The Ideas of Classical Theorists

The ideas of the classical theorists, particularly those of bureaucracy and scientific management, are generally considered as rather old fashioned and out of date, and of little relevance to work and organisation today. Is this really the case? Consider the above statement through a critical examination of practices which can be identified in work today. In your analysis, you should draw upon appropriate academic material, and also other sources which can help in identifying current practices.
These can include your own experiences from work, those of family relatives and friends, weblogs, working life diaries, newspaper articles and other media reports. Jean-Luc Adamson 110105367 Word Count- 1879 It is a valid and reasonable claim that the ideas of the classical theorists are outdated. Many argue that ideas of Bureaucracy by Weber and Scientific Management by Taylor do not have any relevance in modern day working practices. However these ideas have evolved as the business world has developed, and it is clear that they form the basis of many new working practices that exist in modern day organisations.
By looking at the reality of these modern practices, we can see that many businesses still favour a rational approach. This approach draws elements from the ideas of bureaucracy and scientific management, and shows there relevance in current working practices. The use of a Fordist approach, as well as the “McDonaldization” of companies further demonstrates the validity of the classical theories, as a basis for new approaches. It is also important to evaluate the claim that in more recent times there has been a shift to a Post-Fordist and Post-Bureaucratic society.

This proposed shift demands that a different approach to management and organisation is required, yet we have to ask the question, will the removal of bureaucratic and scientific elements in business ever be beneficial? When examining organisations the reality is often very different to the rhetoric. The rhetoric takes a more theoretical approach and tries to explain what should happen. However, in order to evaluate the relevance of the classical approaches in modern day practices, we must look at what does happen. The orthodox rhetoric executes a modern approach, where employees are a major asset, and have been empowered.
Management is more “hands off” and a flexible environment suits employees. While certain businesses may adopt this theory, and it is clear that in modern business, even the more rational approaches are influenced by it, the reality is different. Since the introduction of the Fordist model, production has been dominated by this rational idea. It was designed to increase efficiency in productivity by using assembly lines and the division of labour into smaller parts increased control (Pugh D S & Hickson D J, 1989), thus dehumanizing the production process.
McDonaldization is a metaphor used to describe the integral part of rational processes; similar to those explained by Weber and Taylor, in modern day organisations. McDonaldization is described by John Ritzer as “the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world. ” (‘The Case of McDonalds’ from Wilson F, 2004). It uses the example of the fast food restaurant to explain the reality of how businesses operate; in particular those concerned with mass production.
The dimensions of Mcdonaldization encompass the efficiency, calculability and predictability that it produces. Close rules and regulations, dictated by a central command, look to improve efficiency and have very strong connotations with Weber’s theory of bureaucracy. The emphasis on quantative aspects of the product and the interest in quantity over quality again convey the de-humanisation of the workforce, which portrays the parallels with Taylor’s theory of Scientific management.
The predictability is inevitable and what firms adopting Mcdonaldization metaphor strive for, which again demonstrates the similarities with the “production line” aspect of Taylor’s theory. It is clear that the classical theories still influence todays companies, however McDonaldization appears to use elements of the rhetoric ideals, which makes it different from Fordism. Subsequently in Ritzer’s critique of McDonaldization he explains how bored workers, bent the rules for amusement to make the dull routines more bearable. like catching a girl eye, as she walked in” (‘The Case of McDonalds’ from Wilson F, 2004). Burawoy notes how these games are beneficial as they give some control back to the workforce and are thus” tolerated by management, because they enhance the efficiency of work” (BURAWOY. M, 1985). This supports the assumption that the ideas of the classical theorists are evident but have evolved and encompassed ideas from more modern works, that insist on the idea of employee empowerment being beneficial to an organisation.
Despite the more modern theorists approach, the orthodox rhetoric is essentially an “ideal” and tends to ignore the true reality of modern organisations. I have experienced firsthand, working in a fast food restaurant where it has also seen the benefits of “McDonaldizing”. The restaurant served fried food of a reasonable quality. The job required little skill and we had to follow rules on how we served, cleaned and produced the food and drink. The managers were there to make sure we followed these rules, which were in place to provide efficiency and consistency, regarding the food and service.
The management however deployed a slight autocratic approach, as the chefs were able to decide what the special for the day would be, as well as the employees deciding when to clean and arrange certain advertisements and displays. My experience is an example that supports the view that the classical theories are still relevant. Yet the more modern influences on this particular organisation; by allowing the employees some control, explain that those classical theories are somewhat outdate, and that they have evolved as business has developed.
Instrumental rationality is very important when looking at working practices. “It helps a person decide how to do things, such as efficiently perform technical tasks, resolve conflicts and solve problems by regarding the factors involved in a situation as variable to be controlled. ” (BusinessDictionary. com 2012) Instrumental rationality looks at how to organize and not why. It often disregards morals and ethics, and firms that adopt the use of instrumental rationality in there organisation are often focused on gaining maximum profits. Weber saw bureaucracy as a paradigm for instrumental rationality.
He believed that Bureaucracy as the most efficient structure; and the fact it disregarded morals and ethics made bureaucracy an instrumentally rational practice. Many modern working practices still use instrumental rationality in modern day working practices; such as businesses which follow a fordist approach or firms that have “McDonaldized” practices. Taylor devoted a lot of time to looking at how instrumental rationality could be used in industry. () His conclusion to his research showed that “the means of improving worker efficiency and roductivity take precedence over the end of respect for human dignity. ” This rationality shares connotations with the idea of a Fordist approach, and thus demonstrates how instrumental rationality and Scientific Management go hand in hand. Subsequently we can see through the use of instrumental rationality, the classical theorist’s views are still relevant today. A working diary of a Customer Service worker demonstrates how instrumental rationality functions in the workplace. It also conveys elements of Bureaucracy and Scientific Management in modern day working practices.
The writer of the diary explains various situations, which show the appearance of these ideas in current practices. The woman explains how they receive gold stars for increased sales. This is patronizing and highlights the simple and regulated work that these people are asked to do. The more sales they achieve the more they are recognised. This shows instrumental rationality in the way the management deals with its employees. They are trying to increase sales by offering incentives to the workers; in the form of gold stars. Yet they are doing this at the expense of the employee’s motivation.
This links in with the McDonaldization example that explains the “Irrationality of Rationality”. This concept with reference to the Working Diary shows that the firm is being rational by trying to improve efficiency within the organisation yet they are neglecting substantive rationality by ignoring the needs of its employees. Furthermore the extent to which this worker is monitored, shows how little control the workers have over their jobs, and it is managements job to make sure they are following the rules precisely. “okay. How about last Sunday? You clocked in 27 seconds late. This demonstrates how apparent instrumental rationality is in this organisation, as it is purely about how to organize their employees and disregarding the human side of management. Thus the reality of working situations show that elements of Bureaucracy and Scientific Management still exists, but subsequently suggests that these theories are somewhat outdated despite being a reality in modern working practices. (Workstiff Diaries, customer service. 2004) The shift to a Post-Bureaucratic state in working practices, suggests that Bureaucracy is dead.
The alleged shift to a post industrial society implies that the classical theorists are outdated and that there is no relevance to them in modern day working practices. However when looking at the reality of current day organisations, it is important to ask the question; has there been a shift to a Post-Bureaucratic state and if so to what extent? When comparing the Fordist approach, to more recent approaches used in Businesses today, I feel that to some extent there has been a shift. An example looks at Fordism and the metaphor of McDonaldization.
McDonaldization is essentially Fordism, but it offers a more human, and autocratic approach. However when looking at example such as the Workers Diary this shows, that in reality the shift towards a post-bureaucratic state; where trust, empowerment and shared responsibility become a reality, has not happened, and the ideas of the classical theorists still have a basis in modern day working practices. It is possible to argue that the views of the classical theorists are outdated. We can see that from these approaches there lacks a human element in the way that organisations that adopt these theories act.
Despite continuous evolution of these theories, it is clear that they do not encompass the needs of their employees in modern day working practices. However to answer the question we have to look at whether the ideas of Bureaucracy and Scientific management still have relevance in modern working practices. The answer to this is that the classical theories form the basis of many working practices throughout business. In reality, many firms still adopt the ideas of the classical theorists, in different measures. A very common cliche is that no organisation is the same.
Despite the notion that every business requires its own way of operating; and that a contingency theory approach is often the way forward, the ideas of the classical theorists cannot be ignored. Modern working practices have developed since Weber and Taylors theories, and they will continue to do so. However it is hard to see a time where the classical theorist’s views will not be relevant. Word Count- 1879 Bibliography * Anonomous. (2012) Customer Service, WorkingStiff Diaries, from the US in the late 1990s . Working Stiff Diaries, [blog] 12th Sept 2004, Available at: http://www. weblab. rg/workingstiff/ [Accessed: Wednesday 12th December 2012]. * BURAWOY, M. (1985). The politics of production: factory regimes under capitalism and socialism. London, Verso. * Businessdictionary. com (n. d. ) What is instrumental rationality? definition and meaning. [online] Available at: http://www. businessdictionary. com/definition/instrumental-rationality. html [Accessed: 14 Dec 2012]. * Pugh D S & Hickson D J (1989) Writers on Organizations, 4th Edition London; Penguin, pages 94-97 * ‘The Case of McDonalds’ from Wilson F (2004) Organizational Behaviour and Work, pps 55-59

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