The Ideas of the Classical Theorists, Particularly Those of Bureaucracy and Scientific Management Essay

The ideas of the classical theorists, particularly those of bureaucracy and scientific management, are generally considered as rather old fashioned and out of date, and of little relevance to work and organisation today. The classical school of management is thought to of originated around the turn of the current century and dominated management thinking into the 1920’s.

It had one main focus and this was on the efficiency of work processes, either through bureaucratic management that focuses on rules and procedures, or scientific management which concentrates on the one best way in which a job can be done. It is now commonly considered by modern theorists that these ways of management are outdated and not completely relevant to organisations in this day and age. This essay will look to examine wether this is actually the case, through the use of personal experiences and case studies of other people and companies.

Traditionally these theorists saw employees and their needs or wants as being secondary to the needs of the business, this has been seen as one of the main reasons for these theories to become outdated. However they can still be argued as useful because they introduced the theory of management and provided ideas for the development of future management. When the phrase bureaucratic management is mentioned we usually relate this to Max Weber, a German socialist who’s research into management structure formed this theory of management.

There were 6 key elements of his theory and was usually used within large businesses, mainly because of the hierarchal attributes of the theory which allowed a structured chain of command. It is for reasons such as these that businesses today use these management theories despite the fact that there are other more in depth and comprehensive models. Bureaucratic businesses today generally uphold a culture that the job or role description, is often more important than the individual who fills it. Handy, C 1993) Individuals are usually selected for performance of a role, they are not selected for skills they have that aren’t relevant or for progression within the company. (Handy, C 1993) It is reasons like these that classical theories of management are being branded as outdated, employees have no job satisfaction, no desire to achieve and most importantly no morale or want to work. As a result work efficiency can drop along with quality and production rates (Noon & Blyton 1997).

Some can argue however that without the existence of a bureaucratic structure it would be very difficult to co-ordinate with and control the activities of the highly skilled workers that are involved in complex tasks. (Blackler 1995) However through the development of post-bureaucratic forms of organisations, these issues are slowly being developed and overcome with the ’emergence of a new breed of self-motivation, professional “portfolio employees”‘ (Handy, C 1994).

An example of this was conducted within a telephone bank in the UK over a 9 month period. Here they focused on the activities of a project-based team of IT staff working on assignments that were constantly changing and adapting, forcing them to change the way they work constantly without a definite structure behind them, this theory relies mainly on the self-motivation of the employees, enforced by a want to work for the company. (Hodgson 2000)

Bureaucratic management is not the only theory that is heavily criticised for being dehumanising, scientific management is often viewed this way too. The main theorist here is Frederick Taylor, he presented an idea that for every procedure that needed doing within a business there was one best way of doing this, through the application of a scientific method (Grey, C 2009). By applying this theory it was said that you could maximise employees output and prosperity for the employer whilst still keeping everyone happy.

Taylor based most of his research around a steel works company, here he introduced systems such as a rate of pay based on how many pieces you made and as a result of this he showed that both productivity and workers salaries could be increased side by side. However certain limitations could be said that he didn’t take into account, such as if workers sole concern is simply related to their pay then other psychological needs or the worker would not be addressed (Brooks).

As a result of this, the repetitiveness of the task with little or even no room for experimentation or variation over long periods of time generally lead to boredom and apathy amongst the staff. (Brooks) It was widely considered in later years that Taylor had taken his theory to far and related to companies as mechanic structures when in fact they were co-operative communities. (Handy, C 1993) Chester Bernard was one of the first people who disagreed with Taylor, he suggested that intact people had o be persuaded and that authority really came from the people you led not from those above. (Handy, C 1993) A case study into this at Hawthorne plant of western electric, ‘Showed how important the informal group was, and the hearts and minds of its people’ (Handy, C 1993). “Management ensures that the plan is accomplished by controlling and problem solving.

This is done by monitoring the plan both formally and informally by means of reports, meetings and other tools; identifying deviations and then planning and organizing the team to solve problems. (Cassell and Mercado, 2000) This description explains exactly how management can be used to run a business, it appears to suggest that you can monitor tasks in a variety of ways and utilising the team at your disposal to get the preferred end result. It mentions nothing about classical theories of management in particular but there is still evidence of this as they mention organising and planning formally. It would suggest that perhaps we have evolved from the strict scientific and bureaucratic management styles to new theories that incorporate parts of the theories whilst developing others to work better within organisations today.

It is often possible to evaluate our own personal experiences with regards to the theory of management, whilst working last summer I was part of a large company called Facilities Management Catering (Hereby referred to as FMC). This company adopts a hierarchal method towards the structure of its company, I found that as a member of a small team of four people, despite the fact one of us was a team leader we would often have many other managers from other sections of the business coming over and giving us instructions that actually often conflicted with what we had already been told.

Looking at this I can see because of the nature of FMC’s business no event is ever the same and to adapt an organic structure would work far better for them. By taking a bureaucratic approach they are limiting productivity and efficiency as many parts of the business are overlapping with others and causing confusion lower down. This clearly shows that these classical theories of management whilst still can be applied to businesses are not as good as they were once thought to be.

Modern businesses require highly skilled workers, they require state of the art technology so when then should they use outdated and supposedly flawed management techniques? Bureaucracy was designed to structure a business, but in order to survive as a business today you need to be able to adapt, before the competition to stay ahead. New theorists have researched into this and come up with solutions such as the characteristics of post-bureaucratic organisations, they are still structured but rely on the employee to contribute as much or as little as he wants to the business (Heckscher 1994).

It gives an employee trust and a sense of wellbeing when they work there, this should give them the motivation to want to achieve and to want to give something back to the organisation. Henry Ford added to bureaucracy management with his own theories know as Fordism, this focused on mass production and ‘The devision of labour into smaller and smaller, less and less demanding fragments of tasks’ (Pugh and Hickson) This theory dominated that current market for a long time thereafter, but now as times are changing so to are the theories behind running a business.

Post-fordism came about as the market became less focused on mass marketed products but more interested in personalised products that they can put their own touch on. (Boland 2011) This relied on a more flexible structure with more capable workers that could adapt to different day to day work situations. However this is not entirely the case, with all these theories and the changing market one new idea came into play.

George Ritzer came up with the theory of Mcdonalization he said ‘The process by which the principals of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of the American society as well as the rest of the world’ (Ritzer 1993/1996) We can see now how businesses are starting to move away from the classical schools of thought and adopting new approaches that might work better for their business. In McDonald’s outlets, staff have clear and narrowly defined jobs which require limited training, are carefully designed to minimise unproductive movement and scope for human error, and are not designed to motivate employees’ (Brooks, I 2006) By adopting this approach it allows the business to deliver a standard product, that is the same every time at a reasonable price and quickly. (Brooks, I 2006)

If we look at this mcdonaldization theory, we can see that instead of abstaining from the principals of Taylors scientific management and Fordism, they take them to new levels and extend them into different sectors. (Fineman, S 2005) This poses us with a new question, are classical theories of management dead or have they simply been remoulded into a new super-theory? The answer isn’t as simple as yes, the theories that researchers such as fayol and weber produced in the early 1900’s provided the foundations for many of the common theories that we use in today’s businesses and in particular mcdonaldization.

But this does not eradicate that fact that there are other adaptations such as post-bureaurcacy and post-fordism that differentiate from any style of classical management but instead look towards organic management and flexibility. Giving the employees a sense of worth and motivating them within the business and socially outside of the business. (Hatch, M 1997) Despite the fact that there are all these different theories and adaptations overtime there is always going to need to be some sort of structure within a business.

Simply because any profit making business is going to want to do just that, maximise their profits with as little cost as possible. Some won’t be willing to sacrifice quality and some will. Hence why those two different businesses are likely to adopt different methods of management, this means that we will always need to be constantly looking at and evolving from old methods of management such as the classical theorists presented. With the introduction of Mcdonaldization, it appears that many businesses are using this theory of management within their business.

What we do know though is that not many businesses will simply just use one method of classical management, they will take ideas and frameworks that people like Taylor and Weber have set down and adapt them to their own personal needs. This would mean that whilst the idea of the classical theorists could be suggested to be out of date or of little relevance to work today many of the basic principals are still used in other theories and frameworks of management. This does not mean that every theory has some essence of classical management in as post-bureaucratic and post-fordism are trying to get as far away from these ideas as possible.

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