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Classical approach

The Classical approach - also called the Scientific - Rational approach, originates from the late nineteenth century. Driven by desire to improve the performance of organisations and to sustain and legitimate managerial authority. It portrays organisations as machines. Seeing the people and elements that form that organisation as parts that respond to the correct stimulus.

The approach is characterised by three common propositions: - Organisations are rational entities - The design of organisations is a science - People are economic beings, in other words - they are solely motivated by money.

The key figures in the development of the Classical approach were Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol, and Max Weber. Interestingly, the three developed their views individually. Nevertheless, their work complements each other. As Taylor was focussed on operational concerns, Fayol looked at overall administration and control of organisations. Weber brought together the detailed tasks required in an organisation and the general principles governing organisations.

Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management

Taylor's primary focus was on the design and analysis of individual tasks. Leading eventually to changes in the overall structure of the organisation. His Scientific Management approach has three core elements:

  • the systematic collection of knowledge about the work processes by managers
  • the removal or reduction of workers' discretion and control over what they do
  • the laying down of standard procedures and times for carrying out each job.

These elements are designed upon two basis beliefs of Taylor:

It is possible and desirable to establish - via methods and scientific principles - the single best way to carry out a job. Once established, it must be implemented fully and consistently.

Human beings are predisposed to seek the maximum reward for the minimum reward. Something he called: soldiering. To overcome this, managers must describe in detail what each worker should do, ensure close supervision, and to give positive motivation, link pay to performance.

In other words: Managers are in the best spot to analyse and design the best way to execute a job. Once established, they need to ensure workers are closely monitored that they execute the job as designed. Only then, the best performance will be achieved and the worker should receive the best pay possible.

The most prominent example of the use of Scientific Management was at Henry Ford's Highland Park plant. The home of the world first mass-produced car, the T-Ford. He coupled the introduction of the moving assembly line with the principles of scientific management. It allowed Ford to double his production capacity, while reducing the workforce required.

Henri Fayol and the principles of organisation

Contrary to the work of Taylor, Fayol's focus was on organisational level rather than task level. In other words; top-down instead of bottom-up. It makes that his work is complementary to the work Taylor. Like Taylor, he was also concerned with developing a universal approach to management that was applicable for any organisation.

He developed 14 principles of organisation. 14 principles that he believes are the prime responsibility of management to adhere. As such, he described the main duties of management as:

  • Forecasting and planning
  • Organising
  • Commanding
  • Coordinating
  • Controlling

The 14 principles of organisation

  1. Division of work
  2. Authority and responsibility
  3. Discipline
  4. Unity of command
  5. Unity of direction
  6. Subordination or individual or group interests
  7. Remuneration of personnel
  8. Centralisation
  9. Scalar chain
  10. Order
  11. Equity
  12. Stability of tenure of personnel
  13. Initiative
  14. Esperit de corps

Max Weber on bureaucracy

Core belief of Weber's perspective on organisation is to gain legitimacy and to develop an administrative apparatus to enforce and support their authority. Weber identified what he called 'three pure types of legitimate authority':

  • Rational-legal
    • resting on a belief that normative rules are 'legal' and accepted as the organisation is seen authoritative to issues such commands
  • Traditional
    • resting on an established belief of immemorial traditions
  • Charasmatic
    • resting on devotion to the specific and exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and the normative patterns or order revealed by them.

Weber believed that in the early twentieth century rational-legal authority structures prevailed in Western societies. He argued that there are five concepts on which rational-legal authority is based:

  1. That a legal code can be established which can claim obedience from members of the organisation
  2. That the law is a system of abstract rules which are applied in particular cases, and that administration looks after the interests of the organisations within the limits of law
  3. That the man exercising authority also obeys this impersonal law
  4. That only qua [in the capacity of] member does the member obey the law
  5. That obedience is due not to the person who holds authority but to the impersonal order that has granted him his position

Basic assumptions of the Classical Approach

There is a "one best way" for all organisations to be structured and to operate

This approach is founded on the rule of law and legitimate managerial authority and is designed to ensure that employees' behaviour is geared solely to the efficient pursuit of the organisation's goals.

Organisations are rational entities. Groups of individuals who consistently and effectively pursue rational, quantifiable goals which should be specified as tightly as possible.

People are motivated to work solely by financial reward

Human fallibility and emotions, at all levels in the organisation, should be eliminated because they threaten the consistent application of the rule of law and the efficient pursuit of goals.

For this reason, the most appropriate form of job design is achieved through the use of the hierarchical and horizontal division of labour to create narrowly focused jobs encased in tight, standardised procedures and rules, which remove discretion, dictate what job holders do and how they do it, and allow their work to be closely monitored and controlled by their direct superiors.

Classical approach