Theories of Management Essay

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Management is defined as a social process and a social figure. As a social process, it is defined by the ways in which an organization operates effectively and efficiently. Whereas effectiveness is related to the attainment of goals, efficiency is related to the optimization of resources in the pursuit of organizational goals. The resulting effectiveness-efficiency dilemma underpins much of management thought.

Historically, management thinking has been produced by three groups – practitioners, consultants and academics. The most popular and influential theories have come from practitioners and consultants. After World War II, the work of academics became increasingly influential, although there has been concern about the extent to which the academic literature is only read by academics rather than practitioners. While the theories of the first two groups are mostly normative and prescriptive, the theories of the third group are mostly analytical. The majority of the theories produced up to today come from North American practitioners, consultants and academics.

Theories of management have proved to be both numerous and very diverse. This variety is due in part to the type of producer, the intellectual background, the mental representation of what an organization is (machine, living organism, social system, . . . ), the regional space of production (Europe, North America, Asia, etc.) and the social historical context in which it appears. The main classical influential figures are historically Taylor, Fayol, Ford, Follet, Weber, the Human Relations current, and Barnard.

From the end of World War II to the mid-1970s, several things played a major role in reshaping management thinking. From the Living Sciences came the idea of open system. Among other things, this meant that the organizations adaptations to their environment are contingent. Still other developments came from sociology and psychosociology. There is, for example, the development of organizational behavior, which integrates new developments coming from industrial psychology, group dynamics, socioanalysis, sociometry, social psychology, and sociology of work and organizations. They are at the base of the theories of work satisfaction, work motivation, leadership, and group dynamics.

More recent developments include the following: the US model was seen as not the only one to produce efficiency and wealth; international competition gives a great push to strategic management thinking; the creation of networks of all kinds, notably the Internet, reconfigures organizational forms; concern with workforce mobilization, especially the rise of a new working class attitude; and several strategies to respond to it such as industrial democracy giving more power to the workers and the unions and building of corporate culture.

The feminization of the work force and the rise of female managers led to numerous publications dealing with such issues as management theories as gender productions; managerial practices to diminish gender inequality (e.g. affirmative action and managing diversity more generally); and dealing with individual satisfaction and motivation (e.g. stress management programs).

The twenty-first century, notably the 2008 financial crisis, has shown the limits of some firm’s behaviors and of a neoliberal agenda. According to many management analysts, we are going to see great changes in ethics (e.g. sustainability), culture (cultural embeddeness and a universalistic approach) and socioeconomic conditions (equity, training, wealth sharing, quality, innovation).


  • Clegg, S., Pitsis, T., & Kornberger, M. (2005) Managing and Organizations: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Sage, London.

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