History of Management

The essentials

Taylor's contribution to management theory

Frederick Taylor was among the first people to discuss and record the ideas of management theory.

Taylor's view on management is a classical and mechanistic one. He believed that workers should be seen as "cogs in a machine" that needed to be told what to do and exactly how to do it. He also believed that management should direct the workers to perform a specific task based on their current skills and physical abilities without any expectation of the workers to be flexible by acquiring new skills. In other words, Taylor did not expect workers to become multiskilled.

Taylor also discussed issues of co-operation with workers to ensure best method. In general, only one best method was given for everything. In other words, the manager would set a standard and taught people to do things in the best 'most productive' way and he expected everyone to achieve that standard.

Car-assembly plants and MacDonalds are two examples of this management style. However, people object to this mechanistic approach to management because workers did not like being told what to do and how things should be done. If they keep being told what to do, they would eventually feel like uncreative robots.

Also the profits tended to go to management; and there was little opportunity for workers to see the big picture.

Gantt's contribution to management theory

Henry Gantt's viewpoint on management is the idea that management has social responsibilities and that to get people to work to a standard you must provide a pay-incentive scheme. But he still firmly believed in Taylor's view of looking for the one best way of doing things.

Fayol's contribution to management theory

Henri Fayol, a Frenchman of management theory, developed the idea that management skills could be learned by the workers. There are five management functions and 14 principles of management theory.

Unfortunately, Fayol believed that the higher you go in the organisation, the more management skills you need and the less expertise required. The reverse is thought to be true for the workers at the bottom of the pyramid.

Weber's contribution to management theory

Max Weber is the ideal bureaucracy management style with hierarchy in jobs, with career advancements possible so long as you obey the orders of management. The bureaucracy approach:

  • Emphasises scientific approach
  • Encourages studies to improve work
  • Identifies principles to run organisations
  • Emphasises pay as a motivating factor.

The Department of Defence is a classic example of this management style. However, the problem with this approach is that it is inflexible and makes people feel like they are just part of a giant machine. It doesn't allow people to be creative and so have the freedom to show their own better way of doing things. This system is purely designed for productivity, not flexibility and creativity.

Similarly, the pay should not be the important thing. People need some money to survive, but there are equally if not more important things people need in life like enjoying their work, and being able to contribute in their own creative way.

Follett's contribution to management theory

Mary Parker Follett's viewpoint on management theory emphasises the importance of group interaction, power is shared between management and workers, conflict resolution reached through joint efforts, and the organisation is seen as a whole. Being a woman, she brings R-brain skills into a L-brain male-dominated management system.

In general, the aim here is for greater communication, informal work groups, participation and so on as a way of influencing people in a more subtle way to work at their own best way instead of forcing people to "do things in a certain way or else" approach.

McGregor's contribution to management theory

Douglas McGregor's contribution to management theory is to simplify all management styles into two main types known as Theory X and Theory Y.

McGregor's approach is to categorise the management style used by managers in either the authoritarian way (Theory X) eg. McDonalds and the Department of Defence (i.e. the "mechanistic approach), or the encouraging and learning approach (Theory Y) eg. meets human needs to find satisfaction, to meet organisational goals, more participation in decision-making and so on (the "humanistic" approach).

The L- and R-brain approach to management theory

The work of Douglas McGregor shows we have come a long way. The recognition that management styles are essentially of two main types - Theory X and Theory Y - is now helping to support the very latest psychological theory of how the human brain works in terms of the L- and R-brain.

Firstly, every human being has a L-brain. This means we have the ability to break down complex patterns into simpler ones and then use linear tools like computers, mathematical models, statistical methods and so on to show which simpler patterns are the ones to use when we need to be efficient and productive in the workplace.

The L-brain is really the source of all our traditional "mechanistic" management style. It is about being authoritarian. It looks at the specific part of the job and nothing else. It is the rational approach. It is the management style started by men especially during times when people needed to survive. The L-brain emphasises the productivity side. It is the quantitative approach to life.

Secondly, every human being has a R-brain. This is the ability to do the opposite of what the L-brain does as a way of balancing everything we do.

The R-brain is the cooperative and creative approach to doing things; it is about working together or doing things on one's own knowing that it will help many people. It looks at the big picture and nothing else. It is the humanistic approach. It emphasises the people side and the qualitative approach to life. Women and some "creative" men who have thought extensively about management theory have applied this R-brain idea.

The latest contribution to management theory

The aim of management experts as we speak is to simplify all the management ideas discussed over the past 200 years, to reinvent the ideas of work, and to introduce a more humanistic (in turns of understanding relationships between people) approach to management to help balance the traditional "mechanistic" (looking at the bottom-line) approach used in many organisations today.

To help introduce this humanistic approach, management experts are finding creative ways of getting people to develop goals as a motivating factor, and in trying to break out of the "boxes" associated with traditional and "mechanistic" management styles in order to avoid hierarchies and their negative attributes.

Management experts are also recognising the fact that people are not always motivated by money. People are also affected by social and psychological factors. This means that giving more money to people will not necessarily improve productivity. It will only work up to a point then afterwards people will try to save time by finding better ways to do the same amount of work. Once people find ways to save time through their own creativity, they would prefer to enjoy more family life, relaxation activities and achieving something else for society in their own way.

The future of management

So where is management theory heading at the moment? Well, there shouldn't be too many surprises here. The aim is essentially to apply what is missing in the work we do for organisations today. And that means:

  • treating people like human beings;
  • acknowledging and appreciating the differences in everyone;
  • looking at the positive aspects of our differences and how we can apply them to achieve common goals;
  • not locking people in a kind of psychological prison of specialising in only one area throughout their working lives; and
  • giving people the time and support they need to achieve whatever they have to do in order to properly solve all economic, social and environmental problems set before us.

Among the experts who are spearheading this view of management for the future include Theodore Zeldin.

The view on management according to Zeldin

Zeldin is a highly respected Oxford scholar, historian and philosopher with more than 40 years of experience. Despite his age being in his seventies, he is still sought by many top companies around the world for his advice.

The scholar has spent a lot of those 40 years looking back at the history of humanity and gathering some incredible insights into our past. Now he has spent several years looking forward, imagining what may happen to us in various parts of our lives. It is in the idea of work where he is now providing important contributions to management theory for the future thanks to his new book titled, An Intimate History of Humanity.

Does Zeldin believe there is something missing in our lives and that we will be changing the way we approach work? Yes, he does. According to an interview with reporter Helen Trinca for The Australian Financial Review, Zeldin said:

"I think work is the process by which many different talents are brought together for mutual benefit. Recent [11 September 2001] events have shown there are obstacles to people appreciating different civilisations and therefore being able to work together and feeling in some cases exploited by inequalities. So the present time is a very good incitement to reconsider what is missing from the world and what we can do about it." (1)

What does Zeldin believe is missing?

He believes the work people do must allow them to expand their imagination, in applying all their positive differences, in letting people apply what they are good at and then letting them be more than what they are through self-development and through contacts with other people. As Zeldin describes it:

"...to gradually change the idea of work from something that we have to do to survive to something that we have to do to become better people." (2)

And that means companies have to be prepared to change as the people change for the better. As Zeldin said: "...corporations have to be not just flexible, but elastic." If companies cannot grow with the individual to change, they cannot be expected to apply the full potential of the individual.

But the overriding factor missing in work today appears to be our imagination. As Zeldin said:

"Work is something that shapes such a large part of our lives and in many ways limits the imagination by focusing on certain aspects of life. It makes one realise that the educational system which precedes work and fits us into work is a 19th-20th century one which focuses on creating specialists. [Yet] the new idea of work is the person who is able to use more talents and be able to bring other talents together and stimulate creativity and new synergies and overcome the barriers of the old specialisation system." (3)

Why are people restricted from applying their imagination? Zeldin says it is because no time is given for people to think about things properly, and how so much emphasis has been placed by businesspeople in providing only a narrow range of quick-fix solutions. As Zeldin explained:

"My historical background gives me a longer perspective. Business people think the only thing is now...I am very impressed by the quality of these people but they have no time to think.

'...There is something repetitive about the solutions they [consultants and other business people] offer, something too narrow about it, and this is because they are required to give a quick fix to a company's problems." (4)

What is really stopping us from reaching our full potential?

But there is a deeper reason for all of this limited time to think as well as doing things in a here-and-now moment by focussing on limited quick-fix solutions. It concerns a serious worldwide business problem regarding the issue of profit. In fact, it is the high-profit mentality of today's businesspeople which is believed to be stopping people from reaching their full creative potential for society.

Businesses today are no longer in the business of making a reasonable profit to guarantee survival and then making sure everyone else has what they need before moving on to higher targets. Survival seems to be now based on reaching extreme targets in profit-making at the expense of people's imaginations and happiness in order to satisfy the greediness of shareholders and for those in a position of power to have what they want and not just what they need.

Until this attitude on extreme profit, having anything we want, and in forcing other people in survival-mode to work long hours and so help achieve those selfish goals is changed, it is unlikely individuals will be able to avoid the "imagination-drain" problem or for organisations to overcome their fear of adopting the new management theory of the future as Zeldin and others would like to see.

As Zeldin sees it:

"There's not only the innate human reluctance to change [to something better and more stable], which is profound, but the fact that companies are governed by people concerned about their pensions who want to minimise risk." (5)

So how do we deal with this attitude? The only way we can get around the "Will I survive extremely comfortably in my retirement?" through this high-profit mentality is to start refocussing on people and the environment, rather than purely on our greed and the bottom-line of business.

Because while it is possible to have all the money in the world, we cannot be guaranteed our survival if we do not treat people as human beings with needs that must be met and who need the help of everyone else.