Major Approaches to Management Theory

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Approaches to Management Theory

In this article, we introduce the various historical and contemporary approaches to management theory. These approaches demonstrate the evolution of the understanding of the functions, role, skills, and effect of a manager on an organization.

These theories do not focus solely on the manager. Management theory also explores the organizational structure, individual efficiency models, and worker behaviors related to psychological and sociological factors.

Classical Management Theory

Classical management theory refers to the earliest areas of management research. It focuses on the rationality in decision-making and the efficiency of the organization. The categories and most renowned early contributors to classical management theory are as follows:

Scientific Approach to Management

The early pioneer of Scientific Management Theory was Frederick Taylor – “Principles of Scientific Management”. His work envisioned “One Best Way to do a job”. He proposed the following method for addressing any managerial task:

  • Develop science for the elements of work to replace “rule of thumb”
  • Select, train, teach workers
  • Cooperate with Workers to ensure work is done
  • Divide work suitably between workers and managers

Another major contribution to Scientific Management theory was by Frank Gilbreth and Lillian Moller Gilbreth. They studied task process and efficient body motions. They focused on the efficiency of effort furthering the understanding of the best way to carry out a process.

The scientific approach to management, along with its major contributors, is discussed in subsequent articles.

Administrative Approach to Management

The father of Administrative or Management Process Theory was Henri Fayol. In his early text, “Administration Industrielle et Generale”, he proposed several managerial functions as categories for all managerial activities. The functions include:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Commanding
  • Coordinating
  • Controlling

This framework evolved into the highly-influential P-O-L-C (Plan, Organize, Lead, Control) framework for management functions. The Coordinating and Controlling functions collapsed into Leadership. Fayol also contributed to the understanding of managerial duties through his text, “Fayol’s 14 Principles of Management”.

Henri Mintzberg, in his text “The Nature of Managerial Work”, added to the body of administrative management theory by proposing a framework for the Role of Managers. He categories the roles of managers as follows:

  • Interpersonal
    • Figurehead
    • Supervisor
    • Liaison
  • Informational
    • Monitor
    • Disseminator
    • Spokesperson
  • Decisional
    • Entrepreneur
    • Disturbance Handler
    • Resource allocator
    • Negotiator

Max Weber was another notable theorist contributing to the administrative approach to management. Weber explored the organizational structure and proposed the concept of a “Bureaucracy”. He saw an organization as a clearly-defined structure with a division of labor, clear hierarchy, detailed rules, and impersonal relationships. Managers served the function of facilitating the organization of the bureaucracy and management of functions therein.

Robert L. Katz, yet another administrative management theorist, proposed categories for managerial skills, including:

  • Conceptual
  • Human
  • Technical

Conclusion of Classical Theory of Management

The scientific approach and administrative approaches co-existed and dominated early management theory. These views focused primarily upon a manager who oversees manual laborers. As the labor force gradually shifted from labor to a mixture of labor and knowledge work, these principles became less relevant.

The administrative approach to management, along with its major contributors, is discussed in subsequent articles.

Behavioral Approach to Management

These process-driven theories that focused on the manager and the role of management later gave way to a focus on understanding the individual within the organization. That is, as work became less about manual labor and more about knowledge and understanding, other theories besides task accomplishment and managerial efficiency became relevant.

The behavior-based approach to management focused on the individual worker, such as motivations, behaviors, social systems, etc. It incorporated aspects of psychology, motivation, and sociology.

Some of the major early contributors to Behavioral Theory were:

  • Mary Parker Follet – Her work focused on Individual and Group Behavior. Here theories include: Genuine power is not “coercive” (power over) but coactive (power with). True leaders create group power rather than expressing personal power
  • Hugo Munsterberg – His work focused on psychological tests for employee selection. He also proposed theoretical concepts for training. His work also linked worker behavior to individual motivation.
  • Robert Owen – His work focused on workplace conditions and the need to invest in the workforce.
  • Chester Barnard – His work pained organizations as coordinated social systems. He explored the role of communication in stimulating activity. Notably, he proposed the concept of the organizations as an open system.
  • Elton Mayo – Mayo demonstrated that employee motivation is heavily influenced by social and situational factors. Mayo’s findings, referred to as the “Hawthorne Effect,” marked a radical change in motivational theory and management practice.
  • Abraham Maslow – Maslow proposed that human behavior is purposeful and is motivated by the desire to satisfy needs and that lower-level needs must be met before a person can focus on the next level of needs.

The details of the behavioral approach to management, along with its major contributors, is discussed in subsequent articles.

Contemporary Approach to Management

The study of management theory has burgeoned in recent decades. The resulting theories are quite diverse and novel. They explore numerous aspects of the manager, the employee, the organization, the business environment, resources (human and capital), efficiency, understanding, and creativity/innovation. The primary contemporary approaches to management include:

Quantitative Approach to Management

The quantitative approach to management applies mathematical models, information and optimization models, computer simulations, and other quantitative techniques to managerial decision-making. The primary branches of quantitative management theory include:

  • Management Science – Under the umbrella of management science, there are a number of recognized disciplines:
    • Operations Management – The management of functional processes employed in delivering the company’s value proposition.
    • Quantitative Management – This approach focuses on the use of data analysis in management decision making.
    • Total Quality Management – This is an efficiency and waste reduction approach to management processes and decision making.
    • Management Info Systems – This field includes the use of technological and quantitative methods for the observation, collection, organization, evaluation, and dissemination of information across and throughout an organization.
  • Systems Theory – An organization is a system consisting of a number of interdependent parts functioning as a whole for some purpose. These parts might include: inputs, a transformation process, outputs, feedback, and the environment. An organization is generally considered to be open and organic with the subpart or subsystem interacting.
  • Contingency Theory – This is a decision-making theory of management. The behavior of one sub-unit of an organization “is dependent on its environment and relationship to other units or sub-units that have some control over the sequences desired by that sub-unit.”
  • Other – Scholars have proposed various other contemporary approaches to management theory. These theories may relate individually to prior theories or span multiple theories. Each of these is discussed individually.

Several of the most-recognized modern approaches to management, along with their major contributors, are discussed in subsequent articles.

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