Competitive Exams: Classical Approach

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Classical management thought can be divided into three separate schools: Scientific management, administrative theory and bureaucratic management. Classical theorists formulated principles for setting up and managing organizations. These views are labeled classical because they form the foundation for the field of management thought. The major contributors to the three schools of management thought scientific management, administrative theory and bureaucratic management are Frederick W. Taylor, Henry Fayol and Max Weber respectively.

Scientific Management

Scientific management became increasingly popular in the early 1900s. In the early 19th century, scientific management was defined as that kind of management which conducts a business or affairs by standards established, by facts or truths gained through systematic observation, experiment, or reasoning. In other words, it is a classical management approach that emphasizes the scientific study of work methods to improve the efficiency of the workers. Some of the earliest advocates of scientific management were Frederick W. Taylor (1856 − 1915) , Frank Gilbreth (1868 − 1924) , Lillian Gilbreth (1878 − 1972) , and Henry Gantt (1861 − 1919) .

Frederick Winslow Taylor

Frederick Winslow Taylor took up Henry Towne՚s challenge to develop principles of scientific management. Taylor, considered father of scientific management, wrote The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911. An engineer and inventor, Taylor first began to experiment with new managerial concepts in 1878 while employed at the Midvale Steel Co. At Midvale, his rise from laborer to chief engineer within 6 years gave him the opportunity to tackle a grave issue faced by the organization the soldiering problem. ‘Soldiering’ refers to the practice of employees deliberately working at a pace slower than their capabilities. According to Taylor, workers indulge in soldiering for three main reasons:

  1. Workers feared that if they increased their productivity, other workers would lose their jobs.
  2. Faulty wage systems employed by the organization encouraged them to work at a slow pace.
  3. Outdated methods of working handed down from generation to generation led to a great deal of wasted efforts.

Four Steps in Scientific Management

Step 1Develop a science for each element of the job to replace old rule of thumb methods.
Step 2Scientifically select employees and then train them to do the job as described in Step 1.
Step 3Supervise employees to make sure they follow the prescribed methods for performing their jobs.
Step 4Continue to plan the work but use workers to actually get the work done.


In essence, scientific management as propounded by Taylor emphasizes:

  1. Need for developing a scientific way of performing each job.
  2. Training and preparing workers to perform that particular job.
  3. Establishing harmonious relations between management and workers so that the job is performed in the desired way.

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

After Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth made numerous contributions to the concept of scientific management. Frank Gilbreth (1868 − 1924) is considered the father of motion study. Lillian Gilbreth (1878 − 1972) was associated with the research pertaining to motion studies. Motion study involves finding out the best sequence and minimum number of motions needed to complete a task. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth were mainly involved in exploring new ways for eliminating unnecessary motions and reducing work fatigue.

The Gilbreths devised a classification scheme to label seventeen basic hand motions such as search, select, position, and hold which they used to study tasks in a number of industries. These 17 motions, which they called therbligs (Gilbreth spelled backward with the ‘t’ and ‘h’ transposed) , allowed them to analyze the exact elements of a worker՚s hand movements. Frank Gilbreth also developed the micromotion study. A motion picture camera and a clock marked off in hundredths of seconds was used to study motions made by workers as they performed their tasks. He is best known for his experiments in reducing the number of motions in bricklaying. By carefully analyzing the bricklayer՚s job, he was able to reduce the motions involved in bricklaying from 18 to 4. Using his approach, workers increased the number of bricks laid per day from 1000 to 2700 (per hour it went up from 120 to 350 bricks) without exerting themselves.

Lillian՚s doctoral thesis (published in the early 1900s as The Psychology of Management) was one of the earliest works which applied the findings of psychology to the management of organizations. She had great interest in the human implications of scientific management and focused her attention on designing methods for improving the efficiency of workers. She continued her innovative work even after Frank՚s death in 1924, and became a professor of management at Purdue University. Lillian was the first woman to gain eminence as a major contributor to the development of management as a science. In recognition of her contributions to scientific management, she received twenty-two honorary degrees.