Classical Management Theory

Category: Bureaucracy, Motivation
Last Updated: 16 Jun 2020
Pages: 5 Views: 308

Classical management theory, for all it’s rationality and potential to improve efficiency, dehumanised the practice of management (Inkson & Kolb, 2001). Choosing either bureaucracy or scientific management, discuss this quote and argue whether modern business’ continues to dehumanise. People’s conception of the nature of work and the social relationships between individuals in various levels in organizations changed, brought by the industrial revolution of the late 1800s. Classical management believed in work specialization.

That is, that work should be organized and divided according to one’s specific individual skill. There are three subfields of management, each with a slightly different emphasis: scientific management, bureaucratic organisations and administrative principles (Wrege & Stoka, 1978). Using scientific management, we will explore the ways it dehumanised the practice of management. Firstly, by discussing it’s systematic approach that was designed by Frederick Taylor, to solely improve productivity by reducing the amount of time and effort needed in solving a task.

Secondly, by exploring how human needs and considerations were given little or no regard. Then lastly, how the human relations movement was formed and the ways it ‘humanised’ the practice of management to become what modern management is today. Scientific management was a systematic approach that was designed by Frederick Taylor, one of the original advocates of scientific management, to solely improve productivity by introducing a machine-like structure that reduced the amount of time and effort needed. His philosophy is encapsulated in his statement, “In the past the man has been first.

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In the future, the system must be first” (Wren, 1979). This job redesign was at the heart of the scientific management movement, and efforts to simplify job design reached its peak in the assembly-line production techniques that became popular in the early 1900s. It formed the basis for what became known as the scientific management movement, and had the following characteristics; Machine pacing – this was when the production rate was determined by the speed of the conveyor belt, not by the workers themselves. Task repetitiveness – tasks were performed over and over during a single work shift.

On auto assembly lines, for example, typical work cycles (that is, times allowed for completion of an entire piece of work) ranged from thirty seconds to one and a half minutes. This means a worker performed the same task up to 500 times a day. Next were low skill requirements – jobs could be easily learnt and workers were easily replaced. Task specialization – each job consisted of only a few operations. Limited social interaction was also a factor – due to the speed of the assembly line, noise and physical separation.

Finally, tools and techniques specified – selected tools and techniques were assigned by staff specialists (usually industrial engineers) to maximize efficiency. As you can see, organisations had machine-like structures, which increased a workers speed and expertise in one specialised area. It also reduced the amount of time spent on a task and the effort of teaching them a range of skills, which in turn helped the business achieve organizational productivity and efficiency. But buy doing so; management lost its human side.

Human needs and considerations of its workers were given little or no regard. Therefore Taylor felt the worker was, essentially, just part of a huge line of processes. Although the techniques led to an increase in output as well an increase in efficiency, problems with this new form of management began to arise. Firstly, it became increasingly apparent that factors other than money had motivating potential for workers to increase output and efficiency. Second, managers became aware that many employees would work consistently without the need for close supervision and control.

Lastly, some managers attempted job simplification techniques without having the need to increase pay when there was an increase in output. It’s failure to deal with the social context and workers’ needs led to increased conflict between managers and employees (Samson & Daft, 2009), as wages fell behind productivity and as increased efficiency lead to cuts in the number of workers. Job fractionation lead to unauthorized breaks, as people did not like their jobs. Workers reacted by refusing to co-operate, and unionization efforts and sabotage also became more common during this period.

Over time, concern for improving worker’s attitudes arose and by the 1930s, behavioural scientists began looking at ways to make employees happier on the job. As we have just discussed, the benefits that arose from scientific management seemed outweighed by the multiple drawbacks we have just highlighted, relating the human needs and considerations of workers. Thus, the idea based on rationality and technique almost seemed to “dehumanise the practice of management”, through this statement Inkson & Kolb (2001) understood. This emphasis on the human factor in employee performance became known as the human relations movement.

Management now realized that people wanted to feel useful and important at work. Attention moved away from scientific measurement of fractionation towards a better understanding of the nature of interpersonal and group relations on the job. Motivation had taken a shift from the piece-rate approach to having a stronger social emphasis. “Hardly a competent workman can be found who does not devote a considerable amount of time to studying just how slowly he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace” (Taplin, 2006).

This quote reflects the previous generally accepted mentality of the average worker, in that their sole motivation was money - the human relations movement changed all of this. Workers wanted to be recognized as individuals and it was concluded that it was failure to treat employees as human beings was largely responsible for poor performance, low morale, high job turnover, absenteeism, among other problems. Because of these problems, an effort was made by managers to make employees feel important and involved.

Morale surveys, for instance, became popular as an indicator within organizations, as well as departmental meetings and company newspapers. Supervisory training programmes were initiated to train managers in group dynamics. These were all attempts to help employees feel involved and important to the organisation. As you can see, scientific management, in all it’s rationality, had ultimately dehumanised the practice of management to the point where scientific research was undertaken to better understand the worker and recognize them as individuals.

From a modern point of view, the advent of human relations has dramatically changed management techniques today. Although it is constantly changing, two aspects from traditional theories of motivation continue. Firstly, the basic goal of management remained employee compliance with managerial authority. The major differences were the strategies for accomplishing this. Second, nothing has changed in regards to the nature of the job itself. Instead, nterpersonal strategies in the workplace were introduced in an effort to make employees more satisfied and ultimately more productive (Youngblood, 2000). For instance, seminars to improve management and group dynamics were given by businesses to their managers, but their job is still the same. That said, such efforts are aimed at better understanding of human relations in the workplace, to improve employee morale and to recognize workers as individuals and the statement that ‘modern business’ continue to dehumanise’ can no longer be justified.

We have discussed the quote “Classical management theory, for all it’s rationality and potential to improve efficiency, dehumanised the practice of management” (Inkson & Kolb, 2001)” and explored the philosophy of scientific management, which was an idea based on rationality and technique. It “dehumanised the practice of management” through a number of ways which we have explored in this essay. First, through it’s systematic approach designed by Frederick Taylor to solely improve productivity by reducing the amount of time and effort needed in solving a task.

Second, by having little or no consideration for the needs of workers - they were merely part of a machine. Although two traditional theories forming the basis of management remain, the human relations movement has greatly impacted management techniques and it’s entire philosophy. From a once fractionised system it has shifted to having a large social emphasis, forming what modern management is today. Therefore, scientific management without a doubt dehumanised the practice of management and the argument that ‘modern business’ continue to dehumanise’ can no longer be supported.

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Classical Management Theory. (2017, Apr 04). Retrieved from

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