Before extended ubiquitisation, the role of the unit manager was relatively straightforward. They were responsible for managing a single operating unit. In expanding the scope of each operation to include other forms of delivery – carts, kiosks, home delivery and so on – the role of the unit manager developed further. In the restaurant sector managers became ‘market managers’, responsible not just for the restaurant itself, but all the other locations that meals were served in. This resulted in a number of changes to the operations management function:
- Job title – some firms devised new titles for their unit managers to reflect their enlarged responsibility. For instance the US-based fast food chain Taco Bell changed the title ‘Restaurant Manager’ to ‘Restaurant General Manager’ (RGM).
- Responsibility – unit managers were assigned more responsibility for their own operation, which typically includes the financial performance of the unit. This means that financial data relating to the Profit and Loss Account of each unit has to be provided to the manager.
- Autonomy and empowerment – along with this added responsibility, unit managers were given more freedom to manage the business, albeit within policy guidelines from head office.
- Remuneration – added responsibility and greater autonomy meant that managers’ salaries might need to be increased. Often this might be linked to performance-related pay, to reflect the new role that managers had.
- Management development – managers cannot be expected to simply to take on this new role without some training and development. For instance, when Taco Bell established RGMs they specifically incorporated ‘coaching’ into their management development programme.
- Selection – the skills and expertise of a ‘market manager’ may be different to the old style unit manager, so new criteria need to be established in order to select and appoint the right people.
- Organisational culture – old style chain operations tended to have somewhat autocratic organisational cultures, based around ‘command and control’ from head office. In the new style chains with market managers, the culture adapts and becomes less autocratic.
On the other hand, some firms adopted an alternative approach to enlarging unit management – they have removed unit managers altogether and grouped units together under a single manager. For instance, one UK-based budget hotel chain has one ‘cluster manager’ in charge of 4 or 5 hotels that are located close to each other. This approach tends to be adopted when the operation itself is relatively simple – there are straightforward processes, predictable activity, and few staff.