Schools of Management Essay


Nowadays the word management can be heard from the representatives of every walk of life. Indeed, it seems that the task of finding ways to properly employ management principles for the maximal benefit has become the backbone of modern organizations. Therefore, it may be useful for many to remember that this state of affairs was not always the same. In fact, what can be viewed as the formal study of management as a set of coherent principles of organization that can be controlled and made more effective commenced only a little more than hundred years ago, in the end of the nineteenth century.

Since then, the level of elaboration of principles of management has significantly evolved, and by today we have several branches within management thought usually separated by scholars into five major theoretical schools that in combination constitute a rich field for study, which is very relevant from the practical point of view as well. These schools are the classical school, the behavioral school, the quantitative school also known as management science, the contingency school, and finally Theory Z school of management.

What is important in this respect is that even though some of those schools are viewed as classical, and some were born relatively recently, each of those schools contains useful insights that can be of great use in today`s complex environment in which we face constant and apparently accelerating changes. With these points in mind, let us trace the evolution of management principles from the classical school of management theory and management practices to the present, and try to relate one or more of them to my current work environment.

The Classical School of Management

The classical school represents the first approach to the formalization of management thought, and its origins can be traced to the end of the nineteenth century. This school of management thought was mostly interested in finding ways of more efficient and productive management of organizations, and work in general. Within this scholarly approach three more specific fields of concern can be discerned, such as scientific management, bureaucratic management, and administrative management.

Scientific management was the response to the slow pace of work characteristic to the nineteenth century, and to what was increasingly viewed as arbitrary, unjustified, and unsystematic process of decision-making, which inhibited development of organizations. In such circumstances, scientific management emerged as the systematic examination of various work methods that could increase efficiency. It was based on several main principles. Firstly, it demanded the adoption of strict methods of science to find the best ways of doing each type of work. Secondly, it promoted the view that the workforce has to be chosen in accordance with specifically defined optimal proficiencies and skills, and evaluated according to performance standards with pay-for-performance incentives.

Thirdly, scientific management stood for the mutually beneficial cooperation of managers and workers, and prescribed to managers the full responsibility for work planning, and to the workforce the responsibility to fulfill such plans. From the historical point of view, due to its systematic nature scientific management greatly influenced management practices of the early twentieth century and laid ground for the future theoretical and practical elaborations, even though it was not yet a complete management theory by itself. Among the outstanding figures behind scientific management were Frederick Taylor, Lillian Gilbreth, Henry Gantt, and Frank Gilbreth.

In its turn, the so-called bureaucratic management, strongly associated with the famous scholar Max Weber, dealt with the search for the ideal organizational forms. Weber thought that it was clear that most of early organizational forms were ineffective and too dependent on the individual relationships. Instead, Weber promoted a form of organization termed a bureaucracy that would have hierarchy, division of work, and impersonal and formal rules conducive to the promotion of capable employees.

Equally, in relation to managers Weber pointed out that personal charisma or tradition as the roots of authority are not a substitute for the strict organizational hierarchy. It is important to remark here that we should not confuse the modern negative connotation of the word ‘bureaucracy’, which is used to characterize inflexibility, with what Weber meant. In fact, he would definitely not approve excesses of contemporary bureaucratic organizations. Rather, ideas of Weber added useful insights to the modern theory of organizations.

Administrative management was another field of development within the classical school focused on principles of management and managerial processes. In comparison with scientific management with its attention to micro-aspects of work process, administrative management introduced a more general management theory. Among the scholars of administrative management the most well-known was Henri Fayol, an experienced practitioner who claimed that management as a process was in all cases based on such functions as forecasting and planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating and controlling.

This specific set of qualities, according to Fayol, set management apart from other disciplines like finance, production, or accounting. Fayol also singled out fourteen management principles which included such crucial notions as the division of labor, responsibility, authority, centralization, team spirit, and other familiar for us principles. Administrative management was considered by some to be somewhat inflexible in its functional approach, but it nevertheless contributed to management thought and practice, and many management principles that it mentioned are still relevant today.

The Behavioral School of Management

The behavioral school of management emerged from the drawbacks of the classical school`s theories and approaches. Indeed, as the classical school highlighted somewhat abstract conceptions of effectiveness and process, such an important aspect of life in any organization as human behavior was mostly omitted. To compensate for this, the behavioral school turned to the investigation of factors that influence human behavior in organizations. This general school of management also had subdivisions in it – the human relations school and the behavioral science school.

The human relations school was advancing the view that managers should obtain skills that would enable them to know casual roots of human behavior and to master nuances of interpersonal communication in order to learn needs of people, to satisfy these needs, and thus to motivate workers and make them more productive. The human relations school continues to hold firm position in contemporary management practices, because psychological aspects of management of human resources and of organizational behavior are the corner stone in most modern organizations. Among those who contributed to the development of the human relations school are Abraham Maslow, Mary Parker Follett, Kurt Lewin, Keith Davis, and many others.

The behavioral science school formed by the 1960s built upon the ideas of the human relations school, but focused on the usage of analytical and conceptual tools to solve problems of exact comprehension and prediction of behavior in the workplace. In this way, this direction of management study attempted to circumvent weaknesses of the human relations approach with its often simplistic views of the interdependency between attitudes of workers and resulting productivity. In this regard, the main contribution of the behavioral science school to the larger field of management theory was its accent on roles that personality, values, motivation, leadership, group behavior, conflict, communication, and other factors play in actual organizations. Chris Argyris, Douglas McGregor, Renais Likert were some of the contributors to this school of thought.

The Quantitative School of Management (Management Science)

The quantitative school is centered on the study of ways to better processes of decision making by means of usage of quantitative methods, which establishes the link between this school and scientific management. However, management science employs more advanced statistical and mathematical tools to interpret and solve managerial problems. This approach originated during World War II when the pressing and difficult problems required a scientific attitude to their solution, and after the war industry borrowed the principles of management science.

Within the field of management science such significant developments emerged as mathematical methods used for the allocation of limited resources, linear programming, queuing models, goal programming, simulation, and control theory. Computer technologies facilitated the development of management science, and contributed to the growth of importance of the field of management information systems, the task of which is to collect information necessary and suitable for managers, and decision support systems, which provide the environment for the most informed and adequate decision-making.

Another field of usage of the quantitative school is the control and operation of production processes that create goods and services. This field of application, called operations management, is in many ways similar to management science and is concerned with productivity and quality in various types of organizations. Such areas as planning of capacity, layout and location of production facilities, materials procurement, schedules, control of purchasing, inventory, and quality and flexibility of manufacturing processes are among the main tasks of study for operations management.

The Contingency School of Management

The contingency school emerged in the 1960s and was mostly used for analysis of design of organizations and jobs, styles of leadership, and motivation. In all of these areas of study this school points out that managers should take into account unique aspects of every situation, and concludes that no single best solution can be found. Rather, the optimal way of management depends on external factors, features of an organization, qualities of a manager and subordinates.

In this light, optimal organizational structure is linked to the size of an organization, prevalent technology, and other uncertain factors, and the best style of leadership is fundamentally dependent on the existing balance of power, peculiarities of work groups consisting of concrete people, and many other things. In short, this school denies the possibility of establishing of universal principles, and therefore criticizes some of the previous schools of management. Some of its major representatives were Paul Lawrence, Fred Fiedler, Joan Woodward, and Jay Lorsch.

Theory Z School of Management

This contemporary school is linked historically with what was known as total quality management, an approach aimed at such a management of a whole organization that would procure the best quality of delivered products and services. This managerial practice was used in Japan after the World War II with a great success, and this approach was one of the chief factors of the Japanese economic success. Today organizations that subscribe to the Type Z principle try to accommodate to their work elements of the Japanese management model, which usually translates into the adherence to decision making based on a collective effort, and into the holistic corporate world view with slow promotion and evaluation.

At the same time, Theory Z includes the principle of personal responsibility borrowed from the American management model. Thus, by combining the mentioned models of management with additions of some other modified principles, Theory Z school of management represents a kind of a hybrid approach to management. However, when the striving for excellent performance indeed underlies policies of a company which has resources to fulfil it, then the Type Z organization can greatly improve by turning such maxims as timely completion of tasks, close contact with customers, and correct choice of activities judging from its existing expertise into a part of everyday routine.

The Relevance of Various Schools of Management in My Current Work Environment

In reality, elements and approaches of all of the schools of management are often intertwined even in within management policies of a single organization. This combination of approaches is justified considering the dynamics of change in the modern world, which requires constant adaptation to them. As a result, new approaches to management that also can be qualified as new schools continue to develop, like for example the principle of a learning organization that reflects the mentioned need to be ready to adapt to new tendencies.

In my workplace, I also feel the simultaneous presence of numerous factors that demand different approaches to their analysis and understanding. As I work in a small office supervising people doing mostly clerical work, I think the emphasis of the classical school on effectiveness of the process should form the basis of my managerial approaches. The behavioral school with its attention to the importance of human relations reminds me of my responsibility to remember that a small office environment does not tolerate violations of principles that underlie interpersonal communication.

The ideas of the quantitative school, in their turn, mostly pertain to those occasions when I face the need to choose the best ways to assess the effectiveness of the work of our office, and to determine which approaches may be adequate for new types of analytical and statistical work that we periodically encounter. What concerns the Theory Z School of Management, I think that its merit for me was in that it helped me see how a proper combination of elements of various theoretical and practical approaches may be used to adapt the general management line to the particular tasks that organizations set before them.

Finally, perhaps the most revealing for me was the acquaintance with the contingency school of management, which assuaged my worries about the rightfulness of my approaches to work and my decisions. Before that, I was often trying to find formal reasons to justify some of my decisions which superficially might seem to be disputable, but which I had made on basis of some unique information that I had about each person in our office, and about some circumstances that I had in mind. Now, it is clear for me that this situation is normal, and this knowledge makes me more careful in my evaluation of decisions that other people make.

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