Social Events shape management

We conclude this historical review by showing you how social events shape and theorists write about and what practicing managers focus on. Although some management historians may quarrel with the following cause effect analysis, few would disagree that societal conditions are the primary driving forces behind the emergence of the different management.

What stimulated the classical approach?

The common thread in the ideas offered by individuals such as Taylor, the Gilbreths, Fayol, and Weber has increased efficiency. The world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was highly inefficient. Most organizational activities were unplanned and unorganized. Job responsibilities were vague and ambiguous. Managers, when they existed, had no clear notion of what they were supposed to do. There was a crying need for ideas that could bring order out of this chaos and improve productivity. And the standardized practices offered by the classicists were a means to increase productivity. Take the specific case of scientific management. At the turn of the twentieth century, the standard of living was low; wages were modest, and few workers owned their own homes. Production was highly labor intensive. It wasn’t unusual, for instance, for hundreds of people to be doing the same repetitive, back breaking job, hour after hour, day after day. So Taylor could justify spending six months or more studying one job and perfecting a standardized one best way to do it because the labor intensive procedures of the time had so many people performing the same task. And the efficiencies on the production floor could be passed on in lower prices for steel, thus expanding markets, creating more jobs, and making products such as stoves and refrigerators more accessible to working families. Similarly, Frank Gilbreth’s breakthroughs in improving the efficiency of bricklayers and standardizing those techniques meant lower costs for putting up buildings and, thus, more buildings being constructed. The cost of putting up factories and homes dropped significantly, so more factories could be built, and more people could own their own homes. The end result: The application of scientific management principles contributed to raising the standard of living of entire countries.

What stimulated the Human Resources Approach?

The human resources approach rally began to roll in the 1930s when two related forces were instrumental in fostering, this interest. First was a backlash to the overly mechanistic view of employees held by the classical view. Second was the Great Depression.

The classical view treated organizations and people as machines. Managers were the engineers who ensured that the inputs were available and that the machines were properly maintained. Any failure by the employee to generate the desired output was viewed as an engineering problem. It was time to redesign the job or grease the machine by offering the employee an incentive wage plan. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking created an alienated workforce. Human beings were not machines and did not necessarily respond positively to the cold and regimented work environment of the classicists’ perfectly designed organization. The human resources approach offered managers solutions for decreasing this alienation and for improving worker productivity.

The Great Depression swept the globe in the 1930s and dramatically increased the role of government in individual and business affairs. For instance, in the United States, Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal sought to restore confidence to a stricken nation. Between 1935 and 1938 alone, the Social Security Act was created to provide old age assistance: the National Labor Relations Act was passed to legitimize the rights of labor unions; the Fair Labor Standards Act introduced the guaranteed hourly wage; and the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act established the first national unemployment protection. This New Deal climate increased the importance of the worker. Humanizing the workplace had become congruent with society’s concerns.

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