Understanding Management Theory

Understanding Management Theory

Management Theory

            Management theory is a broad term that encompasses different approaches that are used in management and administration for corporations, businesses and organizations (Sheldrake 2003). Such approaches include classical, human relations, systems and contingency. Although some of these approaches in management theory cross-cut, there are fundamental differences among them. As observed in the introduction, attention will be paid to the first two approaches. Before the discussion of the approaches, it is important to first have a comprehensive understanding of the term management theory. A theory in the first place is a presupposition or generalization with both descriptive and explanatory power (Flamholtz 1996). It is a general statement that explains the procedure and interrelation of variables. It is a set or system of ideas explaining something.

Having understood what a theory entails, the definition of management theory can be structured. Management theory is set or collection of ideas which form the general rules in relation to how businesses and organizations are managed (Sheldrake 2003). The theory addresses how the top management stakeholders such as managers and supervisors relate to organizations in the light of its vision and goals. The theory encompasses how the formulation and implementation of best practices and effective means to meet the desired organizational goals (Miles 2012). The means towards the accomplishment of the goals may include how to integrate the employees to meet the organizational goals through for instance motivational or incentive schemes so that the employees increase performance and output. Different approaches in the management theory have different proposition, set of ideas and course of action towards management. Each approach has different premises on which it is views management. The approaches that will be discussed in the flowing sections of the paper are classical and human relations.

Classical approach of Management Theory

Theorists of classical approach view organization in terms of purpose and formal structure (Adetule 2011). Emphasis is place on the principles of management, planning of work, the technical necessities of the organization and the objective view of behavior. The classical approach is the oldest approach and theorists such as Taylor and Brech laid a firm foundation on thorough management theory (Daft 2011). The starting point to understanding how organizations work is and how its performance can be improved starts with a clear understanding of the core purpose of the organization. This would begin by identifying the general objectives of an organization which would pave way for the understanding of the purpose and the associated responsibilities in different levels of an organization. In the classical approach, there is an emphasis on division of labor and explicit clarification of duties and responsibilities for every person in the organization (Agarwal 1986). This means that in the classical approach, there is attention on the respective roles and obligations of every individual in the organization.

There is emphasis on how power is distributed and attention to hierarchy as in the formal organizational relationships. A salient example is provided by the differentiation between the top management of an organization (for instance Apple Inc.) In such an organization, duties and responsibilities are clearly spelt out and understood well by the respective players. Different persons in the hierarchy and chain of command are vested with different responsibilities and these roles may change when the position changes. In this approach, it is easy to distinguish the top management and the subordinates depending on the work they do.

A principle associated with the classical approach is that efficiency and effectiveness in an organization can be improved by changing or improving the organizational culture. The emphasis is that certain problems in an organization can be solved through a set of rules or designing a logical structure of organization (Adetule 2011). Theorists of classical approach outlined various principles that are common to organizations and which should guide how the management of organizations can be juxtaposed. One such principle is that of coordination. This principle states that for efficiency and higher organizational performance, there need for people to pool efforts, forge unity and cohesion and work together (Sheldrake 2003). The coordination in question must be directed under authority. This statement connects with the previously mentioned idea that there is a form of hierarchy that instills not only coordination but also discipline. Another principle is the functional principle. This refers to the division of labor and specialization. Each department or individual performs a specific duty that is duly vested. The functional principle distinguishes different kinds of duties. The scalar principle is emphasized in the classic approach. This principle concerns the hierarchy of organization including the grading of duties and stipulation of delegation (Adetule 2011; Sheldrake 2003).

In the evaluation of the classic approach of management theory, it can be argued that the approach is too objective and does not anticipate deviation because of the differences in personalities. It views organizations in purely scientific terms rather than in humanistic perspective. It views organizations as a machine that works on the basis of rules without paying attention to the importance of situational cases where rule-following is not always effective (Sheldrake 2003).  It places emphasis on hierarchy, specialization and differentiation. This can have merit in the sense that division of labor and specialization provide an opportunity for role-playing and in the case of commitment, each stakeholder in the organization contributes positively to the health and success of the organization.

However, in its nature, the classical approach negates the possibilities of inclusion of all persons in an organization especially in the decision making process. This is because of the attention on hierarchy. The implication is that if the decision making duties are vested on the executive, the junior employees will not be included in the decision-making process since this cannot be considered their duty. Further, shared leadership may be thwarted when leadership positions are designated for specific persons in the hierarchy or bureaucracy (Daft 2011). Lack of shared leadership may be source of poor organizational performance.

Human Relations Approach

            The human relations approach in management theory shift from the focus on structure and formal organization to social forces as well as the behavior of employees in an organization (Adetule 2011). The onset of the Great Depression was monumental to this shift because it was recognized that attention to human factors plays an integral role improving organizational performance. The Hawthorne experiments (1924-1932) significantly led to the application of human relations approach in organizations. The Hawthorne experiments had four phases: the illumination experiments, the relay assembly test room, the interviewing programme and the bank wiring observation room (Dalton, Hoyle & Watts 2011). The essence of the experiments was to identify the conditions under which human beings worked optimally and it was considered that the application of human relations in social context as in this approach led to more organizational performance.

Mayo, who conducted the experiments, argued that workers are not just interested with financial gains. Rather, they can be better motivated if their social needs are met. The needs in question include the ones addressed in the Maslow hierarchy of needs- physiological needs, safety, social needs, esteem needs and self-actualization needs (Dalton, Hoyle & Watts 2011). This approach to management theory put emphasis on human treatment of workers so that they increase their output. It posits that workers ought to be treated as people with valuable opinions and making them enjoy as they interactively work together.

The human relations approach as tested by Mayo concluded that workers are best motivated by effective communication between them and their mangers and greater involvement of manager in employees’ working lives. Motivation also came from working in groups. Human social relations approach thus emerged from the era of social ethic, government participation and economic context of depression (Miles 2012).  The major assumption is that human beings are social men and that they work best in a stable social environment. The aim in this approach is to build cooperative systems for both efficiency and effectiveness. The approach asserts that managerial problems can be solved through creating informal relations.

Looking at human relations approach to management theory, there are several loopholes especially in the Hawthorne experiments. The methodology used in the experiments was skewed due to lack of representativeness and failure to take into account the environmental factors. The approach is oversimplified and it has been argued that it operates as micro level that is easily malleable. There were inconsistencies in the experiments since for example in the bank wiring room, there group was all male while in the relay assembly room, the group was all female. It is not known how workers would perform if the environments were changed. This aspect of evaluation refers to the sex power differential in this approach.

Nevertheless, human relations approach addresses the importance of work groups and the role of leadership in organizational performance. It also pays attention to the role of proper communication, motivation and job design, while injecting humanistic consideration in management (Sheldrake 2003). Organizations are considered flexible than rigid as in the classical approach. The approach sheds light on the importance of how mangers behave since the experiments showed that managers can improve performance if they relate with workers at a more subjective level. The approach has essentially humanized work organization.


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Adetule, J. (2011). Handbook on management theories. Bloomington: Author House.

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Agarwal, R, 1986, Organization and Management. New Delhi, McGraw-Hill

Daft, R 2011, Understanding Management. Mason; South-Western Cengage Learning.

Dalton, Hoyle & Watts 2011, Human Relations. Mason, South-Western Cengage Learning.

Flamholtz, E. (1996). Effective management control: Theory and practice. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Miles, J. A. (2012). Management and Organization Theory: A Jossey-Bass Reader. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

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Sheldrake, J. (2003). Management theory. Australia: Thomson.

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