Classical approaches


Robbins, Chapter 2

Bartol, Chapter 2

Fulop, Chapters 2 and 7


If you've been down at the co op bookshop lately you might have noticed when browsing the management texts one or two interesting titles. For example, Winnie the Pooh on Management or the Star Trek analysis - I know it's not called Live long and prosper but it's certainly something like that!

Being an X-Files fan myself, I've sometimes thought that if I wrote a management text I might call it Mulder on Management: The Truth is Out There! and indeed, that would be exactly how classical theorists viewed management.

They believed that management was a rational, reflective and well planned activity. From last week's lecture you have already found out that the reality is totally different, with turbulence, activity and uncertainty playing a much larger role than the classical theorists ever imagined.

What do we mean by `classical'?

A variety of definitions of the word `classical' exist some of which imply that classical approaches are restrained and simple, conforming to established taste of critical standards or adhering to traditional forms.

In a management sense, classical theorists tried to develop universal principles or models that would apply in all circumstances - in other words, they saw that the truth was out there. They searched for general rules or models which answered all questions as to how organisations worked and how managers should managed.

Essentially they were looking for the one best way which they believed could only be exposed by the use of rational methods.

Two different schools of thought followed this approach - scientific management and administrative management.

The first was concerned with how work was actually done at the shop floor level, the second with establishing general principles of management

Scientific management

Scientific management:

* was an attempt to apply the principles of science and engineering to work practices for the purpose of increasing productivity and management control

* emerged as a movement in Europe and the USA during the period 1880-1920

* relied on increased mechanism to allow for work to be subdivided into highly specialised, routine tasks

* work methods thus became driven by the concept of division of labour.

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1917)

Frederick Winslow Taylor (1956-1917):

* saw the principal object of management as securing `the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity of each employee'

* stressed the mutual interdependence of management and workers

* suggested 3 causes for conflict:

* the erroneous belief of workers that any increase in output would inevitably result in unemployment

* defective management systems leading to soldiering and

* inefficient, effort wasting methods of work (viz rule of thumb)

Taylor viewed the aim of scientific management as overcoming these obstacles through a systematic study of work to discover the most efficient methods of doing the job, and then a systematic study of management leading to the most efficient methods of controlling the workers.

To achieve this, Taylor outlined four `great underlying principles of management which were:

1. The development of a true science of work

2. The scientific selection and progressive development of the workman

3. The bringing together of the science of work and the scientifically selected and trained men and finally

4. The constant and intimate co operation of management and men.

Underlying these four principles of scientific management is the assumption of economic man - that is, that motivation and control are achieved through the promise of a larger share of the economic rewards. Man was assumed to be an economic unit, motivated by personal interest and striving for, and capable of being satisfied by economic gain alone.

Taylor's methods have been followed by many others, among them Gantt, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, Bedaux, Rowan and Halsey.

Contemporary reactions

The beliefs of Taylor and his followers led to bitter controversy even during his lifetime over the alleged inhumanity of his system. which was said to reduce men to the level of efficiently running machines.

Regular battles between Taylor and his workers when he became a gang boss led to planned breakdowns in the the factories. He was called `speedy' Taylor and was, by many accounts, resented by the workers.

The legacies of Taylor and his followers include:

* task planning of work (eg GANTT charts)

* equipment design (ergonomics)

* work study

* managerial responsibility to select, train and motivate workers

* concerns for efficiency

* productivity based pay systems

* scientific selection based on merit

* development of management science.

Limitations include:

* focussed only on organising work at the lowest level of the organisation

* men were likened to machines - they worked best when well lubricated and maintained

* assumed motivation solely on the basis of financial rewards - did not conceive of the fact the people have different motivations for work and

* assumed there was one best way of designing work.

Administrative management

Henri Fayol based his general principles of management on years of experience as a practicing manager of a successful and prosperous organisation.

He outlined 14 principles (see page 44 of your text) which he believed were universal.

Gulick and Urwick were interested in the merging of public and private administration. Their basic aim was to rationalise the work process, especially by centralising functions and increasing the division of labour. Like most of their contemporaries, they were concerned with homogeneity of task and efficiency, as well as division of labour, especially separation of manual or mental labour.

They described the elements of management using the acronym POSDCORB.


* despite attempting to establish general principles there was surprisingly little agreement as to what they actually were

* the term `principles' was used differently, sometimes to refer to scientific laws with universal validity and at other times, just local rules

* Simon viewed them as `little more than ambiguous and mutually contradictory proverbs

* activities are `conditional' rather than able to be fixed in advance

* principles may not be wrong but may be inadequate beyond a basic level because:

* environmental factors were ignored

* exchanges which take place in an organisation were largely ignored

* concentrates on homogeneity and departmentalisation, ignoring departmental interaction

* formal analysis of organisations implies a static body incapable of change and

* disregards the informal organisation.


In summary:

* both approaches represent closed systems (viz they are concerned only with what happens within the organisation)

* they perceive workers as units of production who are motivated solely by money and

* they see efficiency as paramount.

Submitted by: Sharon Jones (
Fri, 01 Aug 1997 02:33:08 +0000