Are Classical Approaches to Organizational Behavior Relevant in Today

Growth and change in nature and structure of organizations have made the ability of management to develop new approaches vital. Since the end of 19th century the conception of an organization has evolved and altered into various forms. When discussing classical management models, it is of great importance to take into consideration that they originated in past, not current economic and social conditions. Therefore, implementing a clear classical approach could hardly lead to anything else but the reasons for the necessity of its very change in the past.

On the other hand, modern management models are a result of decades long development in the management practice. Understanding the basic models they originated from makes a manager more flexible. They are not outdated What is most informative about management theories is not what the specificities of each one is, but how they changed in time – which aspects of them stayed and which needed to be improved; how each contributed towards the development and better efficiency of the organizations.

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In order to understand the importance of classical approaches, we should think of the conditions that made them necessary. Early classic writers had a difficult task to establish and develop some of the first massive productions in the history. Apart from establishing their structure, they had to think of a way to improve and grow them. The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century was marked by rapid industrial growth, technological progress and urbanization process. The factories would give work to numerous people, some of which with no education and no qualification.

How could all these people be organized and the outcomes of their work maximized if not rationalizing the working process into simple repetitive tasks each worker could easily learn to do? And so, the rapid growth of the organizations was one of the main reasons for the necessity of clear, scientific approaches to coordinate the working process. Scientific management would suggest that the organization process is an objective one and each person, each unit in the structure acts according to rules, similarly to those in math and physics. In this context one does not take nterest in personality of the participants. Before the Scientific management introduced by Taylor, the management of an organization was a question of distribution of the wages. In this scheme anyone could be the manager as long as the rules of management are followed. Firstly, the manager should study in detail the whole working process in its conceptual whole and systemize it. This is a function neither of the workers, being specialized in only a part of the process, could do. This way the process could be rationalized and simplified.

When imposed, division of work would make possible the involvement of people who are not specialists and repetitive simple tasks could be assigned to anyone. Another classical writer, Feyol, conceptualized the management process into 6 main steps: forecasting, planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating and controlling. Running a successful organization would suggest analyzing the conditions and strategic planning based on previously set goals. Fayol’s organizational model attaches importance to several rules. The working process had to be systematized by division of work so that workers are specialized.

They had to be disciplined but initiative was encouraged. Equity, remuneration and stability of tenure were also important. On the other hand authority was considered legitimate so that there could be unity of command and direction by the principle of scalar chain. Individual interest was subordinate to general interest but the workers had to establish Esprit de corps and feel good in the team. The Scientific Theory model, however, is critiqued for its inability to take into consideration the human factor. An example is the critique by O’Toole on Alfred Sloan’s management of General Motors.

O’Toole argued that Sloan built a very objective organization, which paid significant attention to “policies, systems, and structures and not enough to people, principles, and values. Sloan, the quintessential engineer, had worked out all the intricacies and contingencies of a foolproof system. ” But this system left out employees and society[1]. Human subjectivity was also considered to as an omission in the Scientific Theory. Relations between individuals were hardly synchronized and workers are subjective and react differently in different situations.

Therefore management had to set another goal – to figure out a way to objectify the relations within the organization. Whereas Scientific Theory set the bases in systematization of discreet duties within the working process, Bureaucracy Theory rationalized further the relationships between the different units by establishing institutions based on the post of the worker in the company. Various posts were formally conceptualized according to their professional fields and their required characteristic features and inscribed into a system of regulations that guide the working process.

The personality of the individual was no longer important as long as they fitted in the detailed description of the post. Bureaucracy was critiqued for the excessive importance it attached to regulations and lack of flexibility. Both theories are also considered to be discouraging for the workers as they don’t perceive themselves as a part of the organization that could make a difference. Bureaucratic discipline is blamed to underestimate human morals and professional experience, leading to poor working performance and reluctance to take responsibility.

On the other hand, both theories, as O’Toole suggested, are “foolproof” and could be of good use when managing companies with large number of workers engaged in unskilled labour. What was different in The Human Relations Theories was that the classic writers had a conception of the human nature and they started to take it into consideration. Early writers of this theory discovered that besides the functions and relationships already into regulation, there was another reality – this of the informal relationships between and within the working groups.

The management faced another task – to learn to communicate with the various informal working groups. Management had to create “the human side of Enterprise”. One of the theories states that human behavior had to be adjusted to the goals of the enterprise. There was a conception that the average man would not work with pleasure but would rather avoid all work if possible, so they have to be directed and controlled so that they don’t. In order to work, the worker has to have a mutual interest with the organization – to gain more profit.

The Human Resource Theory and particularly the X Theory suggest that individuals seek security and feel better when controlled and not assigned too many responsibilities. When kept in a state of fear and slight insecurity, and with an option of improvement, according to Mc Greggor workers are believed to find motivation and work harder. Y Theory, on the other hand suggests that management has to adapt to the working environment and the informal structures, rather than the opposite.

Worker’s satisfaction was important because it was believed that it led to better working performance. The basic perceptions of the X Theory were changed and the management recognized the workers as individuals driven by will to develop, accomplish different goals and seek satisfaction. Human Relations Theory however is also not perfect as it is often based on an understanding of human nature which, as the two examples (the X and Y Theories) show, could just as well be opposite to one another. Then which one is the right one?

A balanced approach within the HR Theory however could be useful in every management’s practice. There is always the dilemma: which one is more important – the formal structure or the informal, spontaneous and based on the internal logics of the organization structures? Once again, the answer is simple, and yet just as hard to implement in practice. A good manager has the knowledge and experience to adopt and maintain a balanced approach, both in interest to his/her employees and the interests of the enterprise.

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