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The classical theory or approach to management signifies the beginning of the study of systematized principles and practice in management.

It is a management theory that emphasizes workers' productivity, output, and efficiency of workers. 

The classical approach stems from three theories of management which are: Scientific management theory, Administrative management theory, and Bureaucratic management.

Let's dive deeper into each one of them.

Classical theorists: henry fayol, Fredrick taylor and Max weber

Scientific Management Theory

This is the first management theory to emerge after the industrial revolution

It was introduced by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1911 in his book "principles of scientific management''. 

Scientific management can be defined as the application of scientific methods to the management of people.

Scientific management seeks to study the relationship between people and tasks to improve the efficiency of the work process. 

The main objective of scientific management is to scientifically determine the best method of work that will increase productivity.

This theory is based on Frederick Taylor's observation at the Midvale steelworks, where he observed that workers were inefficient and only produced about a third of what they could due to a lack of work standards.

To remedy this, Taylor along with other individuals conducted a series of studies known as the time and motion studies, which aim to "determine the single best way to do a job".

After spending two decades conducting his studies, Taylor proposed five principles of scientific management, namely;

1. Replace the rule of thumb work method with methods based on the scientific study of the task.

2. Workers should not be left alone to train themselves, rather, they should be scientifically selected, trained, and developed

3. Cooperation between the management and the worker to ensure that the scientifically developed methods are followed.

4. Works should be divided equally between managers and workers so that the managers can plan and organize the work scientifically and the workers perform the tasks.

5. Establish a differential pay-rate system to encourage workers to work harder.

It is worth noting that, while Frederick W. Taylor is widely regarded as the father of scientific management, other individuals such as frank and Lilian Gilbreth,  Henry Gantt, Carl Barth, and Sanford Thompson all contributed to scientific management.

Administrative Management Theory

The general administrative theory attempts to find a way to design an organization as a whole.

The theory generally entails formalized administrative structure, a clear division of labourand delegation of power and authority to administrators relevant to their areas of responsibility


It laid strong emphasis on the manager and the functions of management, defining the management process as a continuous function.

Henry Fayol, who devised the 14 principles of management, Luther H. Gulick, who gave the POSDCORB (Acronym for planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, organizing reporting and budget) functions of management and James D. Mooney, a corporate executive at general motors are the few administrative management theorists who have made a significant contribution to management.

However, Henry Fayol is widely considered the father of administrative management theory for his notable work "Industrielle et Generale (General and Industrial Management)" which was published in 1916 where he gave 5 functions of management which are: planning, organizing, coordinating, commanding and controlling.  

He also gave fourteen principles of management namely: Division of work; Authority and Responsibility; Discipline; Unity of command; Scalar chain; Equity; Espirit De Corps; Unity of direction; subordination of individual interest to the general interest; Remuneration; order; Centralization and decentralization; initiative; stability of tenure of personnel.

If you are not familiar with these fourteen principles, refer to this post.

Bureaucratic Management Theory

Max Weber is the first to use the term bureaucracy in management and is therefore considered the father of bureaucracy or bureaucratic theory of management.

Bureaucratic theory or as some textbooks might call it, max Weber theory, sees the organization as a complex arrangement with multilayered systems and processes. 

The idea of bureaucratic management is that organizations should be managed by a rational-legal authority that stems from rules and other controls.

He believed that management based on formal rules will result in effectiveness and efficiency as it will help curb favouritism and nepotism which were more common in his days

Six Characteristics Of Bureaucracy By Max Weber

In light of his bureaucratic study, max Weber gave six characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy which are:

1. Division of labour: Works should be divided into smaller tasks based on competencies. This will ensure efficiency as workers will perform tasks that they are best at doing.

The division of labour also allows management to define what each worker is responsible for and who has authority in an organization.

2. Managerial  Hierarchy: This is the equivalent of Henry Fayol's scalar chain that he referred to in his fourteen principles of management.

Organizations should define managerial positions within the organization and how they are related to each other.

That is, managers should be organized into hierarchical layers, with each layer responsible for its employee and overall performance.

They are many hierarchical positions in a bureaucracy and this is essentially the trademark of bureaucratic systems. 

In most organizations, Managerial hierarchy is usually illustrated by an organizational chart or organigram.

The development of managerial hierarchy would lead to better communication as workers would have a better understanding of their roles and functions.

3.  Formal selection: In response to the presence of widespread favouritism and nepotism in the traditional system, max Weber advocated for the selection of workers based on ideal technical qualifications and competencies, which may be acquired through training, education, and experience.

4.  Career orientation: For the organization to run efficiently, Max weber believes employees should be career professionals rather than politicians. 

Employees should be encouraged to pursue careers in their areas of competence and expertise, and such employees should be protected from arbitrary dismissal by management

5. Former rules and requirements: These are required for uniformity so that employees know what is expected of them. it should apply to all employees, regardless of their managerial positions in the organization

He believed all administrative processes should be regulated by these rules, which are meant to be written to avoid misrepresentation.

6. Impersonality: Max Weber believed that the rules and other controls created should be impersonal.

By impersonal, he meant that the rules and regulations should be made without any consideration for personality or personal preference. 

It also entails that the rules and control should be applied uniformly to all members of the organization with no special treatment given to any member of the organization.

By acting impersonally, the organization would be free from nepotism and another form of involvement from outsiders and politicians.

Characteristics Of Classical Approach To Management

 1.  It concentrated on the application of science to management.

2.  Henry Fayol gave 5 managerial functions, and Luther Gulick gave 7 managerial functions

The majority of management functions were developed in the classical era.

3. Articulation and application of specific principles to management.

4. Emphasize organization structure as is the case with general administrative and bureaucratic theory.

4. It evolved in response to the shift from handicraft to industrial production.

5. It believes in the economic rationality of people and organization

Criticisms Of The Classical Approach To Management

1. Classical approach has been criticized for its emphasis on "one best way to do a job. As many studies have shown, there is no such thing as the " best way" to do a job.

2. It ignores the human factor as people are managed as machines.

3. It has also been criticized for placing too much emphasis on the division of labour which usually results in monotony

4. It emphasized the universality and generality of management principles. In practice, however, these management principles cannot be followed blindly, they must be tweaked to suit some situation

5. It assumes that people are rational and driven primarily by the desire for money. This isn't exactly accurate as people are also motivated by social needs

6. Classical theory of management is inflexible and unsuitable for dynamic environments.

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