The Four Functions of Management (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar
Jan. 22, 2023

Summary. The four functions of management are planning, organizing, leading, and controlling. These functions build off one another to create an effective team built around shared visions, concrete standards, careful assessments, and constructive feedback.

Effectively managing a team is a multi-faceted role that requires leaders to fulfill a variety of functions.

In this article, we’ll explain the four functions of management and discuss tips to help you put them into practice.

Key Takeaways:

  • Planning requires identifying challenges and formulating objectives accurately.

  • To lead successfully, create a shared vision, communicate effectively, and lead by example.

  • Understanding and mastering these four functions will allow you to lead teams that break records and stand out in the workplace.

  • Using the four functions will create stronger bonds between a manager and they employee and create an overall better work environment.

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The four functions of management with examples

The Four Functions of Management

It is typically understood that these functions happen in a step-by-step order. First, a manager plans a course of action and organizes the necessary reources. They then lead the project by providing roles and motivation for others. Finally, they manage the project as it proceeds and make adjustments as required.

Of course, for a manager handling multiple projects, it’s common for these functions to become tangled and not quite linear. That’s why it’s often good to step back and remember your primary managerial functions to make sure you’re contributing to your team’s success in the most effective way possible.

Here’s more detail on the four functions of management — planning, organizing, leading, and controlling:

  1. Planning. Managers must navigate the decision-making process to help their team reach company goals.

    Effective planning involves a few important steps:

    • Identify challenges. Managers need to be aware of the challenges facing their team or business and what potential solutions are available to them.

    • Forecast future business. To determine the proper solution to each challenge, managers must be able to forecast the future impact of each particular solution on the business.

    • Formulate objectives and deadlines. Once a solution to a problem is identified, a manager needs to create a game plan to apply it.

      This involves planning out individual steps and setting appropriate deadlines and time frames.

    • Reevaluation. Managers need to stay constantly alert to changing situations. If a plan requires adjustments or isn’t working at all, it’s up to managers to identify the proper direction to lead the team.

    • Maintain efficiency. Throughout the entire planning process, effective managers should also understand how to allocate resources and reduce waste efficiently.

  2. Organizing. To complete projects or meet any other company goals, managers must effectively organize physical, human, and financial resources.

    Doing so is often a fine balancing act, as any given team will only have a limited pool of available workers, funding, and other resources to accomplish their objectives.

    Some responsibilities of managers in regards to organizing resources include:

    • Classifying activities

    • Assigning activities to individuals or groups

    • Creating responsibilities

    • Delegating authority

    Team leaders must also establish new positions that need to be filled, fill those positions, and effectively train workers to perform the tasks.

  3. Leading. Managers are responsible for motivating team members and providing the direction to accomplish a business’ goals and objectives.

    Effective leadership follows a few key principles:

    • Communication. In order for a team to meet its goals, each member must understand what their responsibilities entail. It’s up to managers to communicate these ideas and ensure that everyone is on-board.

      Communication isn’t just about talking. Effective communicators know how to listen to questions and concerns. They practice self-awareness and empathy in order to choose a communication strategy that fits the recipient.

    • Motivation. Leaders are responsible for aligning the motivations of team members with the team’s overall goals.

      Set clear goals and reward employees who achieve or exceed expectations.

      Team members who show disregard for their work require corrective action, but not those who try but fail.

      Provide opportunities for growth and development. Tie the success of the team with that of the individual.

  4. Controlling. This function refers not just to controlling people, but total supervision or management of the team or business in general.

    Teams are not always immediately successful in tackling their challenges. It’s up to managers to identify what caused deviations from the goal and make appropriate changes.

    This may involve improving the performance of individuals responsible for particular problems, changing ineffective procedures, or adjusting the team’s strategy as a whole.

The four functions of management aren’t always mutually exclusive activities. Rather, they’re the collective of responsibilities that managers should make sure they’re fully satisfying when making any given decision.

Effectively practicing one function of management will often involve utilizing the other three as well.

For example, a manager can’t create a cohesive plan without understanding how to organize resources and delegate staff. The plan must necessarily involve how they intend to lead the team and how they’ll measure if goals have been met and control for contingencies.

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Tips for Practicing the Four Functions of Management

Whether you’re an engineer or marketing manager, the principles behind effective management remain the same.

Follow these tips to maximize your performance:

  1. Planning tips

    Effective planners employ strategies to help them accurately identify important tasks and their priority levels and determine appropriate timelines to complete them:

    • Carefully assess time frames.

      Before setting any concrete time frames for a major task, carefully evaluate whether the deadline is appropriate.

      Casually committing to unreasonable time frames can cause major problems for a project later down the line.

      If you later realize that a certain task requires more time than originally planned, then you may need to delay other dependent tasks as a result.

      This translates to a massive waste of resources in multiple areas.

      Some employees will be sitting idly, while others will be overworked and lose morale. Your team may suffer the consequences of delayed deadlines, and in extreme cases, entire projects will need to be abandoned.

    • Perform SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis provides you with a comprehensive view of your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential risks.

      Understanding your company’s strengths allows you to choose the right strategies for capitalizing on short-term opportunities.

      Identifying weaknesses and risks are critical for improving them and setting your business on the right path for long-term growth.

  2. Organizing tips

    Effective resource coordination is a foundational requirement for any business or team’s future success. Disorganized managers result in employees being shuffled around and resource bottlenecks, which are both highly disruptive to any team’s goals.

    • Define and classify activities. Before assigning a single employee, clearly define the goals and duties associated with each position.

      You don’t want to realize later on that although a certain employee’s job title matches the position, their experience doesn’t match what’s required in this specific case.

      Many companies also fail to recognize tasks that could be easily automated, which translates to employee hours constantly wasted.

    • Specify reporting status/breadth of power. Even if a team or company is filled with competent employees, it’s doomed to fail if there isn’t a coherent internal structure.

      Specify which roles report to which management positions, and determine the breadth of power that each supervisor holds in different departments.

    • Don’t be scared to alter your team’s structure. Many initially successful start-ups fail because they weren’t able to adjust to rapid growth.

      As long as you’ve closely analyzed the pros and cons, don’t be scared to make necessary drastic changes to your team’s internal structure.

  3. Leading tips

    Effective leadership isn’t hard science, but there are key principles that most great leaders put into practice.

    • Create a shared vision. Align the success of the team with that of the individual.

      Although bonuses and financial incentives are great tools, they shouldn’t be the only motivators you employ.

      Try to provide training and developmental opportunities for your employees to list on their resumes and cover letters. Challenge them and make projects gratifying experiences to work through.

      Establish a positive team culture where employees support each other and celebrate their progress and victories.

    • Lead by example. Exemplify the qualities that you want your team to have.

      If team members see you tackling a difficult project with an obstacle head-on, they’ll feel compelled to put in the same amount of effort and do their part.

      If you foster a positive attitude, others will react accordingly and spread that mindset around the team.

    • Develop strong communication skills. You need to inspire employees so that they become self-motivating.

      Being a good listener and using empathy allows you to identify team members’ concerns and questions before they become problems.

      Managers are responsible for ensuring that all employees understand the team’s objectives. You shouldn’t just say them and assume that everyone is on board.

      Make sure that each employee knows what’s expected of them and adjust your communication methods to match the individual.

      With the rise of remote work and team communications moving to platforms such as Slack, you need to adjust and make sure you’re proficient with the necessary tools.

      Teams are often diverse in their personalities and backgrounds, meaning that miscommunication and conflicts will inevitably arise. You need to be able to adjudicate and resolve miscommunications in a way that’s perceived as fair by all.

    • Foster respect and trust. There are many ways to build respect and trust with your fellow team members.

      Rather than micromanage employees, monitor their performance.

      If a worker is performing poorly, then try and step in and assess how you can help them improve. If an employee is meeting performance standards, then micromanagement and constant supervision will only disrupt their activities.

      Team lunches can also be a great way to get to know your coworkers and build a cohesive team dynamic.

  4. Controlling tips

    Controlling is all about making sure that objectives are met and understanding how to make appropriate adjustments when issues arise.

    • Set concrete quality standards.

      Set concrete standards so that you can actually determine if a particular goal has been met.

      This is especially important to do for project milestones. It’s bad if a team is behind schedule or underperforming, but downright disastrous if they don’t even realize it.

      Concrete standards allow you and supervisors under you to identify poor performance and respond accordingly.

    • Monitor, but don’t micromanage. You need to develop a strategy so that managers in each department can continually monitor workers’ work quality and performance.

      However, make sure that your method doesn’t micromanage and disrupt employee activities.

    • Prepare strategies for improving performance. You want to prepare methods for responding to poor performance and contingencies before they actually occur.

      This could come in the form of training programs or resources to help employees. It could also involve alternative business procedures and processes.

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The Four Functions of Management FAQ

  1. What are examples of the four functions of management?

    Examples of the four functions of management include planning checkpoints into a project schedule to help your team hit the end deadline, assigning tasks to team members in accordance with their skills, leading by example by assigning yourself a task and completing it well, and readjusting the team’s workload as needed throughout the project.

    • Planning. Incorporating checkpoints or mini-deadlines into a project to help ensure your team is going to hit their end goal on time is an example of the planning function of management. By slicing up the timeline into smaller, more manageable chunks, your team will (hopefully) be less likely to procrastinate, and you’ll be able to review their work and make adjustments along the way.

      In setting up these deadlines, you’ll be identifying challenges that your team may run into along the way and creating solutions to overcome, avoid, or minimize them. You’ll also be reevaluating the project’s performance as it moves along and ensuring it’s as efficient as possible, all of which are important steps in the planning function of management.

    • Organizing. Organizing is the second function of management, and a large part of this is assigning tasks to your team members according to their abilities. This requires knowing what needs to be done to finish a project and understanding what each of your team members brings to the table as far as strengths, weaknesses, available time, and the assumed time it will take to complete.

    • Leading. The third function of management is leadership, and one of the most powerful forms of this is leading by example. Don’t just assign a bunch of tasks and then go hide in your office until the project’s done. Show your team that you’re invested in the project by taking on some tasks yourself.

      That doesn’t mean micromanaging or taking over someone else’s job, but you can take on appropriate tasks such as ensuring your team has all the resources they need when they need them, setting up clear communication channels so no one is confused or frustrated, and providing support with anything else you can, even if that’s buying everyone lunch during crunch time.

    • Controlling. Finally, being willing to readjust the workload as the project progresses is an example of the controlling function of management. You can’t just set a project in motion and walk away: You need to keep tabs on it and make adjustments as it progresses. This often means reassigning tasks as some turn out to be more time-consuming, challenging, or unproductive than expected.

  2. How do you describe the type of management activity with each function of management?

    You can describe the type of management activity with the planning function of management as looking ahead at the goals your team needs to reach and the challenges they might encounter along the way. Then, you make a plan to get to those goals and conquer those challenges.

    For the organizing function of management, you can describe it as taking stock of and managing resources in a way that allows your team to reach their goals. These resources may be physical materials and finances, but they also may be people, which means you need to be able to assess each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and train them and assign them tasks accordingly.

    You can describe the leading function of management as directing and motivating your team members so that they can accomplish their goals. This involves communicating with them, motivating them, and providing them with opportunities to grow, as well as standing up for them, getting them the resources they need, and leading by example.

    As far as the controlling function of management, you can describe it as continuously staying involved with your team and their project’s progress to ensure they’re still on track for success. This usually also involves making adjustments to the project as it moves along, helping individuals improve their performances, or completely overhauling your team’s structure and strategy.

  3. What are the three levels of management and their functions?

    The three levels of management are administrative, executive, and supervisory. Their functions are to oversee the company’s direction, policies, and strategies, to ensure departments are functioning in accordance with that direction and those policies and strategies, and to oversee and direct the day-to-day activities of employees, respectively.

    • Administrative. The administrative level of management is also called the managerial or top level of management, and it comprises companies’ CEOs and boards of directors. These leaders are responsible for the big picture of the company: What its ultimate mission is and the widespread policies and practices that will allow it to get there.

    • Executive. The executive or middle-level management’s job is to ensure that those policies and practices are successfully put into practice in their respective departments. These managers do more day-to-day than the administrative managers do, but they’re also in charge of the big-picture success of their departments, giving them a unique set of responsibilities.

      This level of management is made up of branch managers, department heads, and vice presidents, and it can often include multiple layers of managers.

    • Supervisory. The third level of management is the supervisory level, also referred to as the operative or lower level of management. These managers work directly with employees to ensure their work is furthering goals and strategies put into place by middle- and upper-level managers.

      These managers have the most day-to-day responsibilities such as creating work schedules, assigning tasks, motivating employees, and handling workers’ mistakes or complaints. They’re the ones tasked with making sure the week’s work gets done correctly and on time so that the company can meet its overarching goals.

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Final Thoughts

Developing your leadership skills will lead to career success, but knowing how to make decisions and execute plans is only half the battle. Understanding the key functions of your role will help keep you on track and make you a more effective leader.

For managers looking to improve employee performance and engagement, taking the time to assess your own leadership style and identify areas for improvement will help make you a more effective leader. Whether it’s planning, organizing, leading, or controlling, every manager can take steps toward better adhering to the four functions of management.

References

  1. Fort Hays State University – The Four Functions of Management: An Essential Guide to Management Principles

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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