Today’s organization landscape varies vastly depending on what specific company is being observed. Although each corporation is unique, I still see much of the classic management style at work within the modern-day workplace structure. During my time of working at different organizations for the last 16 years I see that today’s organizational landscape still follows many principles outlined within the classical management approaches. I believe that we can learn a great deal from the contributions of Taylor, Fayol and Weber and see the components that are timeless and the elements that are outdated and should possibly be discontinued.
Under the scientific management system of Frederick Winslow Taylor the concept of “work was divided into discrete units that were measured…” (Eisenberg, Goodall, & Tretheway, p. 71). That distinction is a positive concept in an unhealthy work culture that made men and children work timeframes that will now be deemed illegal, unless the person is considered a salaried employee. I believe that is an important distinction that should still be used for hourly employees. I was once a contractor for a non-profit company that paid me $10 per hour. There was no end to the number of assignments that I received, yet I was never paid overtime. One day a new manager was hired and insisted that I be made a salaried employee and be paid a fair wage for my skill sets and educational experience. I believe that Taylor’s concept of the clock being an authority (p.71) is critically important for hourly wage earners. Much of the rest of Taylor’s approach seems very outdated. I believe that it is very dangerous for the “doing” employees not to have an open line of communication with the “thinking” managers. I have seen countless situations where the managers wasted money on unnecessary equipment, fired talented personnel and made illogical decisions because they refused to have a dialogue with the persons who were actually responsible for doing the work that the managers were overseeing. These types of scenarios led to the organization I worked for losing 12 out of its 40 total employees in a one-year timeframe.
However, I see the majority of Henri Fayol’s classical management style is still very practical for many organizations. As a former executive administrator, I love the fact that much of this theory laid the foundation for administrative science. One of the main reasons that I have been successful running multiple businesses and a large family is because of my time as an administrator. Administrators understand and respects vertical leadership, and functions best with one boss and one plan (such as a job description/work plan). The confusion and utter chaos that is created without a clear company infrastructure and with multiple managers creates a toxic workplace culture. It is my experience that companies that function at this chaotic level often have many corrupt leaders and power-abusing management. Fayol also addresses this with the observation that “authority accrues from a person’s position and character and that discipline and obedience could only be expected only if both were present (Eisenberg, Goodall, & Tretheway, p. 73) is not only a brilliant and honorable observation but one that every company should be legally bound to uphold.
Max Weber was correct to not blindly trust bureaucracy (p.75). Although many of the elements do make it easier for managers to govern employees, a corrupt or unskilled manager could completely misuse it which Charles Perrow observed by arguing “that the machine itself ought not be blamed, but rather the people who misuse it…”(Eisenberg, Goodall, & Tretheway, p. 75).
Weber’s advocacy for universalism or equal treatment according to ability (p.75) is admirable and I believe is a timeless principle that should still be used today. In the end, though, the same way “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” the manager’s evaluation of the ability is subject to his or her own interpretation.
Many of the classical management concepts are still valid and can be applied to the modern workforce. I believe that the scientific method contains the more outdated components and is the lease applicable to today’s corporation. One of the reasons for this, for example, is that Taylor’s model excludes women. Due to globalization, technological advances and the shrinking job pool many Americans are two-income households (p.22) so any model excluding women will be outdated. Also, the separation of “working employee” versus the “thinking employee” component of Taylor’s model is dangerous for companies. It is critical that there is a dialogue between employees, mid-management and C-level executives. The show “Undercover Boss” often shows the revelations that bosses have when they see the results of their profit-driven decisions on the employees that are responsible for implementation.
Eisenberg, E.M., Goodall, H.L., & Trethewey, A. (2010). Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint. 6th Ed. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s.