Managers: Classical Management Functions Essay

Management has existed since the early days of humanity, Egyptians building pyramids and the Chinese irrigation systems etc. Classical management writers rose in the time of the industrial revolution in Europe and emphasized on a more formal approach to management. But since the beginning of the implementation of the managerial work, it has been consistently unclear as to what is the nature of a manager’s work?

This question has been the basis of numerous texts and discussions over the years. Stephen J. Carrol and Dennis J. Gillen (1987) have tried to answer this question to the closest possibility in terms of practical implementation by comparing and analyzing the works of different scholars. The classical management functions as per Fayol (1949), define a managers work to be the one pertaining to planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating and controlling. Over the period of time, multiple managerial books and academic journals have been based on the subdivisions of these five principles as per the theories of Miner (1971).

But Mintzberg (1975) questioned Fayol’s classical managements functions and devised his own typology, which, like the classical functions, was gradually implemented in the academic world, but the two were never integrated in any study. Even other author’s like Kotter (1982) and Stewart (1974 ) have published their own typologies, which do not agree with the classical management functions. It has been clear due to such observations that author’s are having some difficulty in handling and converging these diverse perspectives on managerial work into one model of study.

This academic paper elaborates more on the works by Fayol and Mintzberg, while addressing the key issue of whether the classical function is still relevant in today’s organizations or if Mintzberg model was more accurate in defining the theoretical description. Henri Fayol was the first person to identify elements or functions of management. His five divisions of a manager’s work, as mentioned above, according to his argument, were universal in nature and could be applied to any managerial job, like business, military, government, religious etc.

Take Microsoft as an example and Fayol’s five distinctions of managerial theory as a guideline for the proper functioning of the organization. Then, his definition of planning was in terms of forecasting the future, setting objectives, and developing means to attain objectives. The manager’s of Microsoft have to effectively analyze the future of the market and have to keep a tab on the competitors. Fayol also considered that to deal with any unforeseen circumstances or hindrances in the path to achieving organizational goals, the plans should be made flexible and should not be rigid.

His definition of organizing constituted making of provisions for the structuring and activities of the firm and also the administrative operations of a firm. Fayol saw the function of coordination as harmonizing all of the various activities of a firm. He emphasized that the control function of the manager was important in order to make sure that all employee activities of a firm were restricted to the parameters of the organization’s principles and discipline. All of this sums up as a guideline to what should be ideally expected from Microsoft’s managers.

But off course, like any other theory ever established, Fayol’s classical management functions was also open to criticism and was thoroughly criticized by experts in the early 1970’s. Chief amongst the critics of the functional approach was Henry Mintzberg. He (1975) claimed that the functional approach was ‘folklore’ and that it was not sufficient to determine the chaotic nature of a manager’s job. He suggested that the functional theories falsely conveyed the message that a manager made his decisions based on a careful and deliberate evaluation of information.

Based on his observational study of five executives, Mintzberg concluded that the work managers actually performed could best be represented by three sets of roles, or activities; interpersonal roles, informational roles, and decision-making roles. He described the interpersonal roles as consisting of figurehead, leader and liaison. He identified three informational roles; monitor, disseminator, and spokesperson. Finally, he described four decision-making roles that included entrepreneur, disturbance handler, resource allocator and negotiator.

In contrast to Fayol, Mintzberg found that the managers in an organization spend “very little time on solitary tasks” (Brooks, 2009) but have to deal with the constant interruptions in the form of mails, calls, meetings etc. throughout the day. Also, noted in Fells (2000), The factor of ‘job pressures’ is not included in Fayol’s theories, but Mintzberg notes “a manager just tries to cope up with the pressures of his job”. Now that the works of both authors have been defined and explained, a focus should be given on the strengths and weaknesses of the works of both.

Mintzberg (1975) states, that the effectiveness of a manager is highly dependent on his insights into his work. Thus a manager’s performance is influenced by his understanding and response to the ‘pressures’ of the job. Pryor and Taneja (2010), however argue that if Fayol’s principles of management are properly implemented, they will lead to an organizational effectiveness and efficiency. According to Mintzberg (1975), on spending a day at the manager’s office, any learned individual would understand that the classical view is doubtful in it’s application.

However, what should be considered in this case is the fact that Fayol’s theory defines the theory of management functions and does not particularly or specifically defines what a manager actually does on a particular day at work (Fells, 2000). There are two distinct points that can be held against Mintzberg. The first, is the fact that Mintzberg’s theory was based on the empirical study of five executive manager’s and thus cannot be held applicable to the other departments or posts of managerial work (Fells, 2000).

Secondly, Fayol was everything but a theorists, he had an experience of over 30 years as a manager/ administrator of a French mining company. Therefore one cannot suggest that his theories came out of the blue. And it was Fayol himself who had specified that his list of management principles was not exhaustive and that it should be adapted flexibly to a company’s individual situation (Pryor & Taneja, 2010). As a conclusion, Fayol delivers a more conceptualized description about the management process.

As per Lamond (2004), Fayol provides kind of a directive for good and efficient management and indeed, Wren (1994), regards his principles as “lighthouses to managerial action”. And while Mintzberg also provides a fair insight into the area of contemporary management, he still misses the point about effectiveness. That makes Fayol somewhat superior in terms of applicability and, of course, relevance, in todays date and age.


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