A century of management

Management as a standalone discipline within business is now 100 years old. Time for a history lesson.

A century of management

Most professions, such as law, medicine, engineering, the Army and the Church, have long established traditions and disciplines. Management evolved later, in the 20th century, just over 100 years ago, the result of hands-on experience and the influence of practitioners, visionaries and thinkers, like F W Taylor, Henri Fayol, Peter Drucker and, later, Tom Peters. For many years, however, doubts remained about the role of managers and management. 

If an early definition seemed elusive, there had to be a way to describe just what drives targets, deadlines and results.

Achieving targets seemed largely a matter of strategy and style, which began to be broken down into planning, budgeting and organising. One key change in recent years; the practice of 'control and command' is finally evolving into leadership, motivation and engagement.

One of the early pioneers, who became known as the 'Father of Scientific Management', F W Taylor (1856-1915) studied production efficiency and processes at the Bethlehem Steel Works in Pittsburgh, which led to time and motion study and piecework.

He published 'Principles of Scientific Management' in 1911.

Another time and motion study pioneer, Frank Gilbreth, had trained as an apprentice bricklayer and found that by breaking down a job into its component parts the process could be streamlined.

Together with his wife, a psychologist, they wrote 'Applied Motion Study.' They also had 12 children and were believed to be responsible for the script of 'Cheaper by the Dozen'.

Another influential voice about the same time, Henri Fayol, a French industrialist (1841-1925) was first to develop an early framework for studying management by identifying five key functions: planning, organising, communicating, coordinating and controlling. This was definitely a step forward, and Fayol became known as the 'Father of Modern Management' and published 'General and Industrial Management' in 1916.

About the same time, Elton Mayo began to question the behavioural assumptions of scientific management. He became associated with the Hawthorne Studies, which claimed that the human factor wasn't given enough importance. For example, physical conditions in motivating employees to be more productive, such as better lighting, could lead to higher productivity.

Breaks and 'talking time' might also be conducive to higher output!

In search of excellence

Not a lot that could be regarded as new seems to have occurred in management between the First and Second World Wars, but the 1950s onwards began to see a fresh burst of activity from management thinkers like Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Ted Levitt and others.

Tom Peters, a McKinsey consultant with a civil engineering degree from Cornell and an MBA from Stanford, co-authored with Robert Waterman 'In Search of Excellence', which is still considered one of the best management books, with sales of over five million copies across the world.

Peters and Waterman predicted future interest in workers' empowerment, the concept of the core business, customer focus, decentralisation, leaner organisations and the dismantling of hierarchies.

More books by Tom Peters followed. He will almost certainly be known to many readers as one of the most charismatic, evangelistic apostles among management speakers.

Another visionary in the early post-war years, Edwards Deming, ironically began to make his mark in Japan where he may have had a more receptive audience. Don't just make it and try to sell it, he urged, but redesign it and then again bring the process under control with ever increasing quality. The consumer is the most important part of the production line. The focus on quality and consumer satisfaction came to be labelled 'total quality management' (TQM).

Some of Deming's teachings included greater constancy of purpose, in situ training and education on the job. Transformation of Western management style is necessary, he urged, to halt the continuous decline of industry. Yet until the 1980s his ideas were largely ignored in the West, by which time Japanese industry had begun to adopt his ideas with deadly seriousness.

One of the most prolific and influential thinkers and writers, professor and consultant to many large companies, Peter Drucker, already in 1969 referred to America as a 'knowledge economy'.

In the 1960s he called for less hierarchical structures and leaner organisations. He identified five basic operations in the work of the manager - setting objectives, organising, motivating and communicating, reassuring and developing people. Drucker, as the Economist once noted, has a 'burning sense of the importance of management'.

In the 1960s, corporate strategy became a new issue and a big talking point. It was the title of the latest book by Igor Ansoff who had qualified as an engineer and mathematician. Ansoff introduced strategic management, which embraced strategic planning, organisational capacity, management of resistance to change.

Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian professor with a background in engineering who had taught at two leading business schools, McGill in Canada and INSEAD in France, soon challenged Ansoff's ideas, particularly the role and process of strategic planning. He jokingly described himself as a "well-published waif. I am sceptical about everything except reality". Tom Peters regarded him as "perhaps the world's premier management thinker". His partnership with Lancaster is described separately.

Managers, not MBAs

He is still a professor at McGill University, Canada, but no longer teaches on MBA programmes which, he says, should be closed down. It's the wrong way, he claims, to train people who weren't meant to become managers. MBA programmes are confused between training leaders and specialists. If accountants were forbidden to be chief executives it would probably be an enormous benefit. One of his best known works 'Managers, Not MBAs' set out to change management education.

In the 1970s I met Igor Ansoff in London, and around the same time Professor Ted Levitt, a lively academic with a sense of humour whose article in Harvard Business Review unleashed worldwide interest in marketing. A truly marketing-minded firm, he wrote, tries to create value satisfying goods and services that consumers will want to buy.

Marketing and the marketing concept became buzzwords. In the next 20 years companies of all sizes began to set up marketing departments, but still seemed unsure whether marketing meant marketing services, bringing together advertising, merchandising, and promotion, or a new role for business development, a customer orientated approach to managing the business.

Levitt's reputation soared again 20 years later with another article in the HBR on the globalisation of marketing, which had a major effect on global branding and global marketing services.

Closer to home, Charles Handy became one of the thinkers whose books were to gain a wide following. In the 'Shamrock Organisation', he envisaged future companies with a central core management backed by a lean organisation supported by a network of suppliers for non-core activities; and a network of peripheral staff brought in to carry out specialist and project-based activities. In other words, interim managers, now widely used in change management, or to oversee projects for which there are no trained and qualified internal staff to spare.

Handy's books, 'Gods of Management', 'Understanding Organisations', 'The Age of Unreason', 'Beyond Certainty' and 'The Empty Raincoat' have contributed to a reputation as an outstanding UK management guru, rather than consultant, which, he once told me, he would never try to be.

The business of teaching

Can management really be taught? Business schools in America and Europe have clearly played a significant role in training managers. The first, believed to be Chicago Business School, opened in 1989, followed by Harvard in 1908.

In Britain, the first business school opened in 1905. Today, UK institutions like the London Business School and the Judge Institute in Cambridge rate among the top ten in the world. Despite the current credit crunch and the fairly heavy financial outlay, demand for MBA courses appears to be running counter-cyclical and places are in huge demand by overseas students.

Asian business schools too are flourishing and Moscow recently opened its own school of management.What business schools can be good at, says Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University's School of Management, is to lay the foundation and reinforce students' knowledge and skills base. What is important today is to develop inter-personal and social skills - how to deal with other human beings.

Nothing stands still in management education or management concepts. If technology is influencing and increasing the rate of change in an organisation, says Professor Reg Reavan, a prominent UK academic, then technology may become an essential component in ensuring that the rate of learning keeps pace in order for the organisation to flourish and compete effectively.

Just over 100 years old, management is beginning to be accepted as a profession - but a profession facing an infinity of new challenges.

Fortunately it has never been short of able practitioners and visionaries; but the fact is that after 50 years the UK's public sector for example is only now beginning to overcome its management problems.

Corporate social responsibility is another serious issue facing companies. Also, how to manage outsourcing, the virtual organisation and the implications of the credit crunch. These are among the many challenges facing managers in the 21st century.

Recent articles

Info Message

Our sites use cookies to support some functionality, and to collect anonymous user data.

Learn more about IET cookies and how to control them