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Weaknesses of the Classical Management Theories

management, classical management theories, weaknesses of classical management theories, administration, managers, managerial roles

Classical theories and the principles derived from them continue to be popular today with some modifications. Many criticisms have been directed at the classicists. Several major ones are discussed here.

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. For instance, Taylor's and Fayol's work came primarily from their experiences with large manufacturing firms that were experiencing stable environments. 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.

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. For instance, the classical approaches seem to view the life of a worker as beginning and ending at the plant door. Their basic assumption is that workers are primarily motivated by money and that they work only for more money. They also assume that productivity is the best measure of how well a firm is performing. 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.

Failure ot consider the informal organization

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. 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.

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. For instance, a heavy emphasis on rules and regulations may cause people to obey rules blindly without remembering their original intent. Oftentimes, since rules establish a minimum level of performance expected of employees, a minimum level is all they achieve. Perhaps much more could be achieved if the rules were not so explicit.

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. 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.

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.
Since many of these criticisms of the classical school are harsh, several points need to be made in defense of writers during this period. First, the work force was not highly educated or trained to perform many of the jobs that existed at the time. It was not common for workers to think in terms of what "career" they were going to pursue. 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.
Second, much of the writing took place when technology was undergoing a rapid transformation, particularly in the area of manufacturing. Indeed, for many writers, technology was the driving force behind organizational and social change. Thus, their focus was on finding ways to increase efficiency. It was assumed that all humankind could do was to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions.
Finally, very little had been done previously in terms of generating a coherent and useful body of management theory. Many of the classical theorists were writing from scratch, obliged for the most part to rely on their own experience and observations. Thus their focus is understandably narrow.
Published: 2007-05-06
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

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