The classical school of thought, established in the late nineteenth century, was composed of the writers who first contributed to organisational theory. Over the last one hundred years, the perception on management has evolved significantly. However many of the original views devised by the classical theorists are still evident. The theories formulated by Henri Fayol, Max Weber and Frederick W Taylor focus predominantly on efficiency, leading to a rational perspective on management and organisations. This essay will discuss the opinions portrayed by these writers and demonstrate that their approach remains relevant today.
Henri Fayol suggested management should be classified as a separate activity in business. Within this managerial class he composed five primary objectives that managers should follow and adhere to. These were to plan and forecast, organise, command, co-ordinate and control. He also determined fourteen principles of management, which included specialisation, authority and unity of command. Fayol’s approach seemed very logical and rational, regarding management as a science – something that could be taught. He believed his principles could be educated to managers and as a result, encourage them to manage more efficiently.
Fayol was a lucrative businessperson and his research was based upon this success. This led others to believe his findings were more plausible. Fayol’s work could be deemed as being too idealistic and to a certain extent some of his principles could be classed as being rather old-fashioned. Much of his work is based upon the assumption of compliant labour, however in this modern century employees are not always happy to oblige to new procedures or regulations. On the other hand, his identification of distinct managerial activities is still able to influence modern day managers.
His principles can be commonly found in twenty first century organisations. The specialisation of labour sees large corporations broken down into smaller departments such as marketing, finance and human relations whilst remuneration of personnel sees workers being rewarded in the form of wages and bonuses for their efforts. Although Fayol’s observations were derived from an economy dissimilar to our present one, his efforts very much provide the basic building blocks to the more modern and dynamic style of management.
Max Weber was concerned with the structure of authority and identified three sources. Firstly, charismatic authority, often indicated by politicians, is when a person is able to persuade others through their personality. Secondly traditional authority, when authority is passed on from one generation to the next, is frequently seen in monarchies and family run firms. Thirdly rational-legal authority, when an individual has power through the position they hold due to experience or ability. It is the last example, Rational-legal, which is the main form of authority in modern society.
Weber is responsible for introducing the term “bureaucracy”, a type of organisational structure, which has been developed from the principles of rational-legal authority. Although a bureaucratic organisation repels the use of charismatic authority and has a definitive hierarchical structure, there tends to be a high level of efficiency because workers are normally following a designated set of tasks whilst adhering to set rules.
This can particularly be seen in large fast food chains e. g. McDonald’s and Burger King, whereby employees have different roles within the organisation which contributes towards a sustained level of efficiency and productively. Work is centred on achieving goals instead of the need to innovate and be creative. Other examples are government organisations, the military or large monopolistic companies such as royal mail, which all focus greatly on specialisation and efficiency. Weber’s approach to management is shown in today’s police force, which has a definitive authority structure and is effective at delivering a productive service to society.
Frederick W Taylor developed ideas on scientific management. He conducted numerous experiments on activities such as shovelling and bricklaying, in order to maximise efficiency and productivity throughout the workplace. He achieved this by simplifying procedures and enhancing specific variables in order to ascertain an optimum level. Taylor’s efforts are evident within the Bethlehem Steel works, where productivity was increased by four hundred per cent. There is a great degree of controversy surrounding Taylor’s theories, the main criticism being his dehumanising approach.
Workers are often likened to resources, a lack of regard is experienced towards their feelings and the opportunity for individuality is limited. However, his findings do lead to efficient production levels and wages are distributed accordingly to performance levels. The quotation “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”, often expressed by Taylor, is limited in modern times due to the introduction of a minimum wage. However, remuneration is achieved in the form of bonuses. There is a lot of evidence of Taylorism being used by a wide variety of industries in the twenty first century.
The McDonald’s franchise is a modern example of a corporation who operates using scientific management. The roles and tasks to be undertaken are made clear to staff and the process of ordering and supplying a good to the consumer remains the same in every single outlet. The service provided by the staff, outlet and ultimately brand, remains consistent. Taylor’s theories have also been closely linked to Henry Ford and in modern automobile production plants, as well as call centres, fast food chains and countless other mass-produced goods such as computers Although the classical school were dominant in a previous century, much of their work is still evident in contemporary management styles; in particular Henri Fayol’s and Frederick Taylor’s.
The ideas put forward by the classical theorists were in effect, a set of rules on how to manage. There is little room for flexibility, which is not the case in this modern economy – which is very dynamic. Companies are focused on globalisation, consumers have different desires and needs, attitudes towards careers have changed and technological advancements have led to people being replaced by machines to complete simple or tedious tasks.
With that being said, the classical school has a huge influence on the way managers behave in today’s society. Fayol’s five managerial objectives are repeated throughout the office and the scientific approach is frequently seen by planning tasks and assigning them to individuals who are most appropriate for them. The classical approach has provided a fundamental basis for management, not only in the past and present but also for the future.
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