it has its drawbacks. People suggesting ideas may not have all the necessary knowledge. For big companies, the democratic model can cause security issues – because for a company to be truly democratic, information needs to be shared.
  3. Laissez-Faire. This leadership style allows team members to make decisions independently. While in the authoritarian model, leaders have all the control over the team, and the democratic one expects collaboration, the laissez-faire model gives employees the freedom to take risks and be responsible for their results. Among the potential disadvantages of this type of leadership, we could mention a lack of accountability and direction.
The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership – they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate. – Daniel Goleman, a psychologist, the author of “Emotional Intelligence”

In addition to that, we should also mention the model of situational leadership, developed by Paul Hersey in 1969. This model recognizes that there isn’t one universal leadership approach, and lets leaders pick one that would work best for a particular situation.

The four leadership styles are:


This is a short-term approach that’s intended to set work in motion. A leader makes decisions without the team’s input. This approach works for situations when the team members are inexperienced or not motivated. The leader controls the completion of tasks, tracking the progress.

However, this style will not fit is a leader isn’t experienced or powerful enough.   


In this approach, the leader is still the one to decide what needs to be done, how that things needs to be done, and by when. Yet, a leader as a coach holds discussions on why tasks are important and how they are connected to the tasks of other team members.

This approach is intended to form understanding and buy-in. A coach’s goal is to recognize and maintain enthusiasm and commitment. Besides, coaches pay attention to notice and develop talents.

This is why the coaching approach is useful for situations when employees’ skills need refinement. Also, it’s effective with experienced employees who need some motivation to stay focused.  

Related: How to Develop a Reskilling Culture


The purpose of this approach is to create alignment. It’s used when a team member has enough knowledge and experience to complete tasks, so the leader doesn’t need to provide assistance all the time. Instead, he or she needs to occasionally step in to make sure the team works as one whole.

The supporting approach is concerned with the relational aspect of teamwork, rather than with task completion.


The delegating approach is about creating mastery and autonomy. It’s about assigning tasks to other employees to spend their time on more important things, like developing a strategy.

This style is the least time-consuming – yet, it won’t be suitable for low-performing teams. It requires competency and high levels of intrinsic motivation.


If cybernetics is a science of control, management is a profession of control. – Antony Stafford Beer, a British leadership theorist 

The controlling function of management consists in analyzing the work in progress. This includes monitoring performance and quality of work, as well as ensuring that completed projects make sense. A manager’s task is to make sure that the goals are met and make adjustments when necessary.

For example, monitoring resources and the budget in particular, a manager may notice that the project takes more money than was initially planned. Then it’s the manager’s responsibility to look for the root of the problem.

The controlling function also requires a manager to check if employees produce high-quality work. If not, it may be necessary to either reassign an employee or dismiss him or her from a project.

The controlling process involves 5 main steps:

  1. Set standards. At this stage, a manager creates rules and criteria for employees to stick to. Standards will help understand if a project moves in the right direction.

There are two types of standards:

  • Measurable / tangible – these are standards that can be measured, like costs, profit, time, etc.
  • Non-measurable/ intangible – these include things that cannot be measured, like employees’ attitude to work, their communication, and morale.
  1. Measure performance. Using standards, managers can track performance.
  2. Compare performance with standards. In some cases, there will be no deviations from the standard – but most probably, there will be. A small difference is okay. But if it concerns critical issues that might influence the whole business, like problems with equipment, then it must be addressed.
  3. Find out why deviations took place. If the standards were not met, a manager must find the reason why it happened.
  4. Take corrective actions. These involve changes to processes or behaviors. For example, you might need to change operations or hire more team members. 

The controlling function of management is interrelated with the planning one. Without planning, control is meaningless. But without control, planning is meaningless too.

It’s also important for managers to remember that we can control only what’s controllable. When times are uncertain, some things are out of managers’ control.

Kelly Manthey, the CEO at Kin+Carta, explains that in this case, you should focus on what you can still control. She gives four pieces of advice:

  • Take a pause and see what’s happening. “Taking control” doesn’t means “acting immediately.”
  • Be consistent and deliver what you promise.
  • Embrace the change, but know where to hold steady.
  • Focus on the now. Make short-term plans that would help you stay more specific and resilient. 
Effective leadership in times of incredible change and turmoil comes down to identifying the tangible things we can control and focusing on them as they relate to the bigger picture. – Kelly Manthey

The four functions of management is a logical framework that can make the lives of managers easier. It provides a clearer understanding of what managers’ work is, simplifying it and helping to see where your efforts are most needed right now. So use this framework to set priorities and perform your core responsibilities, and to become a successful manager.

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