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On the eve of World War I, scientific management became the first big management fad, a source of innumerable new truths about work and its organization, all of which were oriented to the efficiency of the individual human body. At the same time a revolution in manufacturing also occurred when Henry Ford introduced the assembly line, modeled on the Chicago slaughterhouses. In the abattoirs each job was separated into a series of simple repetitive actions as the bodies moved down the line to be progressively dismembered; in Ford the car was built on the same principles that the hog was butchered.
Later studies changed the landscape of management from Taylor’s engineering approach to the political economy of the body to a social sciences approach that focused on the interior life, the mental states, the consciousness and unconsciousness, which Follett termed the ”soul” of the employees: ”Coercive power is the curse of the universe; coactive power, the enrichment and advancement of every human soul” (Follett 1924: xii). Worker productivity would henceforth be interpreted predominantly in terms of patterns of culture, motivation, leadership, and human relations. The locus of expert power shifted from the engineering expert, designing the job, selecting and training the right worker, and rewarding performance, to the manager, responsible for leading, motivating, communicating, and counseling the individual employee as well as designing the social milieu in which work takes place. Human relations came to the fore, as did a concern with leadership and authority.
As management theory became increasingly institutionalized, especially in business schools, it began to develop the traits that we would expect of any institutionalized body of knowledge. Rival camps with competing claims to territory emerged. Definitions of the field became contested. What was regarded as holy writ differed within each citation cartel, centered on different fulcra, whether journals, theories, or theorists.
The years since the 1980s have witnessed an explosion of management initiatives. Replete with their careful styling and image intensity such initiatives are now widely characterized as management fashions. Examples of management fashion since the 1990s include total quality management, downsizing, business process re-engineering, enterprise resource planning, knowledge management, and shareholder value.
In some respects, early management theorists were situated too close to its practice to reflect overly on its theory. These early texts were embedded, precisely, in the strategies for making sense of management that the pioneers forged and the managerial techniques they advocated. The political and moral economy of the body, and the emergence of a concern with the soul of the employee, did not enter greatly into subsequent accounts. Management became ever more abstracted and sophisticated in its use of metaphors drawn from contingency and system theory, yet it still struggled with the obdurate materiel of the human subject at its base. Overwhelmingly, its tendency has been to rationalize and routinize this obduracy through designing systems that reduce the capacity for human inventiveness, creativity, and innovation of those within the systems designed, as Ritzer’s (2005) work on McDonaldization suggests. It is through this prism that we should see the latest trends in management thinking, such as knowledge management.
- Follett, M. P. (1924) Creative Experience. Longman, Green, New York.
- Mayo, E. (1975) The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
- Ritzer, G. (2005) The McDonaldization of Society, 2nd edn. Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.