Approaches to Management

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“Management is a set of activities directed at an organisation’s resources, with the aim of achieving organisational goals efficiently and effectively.”(Davidson, Simon, Gottschalk, Hunt, Wood & Griffin (2006) p.5). Management has been practiced for thousands of years by many different civilisations. As a result there are many different approaches to management, two of which are, the behavioural and contemporary management perspectives. The behavioural perspective recognises the importance of behavioural process in the workplace and emphasises individual attitudes and behaviours, and group processes. The Hawthorne studies are famously associated with this perspective and along with studies on technology and social systems lead to the development of the human relations movement and emergence of organisational behaviour. The contemporary perspective seeks to derive value for the organisation by integrating the various approaches to management. Facilitating this integration are the systems and contingency theories as well as knowledge management and learning.

The Hawthorne Studies were a series of psychology experiments conducted on the workers of the Hawthorne plant of Western Electric in Cicero, Illinois between 1925 – 1932. Elton Mayo a Harvard professor used these studies to examine the relationship between productivity and work conditions. One study involved manipulating the level of lighting in the workplace and comparing the subsequent effect on productivity. Two groups were established, a control and experimental. Bizarrely as the illumination of the experimental group was increased the productivity of both groups went up, and continued to increase even when the level of lightning was decreased. This unexpected behaviour can be attributed to the concept of sympathetic supervision. That is the act of measurement, itself, can upset the measurement. The psychological stimulus of being singled out and involved made them feel important resulted in increased levels of productivity. Just as dipping a thermometer into a liquid may change its temperature, the act of collecting data, where none was previously collected creates a situation that didn’t exist before, thereby affecting the results. This correlation between an employee’s social needs, working conditions and productivity was further confirmed by the research done by Trist and Bamforth on technology and social systems.

Generally the development of new technology is perceived as a positive thing, resulting in increased productivity, efficiency, output etc... However this is not always the case. The introduction of new technology to English coal mines required small cohesive groups to be broken up and form larger specialised groups working in shifts. Not only did this cause severe emotional distress for the workers, it also destroyed their team cohesiveness. Together the two resulted in a lower level of productivity. The ‘moral of the story’ is that technological efficiency is useless unless successfully integrated into the workers system of social relationships. The lessons learnt about social context of the workplace from both this study and the Hawthorne studies lead to the human relations movement.

The Human relations movement broke away from the mainstream perspective of workers as mere “cogs in a machine.”(Davidson, Simon, Gottschalk, Hunt, Wood & Griffin (2006) p.21). Contrary to this, the movement’s advocates proposed that workers respond primarily to the social context of their workplace and in order to improve productivity their concerns and need for job satisfaction needed to be addressed. Abraham Maslow proposed “humans are motivated according to a hierarchy of needs.” (Maslow (1943) p.370).

Another well-known contribution from the human relation movement is McGregor’s theory X/theory Y concept, the latter of which he thought a more appropriate philosophy for managers. “Theory X is a relatively negative view of workers...
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