You Need Numbers, Communication and Much More to be a Good Manager

This post is an entry for the Great Indian B-School debate 2014

Name: Abhishek Ahluwalia

Team name: The Holy Hand Grenades

Team mate’s name: Nadeem Raj

B School: XLRI Jamshedpur

Article I am refuting:


Ankita counters Professor Poli’s argument with the proposition that “numbers are not the food for every decision that a manager makes”. This proposition is perfectly valid; a completely reasonable statement to make. However, the argument made was never that numbers are needed for every single decision a manager might make. Being comfortable with numbers is supposed to help or complement your decision-making, not be the sole criterion to judge it. Every manager, no matter what domain he or she is in, be it finance, marketing, or operations, needs a good understanding of the business to have a context for every decision.

There have been various studies [1] that have shown that the most important skills for a manager at a junior level are technical in nature. On the other hand, a senior level manager relies most on his or her conceptual and human skills. However, this does not mean that senior level managers don’t possess the technical skills. If they didn’t, they never would have made it to the senior level!

Technical and communication skills aren’t mutually exclusive. A truly effective manager is one who possesses some combination of all these skills – technical, conceptual and human. He or she should be able to understand the hard, technical side of business but possess the ability to deal with the soft side as well.

Speaking of the soft side of business, the Human Resources domain has always been associated with making decisions based not on numbers but on something a little more abstract. It’s always been the “touchy-feely” department. Some may consider that derogatory. Some may not. However, there has clearly been a shift within the HR community to bring some more business awareness amongst its practitioners. CEOs have long complained that HR managers don’t understand the business or that they operate in a bubble. If HR has to move out of its ghetto and gain “a seat on the table”, it must ensure that all its decisions have some business backing to them. Any organization will promote culture and change management, employee empowerment or any such number of laudable endeavours, but at the end of the day, results will always take prominence. HR will not become “Strategic HR” unless all its initiatives have some numbers justifying them, there must be some return on investment. Just ask Dave Ulrich.

Moving on to the issue of data-heavy income statements, balance sheets, etcetera, even for making qualitative decisions, one must understand the quantitative aspect to be able to make a fully-informed decision.

We have entered the era of Big Data. The future is analytics. Consumers and employees are generating more and more information every day, hour, minute and second. Unless you have the ability to comprehend and analyze that data, you’re going to be left behind. It’s true that being comfortable with numbers alone will not help you make good decisions. But it’s also true that being good with conflict resolution or time management alone is also not enough. To make holistic and effective decisions, a manager must possess skills in various domains. Being exceptional at one thing and inadequate at another will only lead to a blinkered view. You must take all aspects into consideration.

Thus, I would assert that it is absolutely true that you cannot be an effective manager unless you are comfortable with numbers.