Comparison of Classical and Behavioral Approaches to Management

Management has been as old as the human beings and with the evolvement of humans management has also evolved. The history of management and its theories can be traced back to thousands of years.  However, systematic development of the theories of management is generally viewed from the end of nineteenth century with the emergence of large industrial organizations and the ensuing problems associated with their structure and management. This is the time when work of various writers on the management has started to come into the light. These works can be clubbed together to form different approaches to the theory of management.

Two of the most popular and widely accepted approaches to management are:

  1. Classical Approach to Management, and
  2. Behavioral Approach or Human Relation Approach to Management

In order to be able to compare and understand the contrast of these two approaches to management, let’s understand the basics of these two approaches to management.

Classical Approach to Management

The classical writers thought of the organisation in terms of its purpose and formal structure. They placed emphasis on the planning of work, the technical requirements of the organisation, principles of management, and the assumption of rational and logical behavior. The analysis of organisation in this manner is associated with work carried out initially in the early part of the twentieth century, by such writers as Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henri  Fayol, Lyndall Fownes  Urwick, James Mooney  and Alan C.  Reiley. Such writers were laying the foundation for a comprehensive theory of management.

The Classical School seeks to generalize the nature of management based on the experience of successful managers. The basic theme of this assumption is that if a particular business operation is successful, or if a particular problem was effectively tackled by application of a particular strategy, then the methods of strategies through which success was achieved by the managers could be equally effectively used by others in the case of similar business situations in future. The classical writers were concerned with improving the organisation structure as a means of increasing efficiency. They emphasized the importance of principles for the design of a logical structure of organisation.

Mooney and Reiley set out a number of common principles which relate to all types of organisations. They place particular attention on:

  1. The principle of co-ordination — the need for people to act together with unity of action, the exercise of authority and the need for discipline;
  2. The scalar principle — the hierarchy of organisation, the grading of duties and the process of delegation; and
  3. The functional principle — specialization and the distinction between different kinds of duties.

The classical writers have been criticized generally for not taking sufficient account of personality factors and for creating an organisation structure in which people can exercise only limited control over their work environment.

Research studies have also expressed doubt about the effectiveness of these principles when applied in practice. However, the classical approach prompted the start of a more systematic view of management and attempted to provide some common principles applicable to all organisations. These principles are still of relevance in that they offer a useful starting point in attempting to analyse the effectiveness of the design of organisation structure. The application of these principles must take full account of:

  • the particular situational variables of each individual organisation; and
  • the psychological and social factors relating to members of the organisation.

The major sub-grouping of classical approach to management are:

  1. SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT: This school of thought was the firm believer that machine and man put together in an organized manner will yield more productivity and will be beneficial for workers and organizations alike.. A major contributor to this approach was F. W. Taylor (the ‘father’ of scientific management). Taylor believed that in the same way that there is a best machine for each job, so there is a best working method by which people should undertake their jobs. He considered that all work processes could be analysed into discrete tasks and that by scientific method it was possible to find the ‘one best way’ to perform each task. Each job was broken down into component parts, each part timed and the parts rearranged into the most efficient method of working.
  2. BUREAUCRACY: A form of structure to be found in many large-scale organisations is bureaucracy. The ideas and principles were derived mainly from practical experience. Writers on bureaucracy, however, tend to take a more theoretical view. Weber, a German sociologist, showed particular concern for what he called ‘bureaucratic structures’, although his work in this area came almost as a side issue to his main study on power and authority. He suggested that ‘the decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organization’.

Behavioral  Approach to management

The main emphasis of the classical writers was on structure and the formal organisation, but during the 1920s, the years of the Great Depression, greater attention began to be paid to the social factors at work and to the behavior of employees within an organisation — that is, to human relations.

The turning point in the development of the ‘behavioral management’ came with the famous experiments at the Hawthorne. Among the people who wrote about the Hawthorne experiments was Elton Mayo, who is often quoted as having been a leader of the researchers. However, there appears to be some doubt as to the extent to which Mayo was actually involved in conducting the experiments and his exact contribution to the human relations movement. There were 4 main experiments carried out at Hawthrone:

  1. Illumination experiments;
  2. Relay assembly test room;
  3. Interviewing programme;
  4. Bank wiring observation room.

Another important constitute of Behavioral approach to management is McGregor’s Thoery X and Theory Y. His theory X postulates that a worker is lazy, lacks ambition, self-centric, resistant to change and is not bright, where as his Theory Y postulates that a worker is willing to work, ambitious, self-controlled and creative.

The human relations approach has been subjected to severe criticism. The Hawthorne experiments have been criticized, for example, on methodology and on failure of the investigators to take sufficient account of environmental factors — although much of this criticism is with the value of hindsight. The human relations writers have been criticized generally for the adoption of a management perspective, their ‘unitary frame of reference’ and their oversimplified theories.

Other criticisms of the human relations approach are that it is insufficiently scientific and that it takes too narrow a view. It ignores the role of the organisation itself in how society operates. Whatever the interpretation of the results of the Hawthorne experiments, they did generate new ideas concerning the importance of work groups and leadership, communications, output restrictions, motivation and job design. They placed emphasis on the importance of personnel management and gave impetus to the work of the human relations writers. The Hawthorne experiments undoubtedly marked a significant step forward in providing further insight into human behavior at work and the development of management thinking.

Classical and Behavioral Approaches to Management — Compared

Whereas supporters of the classical approach sought to increase production by rationalization of the work organisation, the human relations movement has led to ideas on increasing production by humanizing the work organisation. The classical approach adopted more of a managerial perspective, while the human relations approach strove for a greater understanding of people’s psychological and social needs at work as well as improving the process of management. It is usually regarded as the first major approach to organisation and management to show concern for industrial sociology.

The behavioral approach recognized the importance of the informal organisation, which will always be present within the formal structure. This informal organisation will influence the motivation of employees, who will view the organisation for which they work through the values and attitudes of their colleagues. Their view of the organisation determines their approach to work and the extent of their motivation to work well or otherwise. However, classical approach does not recognize these informal structures in organization.

Behavioral theorists demonstrated that people go to work to satisfy a complexity of needs and not simply for monetary reward. They emphasized the importance of the wider social needs of individuals and gave recognition to the work organisation as a social organisation and the importance of the group, and group values and norms, in influencing individual behavior at work. Whereas, classical writers were of the opinion that only motivation a worker has is monetary.

It has been commented that the classical school was concerned about ‘organisations without people’ and the human relations school about ‘people without organisations’.

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