One of the first schools of management thought, the classical management theory,
developed during the Industrial Revolution when new problems related to the factory system began to appear. Managers were unsure of how to train employees (many of them non‐English speaking immigrants) or deal with increased labor dissatisfaction, so they began to test solutions. As a result, the classical management theory developed from efforts to find the “one best way” to perform and manage tasks. This school of thought is made up of two branches: classical scientific and classical administrative, described in the following sections.
The classical scientific branch arose because of the need to increase productivity and efficiency. The emphasis was on trying to find the best way to get the most work done by examining how the work process was actually accomplished and by scrutinizing the skills of the workforce.
The classical scientific school owes its roots to several major contributors, including Frederick Taylor, Henry Gantt, and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth.
Frederick Taylor is often called the “father of scientific management.” Taylor believed that organizations should study tasks and develop precise procedures. As an example, in 1898, Taylor calculated how much iron from rail cars Bethlehem Steel plant workers could be unloading if they were using the correct movements, tools, and steps. The result was an amazing 47.5 tons per day instead of the mere 12.5 tons each worker had been averaging. In addition, by redesigning the shovels the workers used, Taylor was able to increase the length of work time and therefore decrease the number of people shoveling from 500 to 140. Lastly, he developed an incentive system that paid workers more money for meeting the new standard. Productivity at Bethlehem Steel shot up overnight. As a result, many theorists followed Taylor's philosophy when developing their own principles of management.
Henry Gantt, an associate of Taylor's, developed the Gantt chart, a bar graph that measures planned and completed work along each stage of production. Based on time instead of quantity, volume, or weight, this visual display chart has been a widely used planning and control tool since its development in 1910.
Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, a husband‐and‐wife team, studied job motions. In Frank's early career as an apprentice bricklayer, he was interested in standardization and method study. He watched bricklayers and saw that some workers were slow and inefficient, while others were very productive. He discovered that each bricklayer used a different set of motions to lay bricks. From his observations, Frank isolated the basic movements necessary to do the job and eliminated unnecessary motions. Workers using these movements raised their output from 1,000 to 2,700 bricks per day. This was the first motion study designed to isolate the best possible method of performing a given job. Later, Frank and his wife Lillian studied job motions using a motion‐picture camera and a split‐second clock. When her husband died at the age of 56, Lillian continued their work.
Thanks to these contributors and others, the basic ideas regarding scientific management developed. They include the following:
- Developing new standard methods for doing each job
- Selecting, training, and developing workers instead of allowing them to choose their own tasks and train themselves
- Developing a spirit of cooperation between workers and management to ensure that work is carried out in accordance with devised procedures
- Dividing work between workers and management in almost equal shares, with each group taking over the work for which it is best fitted
Whereas scientific management focused on the productivity of individuals, the classical administrative approach concentrates on the total organization. The emphasis is on the development of managerial principles rather than work methods.
Contributors to this school of thought include Max Weber, Henri Fayol, Mary Parker Follett, and Chester I. Barnard. These theorists studied the flow of information within an organization and emphasized the importance of understanding how an organization operated.
In the late 1800s, Max Weber disliked that many European organizations were managed on a “personal” family‐like basis and that employees were loyal to individual supervisors rather than to the organization. He believed that organizations should be managed impersonally and that a formal organizational structure, where specific rules were followed, was important. In other words, he didn't think that authority should be based on a person's personality. He thought authority should be something that was part of a person's job and passed from individual to individual as one person left and another took over. This nonpersonal, objective form of organization was called a bureaucracy.
Weber believed that all bureaucracies have the following characteristics:
- A well‐defined hierarchy. All positions within a bureaucracy are structured in a way that permits the higher positions to supervise and control the lower positions. This clear chain of command facilitates control and order throughout the organization.
- Division of labor and specialization. All responsibilities in an organization are specialized so that each employee has the necessary expertise to do a particular task.
- Rules and regulations. Standard operating procedures govern all organizational activities to provide certainty and facilitate coordination.
- Impersonal relationships between managers and employees. Managers should maintain an impersonal relationship with employees so that favoritism and personal prejudice do not influence decisions.
- Competence. Competence, not “who you know,” should be the basis for all decisions made in hiring, job assignments, and promotions in order to foster ability and merit as the primary characteristics of a bureaucratic organization.
- Records. A bureaucracy needs to maintain complete files regarding all its activities.
Henri Fayol, a French mining engineer, developed 14 principles of management based on his management experiences. These principles provide modern‐day managers with general guidelines on how a supervisor should organize her department and manage her staff. Although later research has created controversy over many of the following principles, they are still widely used in management theories.
- Division of work: Division of work and specialization produces more and better work with the same effort.
- Authority and responsibility: Authority is the right to give orders and the power to exact obedience. A manager has official authority because of her position, as well as personal authority based on individual personality, intelligence, and experience. Authority creates responsibility.
- Discipline: Obedience and respect within an organization are absolutely essential. Good discipline requires managers to apply sanctions whenever violations become apparent.
- Unity of command: An employee should receive orders from only one superior.
- Unity of direction: Organizational activities must have one central authority and one plan of action.
- Subordination of individual interest to general interest: The interests of one employee or group of employees are subordinate to the interests and goals of the organization.
- Remuneration of personnel: Salaries — the price of services rendered by employees — should be fair and provide satisfaction both to the employee and employer.
- Centralization: The objective of centralization is the best utilization of personnel. The degree of centralization varies according to the dynamics of each organization.
- Scalar chain: A chain of authority exists from the highest organizational authority to the lowest ranks.
- Order: Organizational order for materials and personnel is essential. The right materials and the right employees are necessary for each organizational function and activity.
- Equity: In organizations, equity is a combination of kindliness and justice. Both equity and equality of treatment should be considered when dealing with employees.
- Stability of tenure of personnel: To attain the maximum productivity of personnel, a stable work force is needed.
- Initiative: Thinking out a plan and ensuring its success is an extremely strong motivator. Zeal, energy, and initiative are desired at all levels of the organizational ladder.
- Esprit de corps: Teamwork is fundamentally important to an organization. Work teams and extensive face‐to‐face verbal communication encourages teamwork.
Mary Parker Follett stressed the importance of an organization establishing common goals for its employees. However, she also began to think somewhat differently than the other theorists of her day, discarding command‐style hierarchical organizations where employees were treated like robots. She began to talk about such things as ethics, power, and leadership. She encouraged managers to allow employees to participate in decision making. She stressed the importance of people rather than techniques — a concept very much before her time. As a result, she was a pioneer and often not taken seriously by management scholars of her time. But times change, and innovative ideas from the past suddenly take on new meanings. Much of what managers do today is based on the fundamentals that Follett established more than 80 years ago.
Chester Barnard, who was president of New Jersey Bell Telephone Company, introduced the idea of the informal organization — cliques (exclusive groups of people) that naturally form within a company. He felt that these informal organizations provided necessary and vital communication functions for the overall organization and that they could help the organization accomplish its goals.
Barnard felt that it was particularly important for managers to develop a sense of common purpose where a willingness to cooperate is strongly encouraged. He is credited with developing the acceptance theory of management, which emphasizes the willingness of employees to accept that managers have legitimate authority to act. Barnard felt that four factors affected the willingness of employees to accept authority:
- The employees must understand the communication.
- The employees accept the communication as being consistent with the organization's purposes.
- The employees feel that their actions will be consistent with the needs and desires of the other employees.
- The employees feel that they are mentally and physically able to carry out the order.
Barnard's sympathy for and understanding of employee needs positioned him as a bridge to the behavioral school of management, the next school of thought to emerge.