First line management in small and medium sized enterprises in the UK and China
The research question was offered by the sponsor of this Ph.D., The National
Examining Board of Supervision and Management (NEBS Management). This
research is a study of the First Line Management (FLM) role in Small and Medium
Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the UK and China. Different culture background,
management styles, and communication systems, can be expected to affect the roles of
managers. The Chinese style of managing the organisation has long been a subject of
interest to researchers and practitioners. Research studies on managerial work and
managerial roles have been well established in Western countries. Until recently, the
cultural and political climate in China was less conducive to research into areas that
might have caused too much debate. As a result, those researching management in
China tended, until relevantly recently, to be isolated from main stream academic
debate. It is believed that this study is unique in focusing on the FLM in China as well
as in the UK. In both countries research on the FLM in SMEs is limited. This research
attempts to bridge this gap by trying to define, for the first time, the roles, functions
and skills required of FLMs in SMEs in the UK and China.
The study argues that it is crucial to understand the FLM's role and place it within the
organisation. The FLM is a critical link in any organisation because it is at this level
that managerial and non managerial employees meet face to face and work in a close
relationship with each other. The evidence from the research suggests that the FLM's
role in the SME is broader than that of equivalent FLM role in the large organisation.
It was found that FLMs in SMEs were seen as 'non-specialist', expected to cope with
whatever aspect of work came their way. The implication of this broad 'nonspecialist'
role was that they were expected to be a 'master of many trades'. The skills
required to perform the FLM role were not perceived, despite their breadth as
specialist skills such as finance, quality, purchasing and so on. Rather they were
perceived as underpinning generic key skills which could, and should, be further
supported by improved training and development. The research revealed that FLMs in
SMEs perform a unique and a valuable role.There has been some concern about the extent to which models and practices of
supervisory management are capable of being transferred from one country to another.
The UK and China have evolved supervisory management styles and systems which
are rooted in their respective social, economic and political circumstances but which
are now being shaped increasingly by external, international and global patterns,
trends and models.
The study revealed there was a surprising degree of consistency in certain aspect of
the FLM role in both countries. In particular, responsibility for 'organising and
managing' was perceived as the core element ·of the FLM role. Differences were
reviewed in how this core role was delivered in the two countries. For example, FLMs
in the UK favoured a team working approach which was not adopted to the same
degree by their Chinese counterparts. Other examples of differences included greater
involvement and responsibility for financial matters in China than in the UK. These
and other examples arise from different social, cultural and political circumstances
and help illuminate the detail differences in both countries. In conclusion, the
influence of international and global trends is likely to reduce the level of difference in
the future. Summarising the FLM role in the SME, the research suggests that the
FLMs are both co-ordinators and human relations engineers.