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Is the Classical Approach to Management Obsolete? Essay

This essay argues the validity of the classical approach to management today. We cannot deny that businesses and organisations have evolved and changed a lot since the classical theorists, which date from the early twentieth century, but yet the main ideas about management that they gave to society are still sustainable today. The classical organisation theory represents the merger of scientific management, bureaucratic theory, and administrative theory. (Walonick,1993). Classical theorists suggested a “one best way” to organise and manage, which is called “structural universalism” (Organisational Behaviour). These theorists were really concerned about the formal processes inside the business, they put emphasis on rationality and on the lack of consideration for human aspects. This doesn’t mean that the classics were heartless, but they cared more about the organisation as a whole than on the employers themselves. (Boland, 2012).

By classical theorists in this essay we are going to base in one of the most significant representatives, Henri Fayol, who stated that there were five main elements of management: planning, organising, commanding, coordinating and controlling (Fayol, 1949). Thus, these functions are commonly known as the elements or processes that the classical theorists say that management is about. Another classical perspective useful in this essay would be the Taylor’s one, who can be defined as the father of the scientific management (F.W. Taylor, 1917), which was about finding the one “best way” to perform each task, carefully matching each worker to each task, closely supervise workers, using reward and punishment as motivators, and, finally, he referred to the task of management as planning and controlling.

Even though this classical perspective has been very criticised by many authors (Mintzberg, Kotter, Stewart, etc.), the reasons that they have given to invalidate that classical perspective aren’t really coherent because they don’t certainly provide a different idea of how to manage or how do the managers act. It is true that in his article (Mintzberg, 1975), Mintzberg categorises managerial activities into three different groups –interpersonal, informational and decisional- but at the end he doesn’t really contradicts what Fayol said. In fact, as M.J. Fells argued in his article (Fayol stands the test of time) Mintzberg “tends to confirm rather than deny the classical views.”

Therefore, having explained the classics’ and the contemporaneous’ views of management, we can confirm that the real and basic statements are the ones given by the first ones. Furthermore, if this idea doesn’t really convince the reader, Fayol said that there was no limit on the number of management principles and that they should be flexible and adaptable to any need (Fells, 2000), so that makes his definition even more general and suitable as time goes by.

Thus, to sum up and in accordance to everything explained above, the reflexion made by Fells in his article “Fayol stands the test of life” fits quite well to conclude this essay:

“Fayol’s principles may indeed be relevant today and should not be ignored until they have been superseded or refuted”

So as they haven’t actually been superseded nor even refuted we can continue trusting them.


Boland, A. (2012, October). Introduction to Management and Organisations. Lecture 3 – The classical theorists.

Brooks, I., (2009), Organisational Behaviour – Individuals, Groups and the Organisation 4th Edition. London, FT Prentice-Hall.

Fayol, H, (1949) General and industrial management. (C. Storrs, Trans,), London, England: Pitman

Fells, M.J (2000). Fayol stands the test of time, Journal of Management History, vol. 6, No.8, pp. 345-360

Mintzberg, H. (1975). The Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact. Harvard Business Review , pp. 49-61.

Taylor, F. W. 1917. The Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Harper.

Walonick, D.S., (1993), Organizational Theory and Behaviour.

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