Weaknesses of the Classical Management Theories

In their stress on formal relationships in the organization, classical approaches tend to ignore informal relations as characterized by social interchange among workers, the emergence of group leaders apart from those specified by the formal organization, and so forth. Thus their focus is understandably narrow.

Failure to consider the informal organization

It was not common for workers to think in terms of what “career” they were going to pursue. Their basic assumption is that workers are primarily motivated by money and that they work only for more money. First, the work force was not highly educated or trained to perform many of the jobs that existed at the time. Indeed, for many writers, technology was the driving force behind organizational and social change. For instance, the classical approaches seem to view the life of a worker as beginning and ending at the plant door. These assumptions fail to recognize that employees may have wants and needs unrelated to the workplace or may view their jobs only as a necessary evil. For instance, Taylor’s and Fayol’s work came primarily from their experiences with large manufacturing firms that were experiencing stable environments. Perhaps much more could be achieved if the rules were not so explicit.

Untested assumptions

Many of the assumptions made by classical writers were based not on scientific tests but on value judgments that expressed what they believed to be proper life-styles, moral codes, and attitudes toward success.

Human machinery

Classical theories leave the impression that the organization is a machine and that workers are simply parts to be fitted into the machine to make it run efficiently.

Reliance on experience

Many of the writers in the classical school of management developed their ideas on the basis of their experiences as managers or consultants with only certain types of organizations. Finally, very little had been done previously in terms of generating a coherent and useful body of management theory. Rather, for many, the opportunity to obtain a secure job and a level of wages to provide for their families was all they demanded from the work setting. Classical theories and the principles derived from them continue to be popular today with some modifications. For instance, a heavy emphasis on rules and regulations may cause people to obey rules blindly without remembering their original intent. Thus, many of the principles are concerned first with making the organization efficient, with the assumption that workers will conform to the work setting if the financial incentives are agreeable.

Unintended consequences

Classical approaches aim at achieving high productivity, at making behaviors predictable, and at achieving fairness among workers and between managers and workers; yet they fail to recognize that several unintended consequences can occur in practice. Several major ones are discussed here. It may be unwise to generalize from those situations to others-especially to young, high-technology firms of today that are confronted daily with changes in their competitors’ products. They also assume that productivity is the best measure of how well a firm is performing. Thus, their focus was on finding ways to increase efficiency. Since many of these criticisms of the classical school are harsh, several points need to be made in defense of writers during this period. Oftentimes, since rules establish a minimum level of performance expected of employees, a minimum level is all they achieve.

Static conditions

Organizations are influenced by external conditions that often fluctuate over time, yet classical management, theory presents an image of an organization that is not shaped by external influences. It was assumed that all humankind could do was to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions. Second, much of the writing took place when technology was undergoing a rapid transformation, particularly in the area of manufacturing. When such things are not considered, it is likely that many important factors affecting satisfaction and performance, such as letting employees participate in decision making and task planning, will never be explored or tried. Many of the classical theorists were writing from scratch, obliged for the most part to rely on their own experience and observations.

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