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Traditional Perspective: Principles of Management


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Traditional Perspective

A major attempt was made in the early days of this century by Frederick Taylor and his followers who saw the organisation as a hard, tangible mechanical system with a tendency for ‘order’ and ‘harmony’. These assumptions were based on Webber’s original conception of the nature of the organisation, which was ‘hierarchical’, based on status quo and which advocated the relationship between authority and position within the hierarchy of the organisation. The vague notion of so called Scientific Management emerged, one which became the foundation for the studies of organisational and management scholars, practitioners, planners and developers. It still remains a powerful and influential philosophy throughout the world, particularly within the third world countries and the newly formed transitional economies.

It is imperative to note that despite the numerous criticisms that it has faced, it still remains a dominant philosophy amongst those who believe in centralisation of planning, decision making and power within the organisation. Even within transition economies, its assumptions are nowadays being questioned and challenged by scholars, developers and practitioners. Management thinkers and writers therefore contributed the most to the growth and development of this school of thought. Their contributions will be briefly noted below.

Principles of Management

The name Frederick Taylor is synonymous with the term ‘scientific management’. It was the result of his studies conducted in Bethlehem Steel Company that provided a scientific basis for designing and measuring jobs. He believed that, by breaking down the elements of each task into a number of separate components and finding the most efficient way of working on those tasks, it is possible to increase productivity, generate economic rewards and ultimately achieve prosperity for both the organisation and the individuals.

His main principles for management were:

Development of True Science of Work - the scientific investigation of a daily task; work can then be planned and task is discharged under optimum conditions (Work Study)

Scientific Selection and Progressive Development of the Workmen - workers were selected to ensure that they possess physical and intellectual qualities to enable them to achieve the specified output systematically and each can be trained to be a “first-class” man.

Bringing Together of the Science of Work and Scientifically Selected and Trained Men - Providing mechanism in place to ensure the co-operation between men and management.

Constant and Intimate Co-operation of Management and Men - by understanding each other’s task and understanding who is best suited for what (psychological acceptance of status quo).

Underlying philosophy is that co-operation is an essential pre-condition for the implementation of scientific management and that co-operation can be substituted for conflict.

Taylor’s belief was that science is the solution (science means systematic observation and measurement and application of the generalised rules, principles and laws). Therefore, it was believed that once natural laws governing work and productivity are discovered, then everyone will adhere to the laws of the situation and there will be no place for conflict.

Henri Fayol was one of the earliest exponents of a general theory of administration. He defined administration in terms if five primary elements:

Definition of Administration

planning, organisation, command, co-ordination and control


These, later have become the foundation for considering the basic processes or functions of management.

Fayol argued that managerial activity was the problem and solution for all organisations, for example, industrial, public services and churches.

His first analysis was to divide the activities in industrial undertaking into six main groups. These were:

a)    Technical (production, manufacture, adaptation)

b)   Commercial activities (buying, selling, exchange)

c)    Financial activities (search for optimum use of capital)

d)   Security activities (protection of property and persons)

e)    Accounting activities (stocktaking, balance sheets, costs, statistics)

f)     Managerial activities (planning, organisation, command, co-ordination, control)

It was suggested that management answer to those activities are:

a)   Forecast and plan - essentially looking forward, deciding what is to be achieved by the organisation and planning to achieve those objectives

b)   Organise - building up the structure, material and human resources of the undertaking

c)   Command - maintaining activity amongst the personnel

d)  Co-ordinate - binding together unifying and harmonising all activity and effort

e)   Control - seeing that everything occurs in conformity with established rules and expressed command

Another influential management writer, Colonel L.B. Urich, in his book ‘The Elements of Administration’ separated the principle of forecasting from planning, thus presenting principles of management as six managerial activities.

Critique of Traditional View

This approach to organisations and their management has been subject to substantial criticism.

It employs close system assumptions in order to reduce uncertainty and maximise control.

Many of its principles are based on common sense “Truism” and suffer from generality, in that they lack specific guide lines for applications.

It regards the organisation as “Machine” and people as its components, “organisation without people”.

At its best it regards the individuals as “economic man”, only motivated by money.

It, therefore, disregards the social and more complex needs of individuals in organisations

Nowadays, communication has been given more emphasis than ever before, however although analysis may differ in certain aspects, or maybe highlighted in one aspect more than others, nevertheless Fayol’s work still represents a most useful framework in which to study management in general.

Despite the above criticism the classical approach still remains influential even today. Many of its principles have formed the foundation for the development of the modern management concepts.


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