The Evolution of Management

The Evolution of Management

Most managers today recognise the importance of history.  Knowing the origins of their organisation and the kinds of practices that have led to success or failure can be an indispensable tool to managing the contemporary organisation. Thus, in this article we trace the history of management thought. Then we move forward to the present day by introducing contemporary management issues and challenges.  When you enrol on one of BOTI’s leadership and management training courses, business management courses or business training programmes you will learn the fundamentals of management and so much more.

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The importance of theory and history

Some people question the value of history and theory.  Their arguments are usually based on the assumption that history has no relevance to contemporary society and that theory is abstract and of no practical use.  In reality, however, both theory and history are important to all managers today.  A theory is simply a conceptual framework for organising knowledge and providing a blueprint for action.  While some theories seem abstract and irrelevant, others appear very simple and practical.  Management theories, used to build organisations and guide them toward their goals, are grounded in reality.   In addition, most managers develop and refine their own theories of how they should run their organisations and manage the behaviour of their employees.

An awareness and understanding of important historical developments are also essential to contemporary managers.  Understanding the historical context of management provides a sense of heritage and can help managers avoid the mistakes of others.

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The historical context of management

The practice of management can be traced back thousands of years.  The Egyptians used the management functions of planning, organising, and controlling when they constructed the great pyramids.   Alexander the Great employed a staff organisation to co-ordinate activities during his military campaigns.  The Roman Empire developed a well-defined organisational structure that greatly facilitated communication and control.  In spite of this history, however, management per se was not given serious attention until the nineteenth century. All things history considered, BOTI’s leadership and management training courses, business management courses and business training programmes will guide you into the future.

Two of its first true pioneers were Robert Owen (1771-1858) and Charles Babbage (1792-1871).  Owen, a British industrialist and reformer, was one of the first managers to recognise the importance of an organisation’s human resources and the welfare of workers. Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, focused his attention on efficiencies of production. He placed great faith in division of labour and advocated the application of mathematics to problems such as the efficient use of facilities and materials.

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The classical management perspective

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the preliminary ideas and writings of these and other managers and theorists converged with the emergence and evolution of largescale businesses and management practices to create interest and focus attention on how businesses should be operated. The first important ideas to emerge are now called the classical management perspective. This perspective actually includes two different viewpoints: scientific management and administrative management.


Scientific Management

Productivity emerged as a serious business problem during the first few years of this century. Business was expanding and capital was readily available, but labour was in short supply. Hence, managers began to search for ways to use existing labour more efficiently.   In response to this need, experts began to focus on ways to improve the performance of individual workers. Their work led to the development of scientific management.  Some of the earliest advocates of scientific management included Frederick W Taylor (1856-1915), Frank Gilbreth (1868-1924), and Lillian Gilbreth (1878- 1972).  One of Taylor’s first jobs was as a foreman at the Midvale Steel Company in Philadelphia.  It was there that he observed what he called soldiering-employees deliberately working at a pace slower than their capabilities. Taylor studied and timed each element of the steelworkers’ jobs. He determined what each worker should be producing, and then he designed the most efficient way of doing each part of the overall task. Next, he implemented a piecework pay system. Rather than paying all employees the same wage, he began increasing the pay of each worker who met and exceeded the target level of output set for his or her job.

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Administrative Management

Whereas scientific management deals with the jobs of individual employees, administrative management focuses on managing the total organisation. The primary contributors to administrative management were Henri Fayol (1841-1925), Lyndall Urwick (1891-1983), and Max Weber (1864-1920). Henri Fayol was administrative management’s most articulate spokesperson. A French industrialist, Fayol was unknown to U.S. managers and scholars until his most important work, General and Industrial Management, was trans lated into English in 1930. Drawing on his own managerial experience, he attempted to systematise the practice of management to provide guidance and direction to other managers.  Fayol also was the first to identify the specific managerial functions of planning, organising, leading, and controlling.  He believed that these functions accurately reflect the core of the management process.  Most contemporary management books (including this one) still use this framework, and practicing managers agree that these functions are a critical part of a manager’s job. After a career as a British army officer, Lyndall Urwick became a noted management theorist and consultant. He integrated scientific management with the work of Fayol and other administrative management theorists. He also advanced modern thinking about the functions of planning, organizing, and controlling. Like Fayol, Urwick developed a list of guidelines for improving managerial effectiveness. Urwick is noted not so much for his own contributions as for his synthesis and integration of the work of others.  Although Max Weber lived and worked at the same time as Fayol and Taylor, his contributions were not recognised until some years had passed. Weber was a German sociologist, and his most important work was not translated into English until 1947.18 Weber’s work on bureaucracy laid the foundation for contemporary organisation theory.

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