Toward a unified global theory of management

The framework of planning, organizing, staffing, leading, and controlling (with some slight variation at times) has become the most popular way of structuring managerial knowledge. Management textbook based on this framework are widely used around the world. Still, there are challenging tasks ahead for integrating the body of managerial knowledge into a unified theory.

There is evidence that the management theory jungle not only continues to flourish but gets denser with nearly twice as many schools or approaches as were found more than 20 years ago.

At the same time, there are signs that the various schools of thought at converging. Realizing that these are only signs along the road to a more unified and operational theory of management, and that there is more of this road to travel, let us briefly examine some of these tendencies toward convergence.

In reviewing the many programs that use cases as a means of educating managers, one finds that there appears to be much greater emphasis on distilling fundamentals than there was two or three decades ago. Likewise, in the field of business policy, by which term these case approaches have tended to be known, there was been increased emphasis on teaching and research that goes beyond recounting what happened in a given situation to analyzing the underlying causes. One major result of all this has been a new emphasis on strategic management. Furthermore, many textbooks on policy and strategy now have International cases and considerable text material of distilled knowledge.

Practicing managers as well as the operational theorists increasingly use the basics of systems theory in analyzing managerial jobs. On the macro level, managers, especially those in multinational corporations, are viewing their operations as a global interdependent system. Japanese managers, for example, are in charge manufacturing plants in the United States and US managers direct their firms in Europe ad other countries.

It is now clear that the concepts of situational or contingency management are merely a way of distinguishing between science and art, knowledge and practice. Science and art are two different but complementary things. Those writers and scholars who have emphasized situational or contingency approaches have done the field of management theory and practice a great deal service by stressing that what the intelligent manager actually does depends on the realities of the situation, whether it is the United States or abroad.

The confluence of management and leadership theory:

Another interesting sign of the move towards a unified operational theory of management is the way that research and analysis have tended to merge motivation and leadership theory. Leadership research and theory have found that people tend to follow those who offer them a means of satisfying their own desires. Thus, explanations of leadership have been increasingly related to motivation.

Implied by most recent research and theory is the clear message that effective leaders design a system that takes into account the expectations of sub-ordinates, the variability of motives between individuals, the factors specific to a situation, the need for clarity of role definition, interpersonal relations, and types of rewards.

The new managerially oriented “organization development”:

Both organization development and the field ordinarily referred to as organization behaviour have grown out of the interpersonal and group behavior approaches to management. Many specialists in these areas are now beginning to see that basic management theory and techniques fit well into their programs of behavioral intervention.

Fortunately, a review of the latest organization behavior books indicates that many authors in this field are beginning to understand that the study of behavioral elements in group operations must be more closely integrated with the study of organization structure design, staffing, planning and control. This is a hopeful sign.