Management Thoeries

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Classical, Human Relations, Systems, Contingency, Marxist Labour Process Theories

Classical, Human Relations, Systems, Contingency, Marxist Labour Process Theories


Management means different things to different people in different circumstances and at different times. For practising managers rather than academics and linguists it is also a seriously misleading question, as it assumes that there is one right definition of management and consequently one right way of being an effective and competent manager. The real challenge for you is to develop an understanding of the different ways in which management is defined, perceived and practised and to be able to draw on those different and even contradictory ideas to help you adjust your practice to be effective in different contexts and situations.

Classical management theory

Henri Fayol (1841-1925) is often described as the 'father' of modern management. He had been managing director of a large French mining company, and was concerned with efficiency at an organisational level rather than at the level of the task. Drawing on his experience of what worked well in an organisation, he developed a general theory of business administration (Thompson & McHugh 2009, 13-26). Current management organisation and structure can find much of its roots from the classical management theory. One of the main advantages of the classical management theory was to devise a methodology for how management should operate. Management principles devised during this period can be seen as a foundation for current management behavior today, such as serving as a force of authority and responsibility.

In addition, another benefit of the classical management theory is the focus on division of labour. By dividing labour, tasks could be completed more quickly and efficiently, thus allowing productivity to increase Handel 2003, 14-56).

Theory application

British Motor Works managers would use assembly line methods and project management theories that focused on efficient division of tasks. However, employers ignored the relational aspect in employees, in the process of trying to predict and control human behavior. In fact, the human relations movement arose in response to the classical management theory, as a way to understand the role of human motivation in productivity.

Human relations approach (Follett and Likert)

In contrast to Fayol and Urwick, Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) eschewed the scientific-cum-technical approach to management, emphasising instead the importance of manager-worker relations and the need to view management (and leadership) more holistically (Buchanan & Huczynski 2010, 10-25).. Like Urwick, she was an early management consultant and organisation theorist. She also wrote on creativity; the best-known quote from her work is 'management is the art of getting things done through other people' (Follett, 1918). Note that she identifies management as an art - not a science. This sits at the heart of her thinking about management and her strong belief that the key task of management is to facilitate cooperation and the involvement of staff in decision making (Braverman 1974, 20-49).

Her contribution to modern day thinking about management and employer- employee relations is becoming more widely known, thanks in part to the work of the Mary Parker Follett ...
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