With his work General and Industrial Management (1949, in French 1916) Henri Fayol was a pioneer on the field of management theory. (Pryor & Taneja, 2010) Many more were to follow, some supporting Fayol’s thoughts and some, i.e. Henry Mintzberg in The Nature of Managerial Work (1973) saying that Fayol’s views are not holding true today. This essay will take a closer look at strengths and weaknesses of both Fayol and Mintzberg and conclude that Fayol’s work still is not only relevant to our contemporary understanding of management but also superior to Mintzberg in terms of its conceptualization and applicability to modern organizations.
Description of Fayol’s work
According to Fayol (1949) all industrial organisations consist of six different groups of activities: technical, commercial, financial, security, accounting and management. As he was a manager himself, or in other words an administrator, he devoted his work to the latter activity, management.
Fayol identified five key functions or “elements” of managerial work, which is regarded as the classical theory and often referred to as the “management process” (Dessler, 1985, p. 4): (1) Planning and forecasting: examining the future and laying out the actions to be taken (2) Organising: laying out lines of authority and responsibility. (3) Co-ordinating: laying out timing and sequencing of activities; binding and harmonising all.
(4) Commanding: putting the plan into action (5) Controlling: monitoring and adjusting; ensuring conformity with rules. (Fells, 2000) Moreover he came up with a list of 14 principles of management, including such features as authority, unity of command, remuneration, centralisation and so on. (Fayol, 1949) Of course such principles could be found in organisations before Fayol, but it was the first time they were laid out in such a conceptual manner. (Brooks, 2009) Fayol himself stressed that the number of principles was non-exhaustive. (Fells, 2000)
Today his list surely would include modern phenomena like teamwork, tendency to flatter hierarchies or flexible working hours. (Brooks, 2009) The fact that, back in 1916, Fayol did not know about such phenomena could cut down on his work’s relevance today. However in Page 1 of 6
Fayol or Mintzberg – Who is right?
Description of Mintzberg’s work and it’s relation to Fayol Over half a century after Fayol’s first publication, however, Henry Mintzberg dismissed his findings about the management process as “folklore” (Mintzberg, 1973). He thinks that management is not about functions, but about what managers
do. (Lamond, 2004) For his study Mintzberg was observing five executives at work. (Mintzberg, 1975) And based on this research he identified three sequential managerial roles, briefly described as follows: (1) Interpersonal Role: The manager connects with his subordinates and other departments. Accordingly he is a figurehead, a leader and deals with liaison inside as well as outside.
(2) Informational Role: He then scans for and monitors internal and external information in order to act as a “spokesperson” for the group. (3) Decisional Role: The so gathered “quality information” enables him to make decisions, set objectives and distribute resources. The manager also comprises features such as an entrepreneur, a disturbance handler and negotiator. (Brooks, 2009 and Fells, 2000)
In contrast to Fayol he found that managers actually spend “very little time on solitary tasks” (Brooks, 2009, p. 161) but had to deal with constant interruptions in the form of calls or mails from morning to night. In his own study he observed that half the activities performed lasted less than nine minutes and only ten per cent exceeded one hour. (Mintzberg, 1975) On these grounds he suggests that a manager is “simply responding to the pressures of his job”. (Mintzberg, 1975, p. 225)
As noted in Fells (2000) those activites do not fit comfortably into Fayol’s principles of planning, co-ordinating and so on.
Analysis of Strengths and Weaknesses of both
Mintzberg (1975) states, that the effectiveness of a manger is highly dependent on his insights into his work. Thus a manager’s performance is influenced by his understanding and responding to the ‘pressures’ of the job. Pryor and Taneja (2010), however, argue that if Fayol’s principles of management are properly implemented, they are leading to organisational effectiveness and efficiency.
According to Mintzberg (1975) when you spend a day in a manager’s office you will find Fayol’s classical view doubtful. However, if we instead suppose that Fayol’s work is rather a theory of management functions than what an individual manager does, then it has never been denied by the later literature. (Fells, 2000)
Furthermore it shows that critics do not really have a valid point in saying Fayol’s work is very or even too idealistic. It was not meant to show what managers actually do in the first place. It is about the function management has within an organization. (Pryor & Taneja, 2010) Mintzberg’s study is built on an empirical research as he was observing five executive managers and what they really spend their time on. (Mintzberg, 1973) There are anyhow two points one can hold against him:
First, Mintzberg’s study participants were, as mentioned, executive managers. It therefore can be argued that a study among all kinds of managers, i.e. executive, middle and first -line managers could draw another picture of what managers in general are actually doing. As mentioned in Fells (2000) in fact such studies were conducted, i.e. Kotter (1982) or Luthans et al. (1985). Luthans et al. were observing 52 managers of different levels within a corporate hierarchy. And according to Fells (2000) they found that traditional management roles were observed frequently, especially, and that is striking among more successful senior managers.
And secondly Fayol was everything but a theorist; he had over 30 years of experience leading a French mining company. Therefore one cannot really say that his ideas came out of the blue, especially in a time where only little research about management processes has already been published. And it was Fayol himself who said his list of management principles is nonexhaustive and should be adapted flexibly to a company’s individual situation. (Pryor & Taneja, 2010) He was just listing “some of the principles of management which I have most frequently had to apply.” (Fayol, 1949, p. 19)
It could be argued that Fayol’s classical theory is superior to that of Mintzberg in terms of its relevance today. Pryor and Taneja (2010) suggest that a lot of his work has found its way into contemporary management theory in order to describe what today’s managers “should do to be effective and efficient.” (Pryor & Taneja, 2010, p. 497)
And Lamond (2004) believes that Mintzberg has unkownigly made “an attempt to elaborate the roles in which managers (…) engage when carrying out their managerial functions.” (Lamond, 2004, p. 334). In fact, with his managerial roles Mintzberg (1975) has tried to make a connection between mangagerial functions as found by Fayol (1949) and the mangerial behaviour he observed himself. Fells (2000) therefore suggests that technically Mintzberg has confirmed Fayol’s theory, unlike he said he does.
Furthermore Lamond (2004) says that Mintzberg defines management as what the group of individuals called ‘managers’ do and defines managers (rather loosely) in turn. His studies therefore do not include a theoretical basis but definitions based on observations only. Moreover Pryor and Taneja (2010) noted that Archer (1990) was promoting Fayol’s principles.
Archer observed that from the 1930’s to 60’s when Fayol’s work was seen as a blueprint of good management, the productivity and living standards in America were increased. Furthermore he notes that much of the Japanese work style, i.e. just in time production, quality circles or lower level decision making, reflect techniques that were firstly introduced by Fayol. Pryor and Taneja (2010) therefore believe that Fayol’s principles are still relevant to an organization’s effectiveness.
The evidence suggests that it is safe to say that Fayol equals effective management. Mintzberg, however, does not describe an entirely effective management style. The executives he observed were constantly “jumping from issue to issue, continually responding to the needs of the moment.” (Mintzberg, 1975, p. 225) So whereas Fayol draws are a rather proactive image of a manager, those Mintzberg observed seem to be highly reactive. It can be argued that if those managers would have delegated their work appropriately they surely would have had the time to develop more effective processes and procedures. Of course they all had their good reasons for not delegating their work.
They play a key role in gathering external information and passing it on to their subordinates. “Today’s gossip may be tomorrow’s fact.” (Mintzberg, 1975, p. 228) And therefore they favor the verbal media as it is faster than (sometimes ‘burdening’) mails or other written media. And as most of the company’s strategic data is stored in the mind of its manager’s and not on a computer, it just would take them too long to tell someone else everything he needs to know in order to perform a certain assignment. Consequently the manager is doing too much himself. (Mintzberg, 1975)
The latter phenomenon Mintzberg himself describes as the “dilemma of delegation” (Mintzberg, 1975, p. 229). So while there may be good reasons for the managers to act as they do, it still is not the most effective way of managing one can think of – as Archer (1990) has shown above, e.g. with his findings about the Japanese work style. But in order to qualify the argument: Most of the contemporary management literature does not see those weak points in Mintzberg’s study and generally accept his model. (Fells, 2000)
However the acceptance of his model does not mean necessarily that one has to reject Fayol’s theory in turn like Mintzberg did. As Wren (1994) notes, Fayol’s and Mintzberg’s findings are two different rather than competing views onto management. The bottom line is that in fact both are right and represent “two sides of the same coin” (Lamond, 2004, p. 350): Fayol is about how we wish management to be and Mintzberg about what managers actually do.
Fayol delivers a more conceptualized description about the management process. (Lamond, 2004) This author thinks that Fayol provides kind of a directive for good and efficient management and indeed, Wren (1994, p. 193) regards his principles as “lighthouses to managerial action”.
And while Mintzberg also provides a fair insight into the area of contemporary management, he still misses the point about effectiveness. That makes Fayol somewhat superior in terms of applicability and, of course, relevance.
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