2.1 Classical Management Theories

The world of organizations is practical. As previously discussed, management can be regarded as a simple micro approach where the rule a + b = c is a model. The theoretical side is used to understand how specific management theories relate to learning organizations. According to Kimani, and his work on the background of organizations, we show that organizations have existed in society for many years, as found in the pre-twentieth-century works of Adam Smith[1], commonly referred to as the ‘Father of Economics.’ Understanding organizations comes from understanding management theory, and Kimani outlines four major management theories for the basis of organizations: bureaucratic theory, scientific management theory, behavioural management theory, and human relations theory. These four theories are generalized as the classical theories of managing organizations[1].

Bureaucratic Theory

When an organization is formed, it usually sets its rules based on its structure. Similar to what was discussed in chapter 1 with regard to formal and informal, mechanistic and organic organizations; one theory relates to the role of the formal and mechanistic organizations more than the others. Bureaucratic theory relates to the formal hierarchy in which many tasks are delegated to individuals and departments.  They are also held together by a central administration[1]. This theory was developed by Max Weber (1864-1920), who was a German historian and sociologist, and is regarded as the “father of bureaucracy”[4].

This theory is quite popular, and is used by a host of both private and public institutions. Kimani states that universities and other schools rely on bureaucracies to function, as the compatibility of this function is relevant in the delegation of tasks[1]. The compatibility decided upon (usually by a central command) is passed down to subordinates who carry the same compatibility to their subordinates and so on. The bureaucratic model, theoretically, has a hierarchical structure along with the specialized departments, making a clear outline for division of labour, which is the defining and break-down of work into well-defined tasks, and delegated to be manageable[1]. The idea of division of labour is a key factor in the bureaucratic theory.

Example of hierarchy in a university system
Figure 1: Example of hierarchy and division of labor in a university system. Long description.

Scientific Management Theory

In the modern world of technological advancement, it is no surprise that the push for understanding within organizations is the key to success. When looking at the sport of baseball in 2019, compared to the sport of baseball in 1999, there is a great influence of statistical probability and analytics introduced to the game, compared to a decade earlier.  This is due to the popularity of Sabermetrics, which is the application of statistical analysis to baseball records to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players.. This idea relates to scientific management theory, developed by Fredrick Taylor.  It helps to improve an organization’s level of task completion through scientific, engineering, and mathematical analysis[1]. Much like how Sabermetrics cuts through the aesthetics of baseball and focuses on the numbers, scientific management theory cuts through the aesthetics of production and focuses on the increase of production and value.

This theory can be used in learning organizations due to its ability to be mathematically savvy to produce the best results for an institution. Colleges and universities may use statistics such as graduation rates, acceptance rates, and research tracking to develop, change or keep their current methods, in addition, the use of the statistics helps to compare against other institutions.

The scientific management theory is closely related to the definition of management discussed in chapter one. The theory can be harsh, as employees are considered more widgets than humans. However, Henri Fayol came along and developed the six roles of management. This brought in a more humanistic approach to the understanding of scientific management, allowing humans to be humans and focusing more on managing situations and using people to help in the process. The six roles of management are as follows[2]:

  1. Forecasting
  2. Planning
  3. Organizing
  4. Commanding
  5. Coordinating
  6. Controlling

Behavioral Management Theory

In the mid-twentieth-century, one theory was presented that has worked to completely remove itself from scientific theory. Behavioral management theory, also known as the social science movement, uses the concept that all approaches to the workplace should be in the best interest of both company and workers[3]. This theory was developed by Chester Barnhard, in the 1940’s, as a way for workers to be viewed as psychological and social beings[3]. Essentially, there is no separation between ‘human being’ and ‘worker’ as they are one in the same, and that, by following this concept, it would lead to success within a workplace.

The idea of behavioral management is about understanding the idea that managers should comprehend human or worker needs within an organization. Many theorists wanted to find out how the use of behavioral management theory would function within workplaces. One of the main theorists being Elton Mayo, and his groundbreaking experiment: The Hawthorne Studies, which will be discussed further in chapter ten about communication. The Hawthorne experiment essentially used special privileges, pay rewards, even company provided lunches in ways to increase employee psychological well-being, and eventually employee productivity[3].

Behavioral management theory had a great impact on learning organizations, as it provided a new view on how administrators come into learning organizations. There are two factors which are integral to the introduction of behavioral management within learning organizations, such as administrators at colleges and universities[3]:

  1. Administrators can emerge from different disciplines (i.e. business, social sciences, and the arts), not specifically from education.
  2. Along with specialized knowledge of education, administrators must have an interdisciplinary grasp of social sciences, such as economics and government.

In most education faculties, both undergraduate and graduate students develop content that is considered interdisciplinary (i.e. covering multiple branches of knowledge and understanding). This allows educational administrators the ability to take on a more holistic approach, which will lead to a better understanding of the ‘human-worker’. Even when administrators and professors develop courses, interdisciplinary theory is used in development (Figure 4).

Education course as a form of interdisciplinary study
Figure 2: Education course as a form of interdisciplinary study. Long description.

Human Relations Theory

Now that the worker has become less of a product with no needs, to a human worker with needs and desires, it surprising that it took until the twentieth-century to realize that the people who work in a factory do not become less of a psychological being inside or outside the factory. Mary Parker Follet developed the human relations theory with regard to employees having a more satisfying life, and they can solve conflicts through a process of democracy and conversation. There are six points in which democratic problem solving happen in human relations theory[3]:

  1. Listening to each other’s views
  2. Accepting other view points
  3. Integrating viewpoints in pursuit of a common goal
  4. Coordinating must be achieved in the early stages
  5. Coordinating must have reciprocal understanding
  6. Coordinating is a continual process.

Within learning organizations, we have seen the advancement of programs to help with human relations inside the walls of the establishments. From seminars discussing productivity, improving morale, and good ethical actions, to open meetings where brainstorming happens, the impact has given employees a chance to offer a holistic influence on organizations.

The idea of human relations draws comparisons to Abraham Maslow, and his theory on self-actualization (Figure 5), which was discussed in chapter one. Human relations theory allows employees to develop a sense of self-awareness to understand their places within a company and their influence.

Review Questions:

  1. What are the four different classical management theories?
  2. What was the famous study conducted to develop an understanding of behavioural management theory?
  3. What is the final and highest step in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory?


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Leadership and Management in Learning Organizations Copyright © by Clayton Smith; Carson Babich; and Mark Lubrick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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