Classical Approach

Classical management thought can be divided into three separate schools: scientific management, administrative theory and bureaucratic management. Classical theorists formulated principles for setting up and managing organizations. These views are labeled “classical” because they form the foundation for the field of management thought. The major contributors to the three schools of management thought – scientific management, administrative theory and bureaucratic management – are Frederick W. Taylor, Henry Fayol and Max Weber respectively.

Scientific Management

Scientific management became increasingly popular in the early 1900s. In the early 19th century, scientific management was defined as “that kind of management which conducts a business or affairs by standards established, by facts or truths gained through systematic observation, experiment, or reasoning.” In other words, it is a classical management approach that emphasizes the scientific study of work methods to improve the efficiency of the workers. Some of the earliest advocates of scientific management were Frederick W. Taylor (1856-1915), Frank Gilbreth (1868-1924), Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972), and Henry Gantt (1861-1919).

Frederick Winslow Taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor took up Henry Towne’s challenge to develop principles of scientific management. Taylor, considered “father of scientific management”, wrote The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911. An engineer and inventor, Taylor first began to experiment with new managerial concepts in 1878 while employed at the Midvale Steel Co. At Midvale, his rise from laborer to chief engineer within 6 years gave him the opportunity to tackle a grave issue faced by the organization – the soldiering problem. ‘Soldiering’ refers to the practice of employees deliberately working at a pace slower than their capabilities. According to Taylor, workers indulge in soldiering for three main reasons:

1. Workers feared that if they increased their productivity, other workers would lose their jobs.

2. Faulty wage systems employed by the organization encouraged them to work at a slow pace.

3. Outdated methods of working handed down from generation to generation led to a great deal of wasted efforts.

Four Steps in Scientific Management



Step 1

Develop a science for each element of the job to replace old rule of thumb methods.

Step 2

Scientifically select employees and then train them to do the job as described in Step 1.

Step 3

Supervise employees to make sure they follow the prescribed methods for performing their jobs.

Step 4

Continue to plan the work but use workers to actually get the work done.

In essence, scientific management as propounded by Taylor emphasizes:

i. Need for developing a scientific way of performing each job.

ii. Training and preparing workers to perform that particular job.

iii. Establishing harmonious relations between management and workers so that the job is  performed in the desired way.
Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

After Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth made numerous contributions to the concept of scientific management. Frank Gilbreth (1868-1924) is considered the “father of motion study.” Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972) was associated with the research pertaining to motion studies. Motion study involves finding out the best sequence and minimum number of motions needed to complete a task. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were mainly involved in exploring new ways for eliminating unnecessary motions and reducing work fatigue.

The Gilbreths devised a classification scheme to label seventeen basic hand motions – such as “search,” “select,” “position,” and “hold” – which they used to study tasks in a number of industries. These 17 motions, which they called therbligs (Gilbreth spelled backward with the‘t’ and ‘h’ transposed), allowed them to analyze the exact elements of a worker’s hand movements. Frank Gilbreth also developed the micromotion study. A motion picture camera and a clock marked off in hundredths of seconds was used to study motions made by workers as they performed their tasks. He is best known for his experiments in reducing the number of motions in bricklaying. By carefully analyzing the bricklayer’s job, he was able to reduce the motions involved in bricklaying from 18 ½ to 4. Using his approach, workers increased the number of bricks laid per day from 1000 to 2700 (per hour it went up from 120 to 350 bricks) without exerting themselves.

Lillian’s doctoral thesis (published in the early 1900s as The Psychology of Management) was one of the earliest works which applied the findings of psychology to the management of organizations. She had great interest in the human implications of scientific management and focused her attention on designing methods for improving the efficiency of workers. She continued her innovative work even after Frank’s death in 1924, and became a professor of management at Purdue University. Lillian was the first woman to gain eminence as a major contributor to the development of management as a science. In recognition of her contributions to scientific management, she received twenty-two honorary degrees.


Henry Laurence Gantt

Henry L. Gantt (1861-1919) was a close associate of Taylor at Midvale and Bethlehem Steel. Gantt later became an independent consultant and made several contributions to the field of management. He is probably best remembered for his work on the task-and-bonus system and the Gantt chart. Under Gantt’s incentive plan, if the worker completed the work fast, i.e. in less than the standard time, he received a bonus. He also introduced an incentive plan for foremen, who would be paid a bonus for every worker who reached the daily standard. If all the workers under a foreman reached the daily standard, he would receive an extra bonus. Gantt felt that this system would motivate foremen to train workers to perform their tasks efficiently.

The Gantt Chart is still used today by many organizations. It is a simple chart that compares actual and planned performances. The Gantt chart was the first simple visual device to maintain production control. The chart indicates the progress of production in terms of time rather than quantity. Along the horizontal axis of the chart, time, work scheduled and work completed are shown. The vertical axis identifies the individuals and machines assigned to these work schedules. The Gantt chart compares a firm’s scheduled output and expected completion dates to what was actually produced during the year. Gantt’s charting procedures were precursors of today’s program evaluation and review techniques.

Limitations of scientific management

Scientific management has provided many valuable insights in the development of management thought. In spite of the numerous contributions it made, there are a few limitations of scientific management. They are:

· The principles of scientific management revolve round problems at the operational level and do not focus on the management of an organization from a manager’s point of view. These principles focus on the solutions of problems from an engineering point of view.

· The proponents of scientific management were of the opinion that people were “rational” and were motivated primarily by the desire for material gain. Taylor and his followers overlooked the social needs of workers and overemphasized their economic and physical needs.

· Scientific management theorists also ignored the human desire for job satisfaction. Since workers are more likely to go on strike over factors like working conditions and job content (the job itself) rather than salary, principles of scientific management, which were based on the “rational worker” model, became increasingly ineffective.

Administrative Theory

While the proponents of scientific management developed principles that could help workers perform their tasks more efficiently, another classical theory – the administrative management theory – focused on principles that could be used by managers to coordinate the internal activities of organizations. The most prominent of the administrative theorists was Henri Fayol.

French industrialist Henri Fayol (1841-1925), a prominent European management theorist, developed a general theory of management. Fayol believed that “with scientific forecasting and proper methods of management, satisfactory results were inevitable.” Fayol was unknown to American managers and scholars until his most important work, General and Industrial Management, was translated into English in 1949. Many of the managerial concepts that we take for granted today were first articulated by Fayol. According to Fayol, the business operations of an organization could be divided into six activities

Fayol outlined fourteen principles of management:

1. Division of work: Work specialization results in improving efficiency of operations. The concept of division of work can be applied to both managerial and technical functions.

2. Authority and responsibility: Authority is defined as “the right to give orders and the power to exact obedience.” Authority can be formal or personal. Formal authority is derived from one’s official position and personal authority is derived from factors like intelligence and experience. Authority and responsibility go hand-in-hand. When a manager exercises authority, he should be held responsible for getting the work done in the desired manner.

3. Discipline: Discipline is vital for running an organization smoothly. It involves obedience to authority, adherence to rules, respect for superiors and dedication to one’s job.

4. Unity of command: Each employee should receive orders or instructions from one superior only.

5. Unity of direction: Activities should be organized in such a way that they all come under one plan and are supervised by only one person.

6. Subordination of the individual interest to the general interest: Individual interests should not take precedence over the goals of the organization.

7. Remuneration: The compensation paid to employees should be fair and based on factors like business conditions, cost of living, productivity of employees and the ability of the firm to pay.

8. Centralization: Depending on the situation, an organization should adopt a centralized or decentralized approach to make optimum use of its personnel.

9. Scalar chain: This refers to the chain of authority that extends from the top to the bottom of an organization. The scalar chain defines the communication path in an organization.

10. Order: This refers to both material and social order in organizations. Material order indicates that everything is kept in the right place to facilitate the smooth coordination of work activities. Similarly, social order implies that the right person is placed in the right job (this is achieved by having a proper selection procedure in the organization).

11. Equity: All employees should be treated fairly. A manager should treat all employees in the same manner without prejudice.

12. Stability of tenure of personnel: A high labor turnover should be prevented and managers should motivate their employees to do a better job.
13. Initiative: Employees should be encouraged to give suggestions and develop new and better work practices.

14. Espirit de corps: This means “a sense of union.” Management must inculcate a team spirit in its employees.

Bureaucratic Management

Bureaucratic management, one of the schools of classical management, emphasizes the need for organizations to function on a rational basis. Weber (1864-1920), a contemporary of Fayol, was one of the major contributors to this school of thought. He observed that nepotism (hiring of relatives regardless of their competence) was prevalent in most organizations. Weber felt that nepotism was grossly unjust and hindered the progress of individuals. He therefore identified the characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy to show how large organizations should be run. The term “bureaucracy” (derived from the German buro, meaning office) referred to organizations that operated on a rational basis. According to Weber, “a bureaucracy is a highly structured, formalized, and impersonal organization.” In other words, it is a formal organization structure with a set of rules and regulations. The characteristics of Weber’s ideal bureaucratic structure are outlined in Table 2.5. These characteristics would exist to a greater degree in “ideal” organizations and to a lesser degree in other, less perfect organizations.

Major Characteristics of Weber’s Ideal Bureaucracy



Work specialization and division of labor

The duties and responsibilities of all the employees are clearly defined. Jobs are divided into tasks and subtasks. Each employee is given a particular task to perform repeatedly so that he acquires expertise in that task.

Abstract rules and regulations

The rules and regulations that are to be followed by employees are well defined to instill discipline in them and to ensure that they work in a co-coordinated manner to achieve the goals of the organization.

Impersonality of managers

Managers make rational decisions and judgments based purely on facts. They try to be immune to feelings like affection, enthusiasm, hatred and passion so as to remain unattached and unbiased towards their subordinates.

Hierarchy of organization structure

The activities of employees at each level are monitored by employees at higher levels. Subordinates do not take any decision on their own and always look up to their superiors for approval of their ideas and opinions.

Previous Post
Next Post