The management field has significantly evolved, from virtually an insignificant theme a couple of centuries ago to become one of the most important fields of study in the contemporary world. Over the centuries, people have been shaping and reshaping organizations, such as the Greek and Roman armies, the East India Company, and the Roman Catholic Church. This was coupled with numerous writings on how to make organizations more effective and efficient. The importance of management in formal organizations goes beyond the business sphere to also include social, political, and economic spheres. Management itself encompasses actions, practices, and the science of getting work done through people. It involves the development of both human and non-human resources through work. Management theories, thoughts, and practices revolve around the primary objective of achieving a certain level of productivity through people. This paper discusses the evolution of some of the most significant management theories, thoughts, and practices.
Some of the most ancient strategists in management and whose writings consisted of instructive elements include Niccolo Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. Although currently the term Machiavelli has a negative connotation to it by referring to a cunning and manipulative opportunist, some of the principles that he set forth in his 1531 book Discourses are applicable in the field of management today. For example, he stated that the stability of an organization is enhanced if its members have the opportunities of expressing their differences and solving them internally. Further, while one individual has the ability of starting an organization, its sustenance is highly dependent on the availability of many people who have a genuine desire of taking care of and maintaining it. This means that the relationships among an organization’s members as well as their attitudes towards the company are influential on its effectiveness. In addition, he stated that while a weak manager can maintain his/her authority by following a stronger manager, this cannot be so if the leader is also a weak one.
Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher also offered insightful pointers for contemporary managers in his classical work The Art of War. Although his work was primarily aimed at guiding military activities, its application in the management field is undeniable. The same strategies have been used in engaging people in business. Neither of these phenomenal philosophers can be credited with developing management theories per se but their works play an instrumental role in teaching the history of management development. Their perspectives have helped people in making sense of their world experiences.
From these perspectives grew the classical and neoclassical approaches to management. The former is a set of homogeneous perspectives, which evolved in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Their development was influenced by ideas from the industrial revolution and are primarily centered on theories of efficiency (Sarker & Khan, 2013). One of the most influential classical management theories is the scientific management theory whose major proponent was Frederick Taylor (father of scientific management). This approach is primarily based on the concept of planning of work with the aim of achieving efficiency, standardization, simplification, and specialization (Ferdous, 2016). Specialization would be achieved by fitting the right person for the right job through proper selection, training, and placement of personnel. This would consequently lead to the highest production from workers. Equal division of work and responsibilities between workers and the management would dispel any feelings of exploitation from either party. Other significant contributors to this theory include the Gilbreths who focused on both the handicapped and normal workers.
Administrative management is the other classical approach, advanced by Henri Fayol. He focused on organizational efficiency by developing principles towards the same. These principles include division of work where an individual specializes in a certain task allowing them to build up experience and continuously improve on their skills thereby boosting productivity. Authority or the right of issuing commands for which employees must be disciplined enough to obey on the contingent that the management offers good leadership. Unity of command should be manifested in which an employee only has one boss from whom commands are issued. Unity and coordination within the organization is enhanced if there is unity of direction where the members of the organization has similar objectives and goals. The interests of the organization must also be prioritized above those of individuals. Other principles attributable to this theory include remuneration as a motivator, scalar chain, equity, order, stability of tenure for personnel, initiative, and esprit de Corps.
The bureaucratic theory of management, advanced by Max Weber, is the other classical management approach. An organization according to Weber is a form of social relationship with regulations that must be enforced. The top management, consisting of a few individuals, makes decisions and issues functions for the lower-ranking individuals in a manner similar to the military. As such, rules form the basis of the organization and not the people within it. With rules comes consistent authority for which Weber identified three types; charismatic leadership hinged on personal traits, traditional authority similar to monarchical rule, and legal-rational authority involving standardization of work processes. Some of the most common features of this theory include fixed division of labor and specialization, a hierarchical system, rational-legal authority, existence of rules governing performance, and selection of personnel based on personnel.
From the classical approaches to management theory, the focus in the 20th and 21st centuries has shifted to neoclassical theories of management. This was largely championed by the Hawthorne experiments, which focused on individual and group behaviors and its impact on employee productivity. The studies led to the conclusion that the human element is a crucial factor in the workplace. Subsequent studies and development on the foundation of the Hawthorne experiments included the human relation movement whose focus was on the interpersonal and social relations among individuals in an organization. This included studies from theorists, such as Abraham Maslow, Frederick Herzberg, and Keth Davis among others who formed the human relations movement.
Both the classical and neoclassical approaches have been instrumental in the development of the management theory. The former is centered on jobs and machines in which people are governed by strict rules. Discipline and obedience to these rules is essential to the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization. The content is scientific, administrative, and bureaucratic management. The neoclassical theory of management on the other hand has made significant contributions to the understanding of human behavior and its influence on productivity in the workplace. Theorists in this category as pioneered by the researchers in the Hawthorne experiments contributed in the changing the view of employees as mere tools but as essential resources for an organization. Theorists from both approaches undeniably expanded the perspectives of management by producing different techniques applicable in the contemporary world. Although more focus is placed on the neoclassical approaches, the classical approach cannot be totally disregarded as it laid the foundation for subsequent management theories and thoughts.
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- Ferdous, J., (2016). Organization Theories: From Classical Perspectives. International Journal of Business, Economics and Law, 9(2).
- Sarker, S. I. & Khan, M. R. A., (2013). Classical and Neoclassical Approaches of Management: An Overview. IOSR Journal of Business and Management, 14(6), pp. 01-05.