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Classical Management Theories

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Category: Business

Autor: anton 06 April 2011

Words: 1529 | Pages: 7

Successful management requires an understanding of the fundamental concepts of effective management techniques and principles. In order to gain such insight, and manage effectively and efficiently, managers must develop an awareness of past management principles, models and theories. From the turn of the 20th Century, the need for a formal management theory was growing evident; organisations required a system to guide managers in an attempt to improve productivity and efficiency of workers. This urgency for a theory saw the development of six major management approaches, the focus of this essay will be on two of the classical management theories; the scientific management theory and the human relations movement. The contributions of both these theories will be examined, followed by an analysis of the similarities and differences that these two theories propose. The last point will see a discussion of the relevance that these two theories have in modern managerial practice.

Scientific management was developed in the early 1900’s and fronted by Fredrick Winslow Taylor. Robbins, Bergman, Stagg and Coulter (2006) describe scientific management as:

The use of scientific methods to define the “one best way” for a job to be done.

The objective of Scientific Management was to ensure that maximum productivity was achieved for both the employer and employee. (Dwyer, 2005) Scientific Management is essentially an authoritarian approach that breaks up the “thinking” and “doing” responsibilities to the manager and worker respectively. (Morgan, 1986). The main philosophies arising from the Scientific Management approach include; an emphasis on experimentation, research, and timed studies, as opposed to “rule of thumb”, management and labour co-operation in order to ensure economic efficiency, emphasis on individualism, and the simplification of tasks to reduce learning problems and time. (Mohanty and Sethi, 1996) The underlying assumption of the Scientific Management Theory, according to Dwyer (2005) is that

Human nature is machine-like and thoroughly rational, motivated by simple, uncomplicated economical needs.

In 1924, a series of studies were conducted in an attempt to determine the effect that lighting had on the productivity of a worker. These studies were later known as the “Hawthorne Studies”. The studies, which were fronted by Elton Mayo, provided new insights into individual and group behaviour, and found that social norms or group standards were the major determinants of workers behaviour. (Robbins et al., 2006).

It is from the Hawthorne Studies that the Human Relations Movement stemmed, and this theory holds a philosophy that a manager's concern for workers will lead to their increased satisfaction and improved performance. (Dwyer, 2005) The names associated with this movement include; Dale Carnegie, Abraham Maslow and Douglas McGregor. The main characteristics of the Human Relations Movement included; a scientific approach to the analysis of human behaviour, concern for the well-being of workers, attention to interpersonal relationships, and a view of the worker as a significant variable. (Mohanty and Sethi, 1996)

The Human Relations Movement contradicted many of the major suppositions of the Scientific Management Theory. Scientific Management focused on the use of exact measurement to improve productivity, the detailed division of labour, and “pay by performance”. But one of the major features of Scientific Management was that decision-making was the responsibility of management and workers were to obey. In contrast the Human Relations Movement focused on worker motivation, particularly on the belief that a worker who is satisfied will work more efficiently and effectively.

Scientific Management places great emphasis on human efficiency on the job, this was executed through the organisation of human efforts in a “mechanistic manner”, so that a “one best way” was established and maximum efficiency achieved. (Mohanty and Sethi, 1996). On the other hand, the Human Relations Movement emphasised social conditions in organisations as a means of improving efficiency.

While the differences between these two management theories are extensive, there are also some notable comparisons. Scientific Management and Human Relations both sought to improve productivity; Scientific Management by minimizing wasted movements, and Human Relations by developing good working relationships. Both these theories did provide some worthy results; Taylor’s “Pig Iron Experiment”, after many trials, succeeded in a productivity increase of 200% (Wrege and Perroni, 1974), while the Hawthorne Experiments saw a 112% increase in output by workers, which became known as the “Hawthorne Effect”.

An important similarity that can be found between these two theories is their approach to control their “teams”. A Scientific Management based approach would see a manager avoid contact with their workers and treat them as “economically motivated automatons”. (Rose, 2005) On the other hand a Human Relations approach to the situation would see a manager try to understand any problems of the worker and encourage them to work through motivation. (Bartol, Martin, Tein and Matthews, 2001) Why these may seem like contrasts between the theories, what should be noted is the desire of both approaches to control their teams; one by avoiding human relationships and one through human relationships. (Rose, 2005)

Scientific Management is often condemned for engaging a rigid and generalised approach, as it applied the same principles in all organisations under all circumstances, an unrealistic situation. (Davidson and Griffin, 2000; Bartol et al. 2001) Morgan (1986) notes that Scientific Management’s disregard for social and psychological aspects of the workplace have earned the theory a reputation as an “enemy of the working man”.

Yet Scientific Management does still play an important part in the business world today. The analysis of basic work tasks, time and motion studies, hiring the most suitable candidate for a job, and “pay per output” systems are all examples that have stemmed from the Scientific Management Theory. (Robbins et al., 2006) Scientific Management can also be seen in one of its purest forms today, this is in the form of an assembly line.

Any form of analysing, recording and reporting data can be classified as Scientific Management.

Hough & White (2001) back up the idea that Scientific Management is still relevant 100 years after it’s introduction into the world of management. They point out the

disciplines of operations management, work design and systems reengineering as current examples that use many aspects of the ideas that Scientific Management proposed. Parayitam, White & Hough (2002) also recognise labour / management relations, securing cooperation with incentives and task design as being areas that are based on scientific management.

The Human Relations Movement has also impacted greatly on management practices today, the way managers interact and work with employee teams, the use of open communication, and the support of workers are all characteristics of this theory. (Robbins et al. 2006) Mohanty and Sethi (1996) note that the Human Relations Movement was limited in the sense that it had an over-personalised view of management and that the employee morale-productivity link is overstated and oversimplified. Despite some limitations, many of the Human Relations assumptions are still evident in today’s organisations and management practices. For example, “job satisfaction will lead to higher job productivity” is widely accepted in today’s business world, “management requires effective social skills, not just technical skills” is also very popular, “management is only one factor affecting behaviour; the informal group often has a stronger impact”, another trend in present management practices. (Bartol et al. 2001)

It is clear to see that today’s management practices have stemmed from the studies and theories that have evolved over the past centuries. Scientific Management Theory and the Human Relations Movement are only two of many theories that have amalgamated over the past years to form current management trends and applications. There is no one theory that is preferred or more advantageous than the other, as we have learnt from the Scientific Management Theory and the Human Relations Movement, each have their positive and negative aspects. While these theories have their unique aspects, they also share similar themes and philosophies as discussed earlier.

Present management practices must adopt a management strategy that will benefit their organisations, there is no “one best way” to manage an organisation. However, managers must develop an understanding of past management philosophies and embrace classical theories in order to ensure they manage intelligently and effectively.


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