Evolution of Management Theories

Management theories have evolved over time because of the changes in the work environment. As changes continue to occur, previous theories tend to become less relevant, which prompts the development of the new ones that can address the emerging challenges. This essay will evaluate various management theories, the importance of the timeline when each of them emerged, the conditions on the market that allowed the development of the theory, the theorists who fathered the principle, the signs of the time that influenced the development of the concept, and the highlights as well as the limitations of each theory. 

Scientific management theory was developed by Frederick Taylor in the 1880s, and it became the dominant concept in the early 20th century (Taylor, 2010). Its development was quite significant because it enabled managers to standardize tasks to improve economic efficiency and labor productivity. At the time of its development, the industrialization of production had taken root in the work environment, and the tasks that employees performed were routine. One of the signs that made the development of the theory critical was the observation made by Taylor (2010) that workers who did repetitive work tended to be unmotivated. Therefore, he developed a theory with the intentions of rewarding and punishing workers, which would prompt them to increase their motivation. The highlights of the theory included the improved productivity of routine tasks, especially in the production lines. The focus of the work environment at the time was on the increased productivity; thus, the motivation and measurement of tasks empowered the managers to determine the task each employee could perform. One of the limitations of the theory was that it claimed that there was one best way to carry out tasks, which ignored the possibility of contingent factors that could limit the application of the theory in some work environments. Thirdly, the theory assumed that money was the only effective motivational factor, which led the managers to ignore human factors.


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Professor Elton Mayo developed human relations theory of management during the industrial revolution in the early 1920s (Boddy, 2009). The development of the theory took place after the establishment of scientific management theory. In Chicago, Mayo conducted several experiments, known as the Hawthorne studies, and identified the human factors that affected productivity. The earlier scientific approached focused on the productivity side of work and ignored people’s aspects. Therefore, the sign that prompted Mayo to conduct the social studies included the treatment of people as robots rather than humans. At the time of the experiments, work environment was dominated by the application of Taylor’s theory as a holistic approach to work that could solve all the productivity and motivational needs. At the same time, human relations theory was significant because it set the foundation for other motivational theories. The highlight of the theory was the realization that people desired to be part of a team that supported their development and growth. As such, when employees received special attention, they acknowledged the importance of their work and they were motivated to improve the quality of their work. One limitation of the theory is that it encourages the formation of social groups that might become informal and deliberately collude to reduce productivity to force the management to meet their demands.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy proposed systems theory in 1928 (Ramage & Shipp, 2009). At the time of the theory’s inception, scientific management was in use in work environment. Thus, von Bertalanffy created systems theory to challenge the linearity assumption of the scientific method. According to him, this method assumed that the components of the system could be removed, analyzed, and added back in a linear manner to describe its totality. He argued that both assumptions were wrong and explained that the understanding of a system could only be achieved by considering the interaction of its components in non-linear ways. The sign that led to the concept’s development was the simplicity, with which scientific management treated organizations. According to the theory, an enterprise is a system composed of small subsystems that interact with each other to help the whole achieve optimal results (Ramage & Shipp, 2009). Inefficiency of one subsystem leads to an entire system’s failure. The theory was significant because it broadened the perception of an organization to include its interaction with its external environment. Its highlights included the recognition of the interdependence of a firm’s constituent parts and the synergy they provided to corporations. The limitations included its inability to offer specific tools to managers and its vagueness in practical applications.

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Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory emerged after the acceptance of human relations theory. Abraham Maslow came up with the theory between the 1940s and 1950s (Chandan, 2009). According to the theory, people have five levels of needs that can be arranged in a pyramid. The fulfillment of the needs at the bottom leads to the urge to satisfy those above them. They include physiological and biological safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization needs. The sign that made the theorist realize that the time was appropriate was the lack of classification for social needs that Mayo had identified in his experiments. At that time, workplace experienced an emergence of many alternative theories, and thus, Maslow’s work was acceptable and welcome. The milestone that marked the development of the theory was significant because it provided specific parameters that managers could consider in their motivational planning. The major highlight of Maslow’s theory was that it had helped organizational leaders to interpret human behavior and motivation. On the other hand, it has a limitation in that its definition of needs and their classification does not consider cultural differences.

Further, contingency theory of management states that there is no single best way to organize a company, lead, or make decisions (Bacher, 2007). The origin of contingency theory could be traced back to 1957 when Richard Schmidt and Robert Tannenbaum created a leadership continuum, ranging from high employee freedom to task-oriented behaviors. The two asserted that when a leader leaned towards one side of the continuum, he became less effective on the other (Bacher, 2007). Later in 1964, Fred Fiedler made a contingency model that claimed that the effectiveness of a leadership style depended on its application context (Bacher, 2007). Fiedler’s model classified leadership styles as task-motivated or relationship-motivated. When the theory emerged, managers started realizing that a method and approach that had worked in one situation failed in another. Therefore, it made sense to develop new theories. This milestone was significant in the development of management theories because it allowed managers flexibility to use the methods that worked and not conform to the approaches that did not work.  The failures of previous theories to tackle emerging challenges formed part of the signs that signaled the need for the concept development. The highlights of the principle included the flexibility to respond to changes in the external environment and the motivation to remain innovative in the pursuit of alternative means of managing and leading. The theory’s limitation, especially Fiedler’s model, was that it assumed that leadership was inherent. Thus, when a leader failed in a situation, the solution was to change the leader instead of the style. Such an assumption did not offer managers the flexibility to try other methods.

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In conclusion, scientific management, human relations, systems, Maslow’s hierarchy, and contingency theories are essential in management. Thus, scientific management focused on productivity by measuring tasks, rewarding performers and punishing those with low productivity. Human relations theory shifted the focus to human needs as a source of motivation. Maslow’s theory classified the human needs alluded to by human relations theory. Finally, contingency and systems’ theories adopted a holistic view of organizations and provided flexibility to managers on how to deal with various situations.

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