Management: Overview

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The term management can name both an activity and persons in charge of the activity. As activity, the term derives from the Italian maneggiare, meaning to handle or control a horse, which is itself rooted in the Latin manus, or hand. In the late 1500s the word was applied to the governing body of a theater and from there to other business activities, including those involved with industrial manufacture. Shifts in the ownership of large-scale manufacturing companies led to what has been termed a managerial revolution, in which direct control and decision-making became invested in neither owning capitalists nor wage-earning workers but in salaried managers (Burnham 1941, Chandler 1977). This shift has influenced both science and technology, with "big science" and "technoscience" increasingly managed by neither science nor engineering workers—a development that poses questions of ethical responsibility for both technical professionals and managers. Attempts to systematize informal management techniques into either a science or a technology of management further highlight ethical issues.

Historical Background

Humans have always collaborated to reach shared goals. Distributed tasks for common ends require coordination, planning, control, and organization—all of which are as subject to ethical assessment along with the ends to which they are subordinate. For example, in Plato (c. 428–347 b.c.e.) one can find both praise for the division of labor that engenders expertise in specialized workers (Republic) and criticisms of the pretensions of technical specialization (Apology and Gorgias). Thus, although the term did not exist as such, "management" has often been read back into such preindustrial orders of household, tribe, city-state, military, or church. What distinguishes modern management from traditional political or religious organization and leadership is its greater emphasis on the systematic coordination of means.

Management did not take on its contemporary connotations until the technological, economic, political, and social changes of the Industrial Revolution (c. 1750–1850). Specifically, certain organizational problems arose in the embryonic factory system that led to the genesis of modern management practices and eventually the formalization of management study (Wren 2005). It was also during this era that attitudes to work began to change, although slowly, from ceaseless, futile labor to opportunities for personal wealth and social progress. Central to this transformation were the Renaissance revival of science and reason and the Protestant work ethic with its notion of a worldly "calling" that Max Weber (1930) argued paved the way for market-based capitalist economies.

The modern understanding of management in terms of leading an organization toward a goal through the deployment and manipulation of resources (material, human, financial, and intellectual) was further shaped by classical and nineteenth-century economic theory and the development of technical production elements such as standardization, specialization, and work planning. The emergence of modern technologies and the market economy challenged managers to develop a body of knowledge on how best to administer and utilize human and technological resources. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Robert Owen (1771–1858) and others were developing theories pertaining to the human element of management including worker training, organizational structure, span of control, and the effects of fatigue on performance. By the 1880s, university courses in management were being offered, based in part on the work of Andrew Ure (1778–1857), who developed training programs for managers in the early factory system.

The first comprehensive theories of management appeared around 1920 in the work of scholars such as Henri Fayol (1841–1925), who outlined five functions for managers and synthesized fourteen principles for organizational design and effective administration. Some theorists such as Ordway Tead (1891–1973) applied principles of psychology to management, whereas Elton Mayo (1880–1949) and others approached it from a sociological perspective. In The Practice of Management (1954), Peter F. Drucker (b. 1909) presents a contrast to the Fayolian process texts by introducing the notion of "management by objectives," which replaces control from above with self-control and greater worker empowerment in the goal of reaching well-defined objectives.

In The Managerial Revolution (1941), James Burnham (1905–1987) sets management theory within a broad historical narrative of political economy and technological change. Burnham saw industrial production coming to be controlled neither by the owners (capitalism) nor the working class (socialism). Rather, a new managerial class was replacing the bourgeois capitalist as a dominant social force, as ever more complex systems of production separated control from ownership. For Burnham, technological progress necessitates a hierarchy of managers among whom direction and coordination of production becomes a highly specialized skill.

In The Visible Hand (1977), Alfred D. Chandler Jr. (b. 1918) presents a similar argument but one less oriented toward prophecy. Chandler claims that neither the traditional family firm nor market mechanisms are able to coordinate the increasingly swift and complex flows of goods made possible by technological innovation. Managers of large, multiunit businesses fill this need for coordination, and in so doing assume strong economic and social power, giving rise to managerial capitalism: "In many sectors of the economy the visible hand of management replaced what Adam Smith referred to as the invisible hand of market forces" (p. 1). But while acknowledging the centrality of technology in bringing about increased managerial control, Chandler fails to explore fully the role of scientists and engineers.

The managerial revolution may have held true in heavy industry, but it seems less valid for service and information economies, where bigger and more complex is not always better. Indeed the continual evolution of technological, political, and economic contexts ensures that management theories are constantly being revised. Some of the more recent developments in management thought include operations research, the theory of constraints, reengineering, complexity theory, and information technology–driven theories. A general trend in management thought is toward systems-based, adaptive processes capable of integrating several categories (e.g. human resources, marketing, and production) into a complex, flexible web of organizational administration.

Management as Science

The conceptualizing and ordering of management as a science did not begin in earnest until the nineteenth century. And although Charles Babbage (1792–1871) made significant contributions to management science, Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915) is viewed as the founder of the field. In 1895 Taylor wrote a seminal paper titled "A Piece-Rate System" that developed a set of management techniques designed to stimulate maximum worker productivity and efficiency. This helped fuel the rising emphasis on efficiency and rationality in decision-making that sought the "one best way." Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and other conservationists spearheaded this movement by preaching a "gospel of efficiency" in natural resource management, which was "an attempt to supplant conflict with a 'scientific' approach to social and economic questions" (Hays 1959, pp. 266–267).

In The Principles of Scientific Management (1985 [1911]), Taylor acknowledged the inefficiencies in natural resource use, but argued that wasteful practices in human resource management were just as damaging to the goals of efficiency, productivity, and prosperity. The Industrial Revolution had vastly increased resources and capital and improved technologies, but crude ways of organizing and administering these resources hampered productivity. Taylor set out to prove that the best management is a true science, resting upon a clearly defined foundation of laws, rules, and principles. Furthermore, he sought to show that the fundamental principles of scientific management are applicable to all kinds of human activities, from the simplest individual acts to the work of huge corporations.

Among other organizational techniques, this "true science" involved standardizing measures of productivity and quality; developing time, motion, and method studies; and improving the relationship between mangers and workers. In one instance, Taylor was able to reduce the number of people shoveling coal at Bethlehem Steel Works from 500 to 140 by designing more ergonomic shovels. Taylor believed the credo of rational efficiency would lead to prosperity for all, thus abolishing class hatred, but many labor leaders felt that scientific management meant autocracy in the workplace. In fact, Taylor was questioned at length by Congress in 1911 and 1912 on the grounds that some of his methods treated workers like machines.

Frank Gilbreth (1868–1924) and Lillian Gilbreth (1878–1972) were associates of Taylor, and their studies culminated in laws of human motion from which evolved principles of motion economy. The Gilbreths coined the term motion study and used cameras to record motions and improve efficiencies even in domestic chores. Other important pioneers in scientific management included Henry Gantt (1861–1919) and Charles Bedaux (1886–1944). After World War II, scientific management played a key role in boosting economic productivity. Statistical and mathematical techniques were applied to planning and decision analyses. Physics Nobel laureate Patrick Blackett (1897–1974) combined these techniques with microeconomic theory to produce the science of operations research, which has been greatly enhanced by the use of computers.

The work of social scientists such as Elton Mayo uncovered many aspects of human interaction in the workplace that had been ignored by other theorists. Specifically, he noted that worker motivations (e.g., feelings, multiple needs, personal goals) are often outside the bounds of the logical, rational human being posited by scientific management, and that workers think and act not as individuals but as members of formal or informal groups (see also McGregor 1960). This type of work led to the rise of human relations management. The period between 1950 and 1970 witnessed a sevenfold increase in managerial employment. It was during this time that behavioral science became widely applied to management practices by theorists such as Rensis Likert (1903–1981). There is a wide range of contemporary scientific theories of management, and it is clear that the best fit for improving performance depends in part on contextual contingencies.

Indeed in many areas alternatives and complements to scientific management stress the importance of building flexibility into systems in order to accommodate the surprises generated by nature, cognitive limitations, and the pace of global commerce. One example is adaptive management (e.g., Brunner et al. 2005), which is a diverse field developed in the 1970s and based on the incorporation of multiple stakeholders in decision-making processes in order to shift to bottom-up, open-ended management structures. In natural resource management, the underlying realization is that the politics of most problems (even many highly technical ones) cannot be elided by focusing solely on scientific expertise and efficiency. In the business world, the driving factors in the shift away from overly rigid forms of scientific management are the need for flexibility to maintain competitiveness and the realization that many valued outcomes are not readily captured by quantification.

Thus scientific management has from its beginnings been a diverse field that has given rise to equally diverse criticisms. It has been both praised and stigmatized as technocratic, insofar as technocracy can be conceived as an ideological-free pursuit of efficient production and a form of production that excludes the consideration of human values. In natural resource policies, technical management has been argued to impede common-interest solutions (Brunner et al. 2005). In business, although it can lead to greater competitiveness via increased efficiency, scientific management can also rigidify an organization, robbing it of flexibility and creativity.

More generally, Alasdair MacIntyre (1984) criticizes the notion of managerial expertise that derives from the dominant conception of the social sciences as somehow mimicking the natural sciences. For MacIntyre, "What managerial expertise requires for its vindication is a justified conception of social science as providing a stock of law-like generalizations with strong predictive power" (p. 88). He then identifies four sources of systematic unpredictability in human affairs, which he claims undermine the very notion of managerial expertise. He concludes that the concept of managerial expertise, or the idea that anyone can consciously manipulate the social order, is a moral fiction: "Our social order is in a very literal sense out of our, and indeed anyone's, control" (p. 107). What appears to be pragmatic, scientifically managed social control is but the skillful imitation of such control. This does not deny the enormous power exercised by bureaucratic managers, it is just that "the most effective bureaucrat is the best actor" (p. 107).

Nevertheless, regardless of outcomes and the fact that the term has fallen out of use, "'scientific management,' as well as its near synonym, 'Taylorism,' have been absorbed into the living tissue of American life" (Kanigel 1997, p. 6). Indeed, the history of scientific management mirrors the development of science more broadly, having evolved from the ideal of disclosing a single right answer to the reality of uncovering an imbroglio of human values intertwined with artifacts and systems, in which uncertainty and ambiguity are multiplied along with the importance of context and values.

Management as Technology

Parallel with attempts to develop management as a science—and as a science with applications—have been attempts to conceptualize management as a technology. Here the leading theorist has been Peter Drucker, who argues for an identification between management and modern technology. Just as in premodern technology work was more important than the tools with which work was performed—that is, work is the context from which tools receive their meaning—so in modern technology management or the organization of activity is the whole that unifies material resources, human labor, financial capital, and machines. Central to any wealth production is the process of ordering, interrelating, or managing the parts in order to assemble a productive business enterprise, which Drucker identifies as a "system of the highest order" (1970, p. 55).

For Drucker, management as technology may also be understood as an extension of biological evolution. Management is an adaptive process that orders (and reorders) different aspects of the world (through productive work); as such management is the most general contemporary expression of the human capacity for purposeful, nonorganic evolution. Tools and technologies are not just givens for management but, like the materials and human beings who make up a productive enterprise, are able to be transformed by management—and then transformed again in response to the changed context that the original transformation produces. Management involves a recursive process in which it takes its own successes and failures into account. "The organization of work, in other words, is ... the major means of that purposeful and nonorganic evolution which is specifically human" (pp. 48–49).

Related to Drucker's view of management as technology is an argument by intellectual historian Bruce Mazlish (1993) regarding the relation between humans and machines. For Mazlish modern history is characterized by the rejection of four discontinuities: between Earth and the rest of the cosmos (Newtonian mechanics, which used the same laws to explain terrestrial and planetary phenomena), between animals and humans (Darwinian evolution, which argued for a natural development from animals to humans), between the unconscious and rationality (Freudian psychology, which presented reason as tied to the unconscious), and between machines and humans (through the integration of computers and humans). By arguing that human beings are defined by their coevolution with machines, a coevolution they must learn to manage, Mazlish likewise presents management (without using the term) as the fulfillment of technology.

Insofar as this is the case, of course, the science and technology of management must also be brought to bear on science and technology, especially big science or technoscience, which has become a complex enterprise. As first identified by the historian of science Derek J. de Solla Price (1963) and scientist-science administrator Alvin M. Weinberg (1967), science that depends on large-scale funding and coordinates many disciplines to achieve a common goal (such as the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb) requires increasingly sophisticated techniques of management. The same goes for macroengineering projects such as the U.S. interstate highway system or the European Channel Tunnel (or Chunnel). When this is the case it can reasonably be argued that the science and technology involved have become manifestations of management.

Management Ethics and Policy

In an influential analysis of how theories of human nature influence managerial practice, Douglas McGregor observed that "the more professional the manager becomes in his use of scientific knowledge, the more professional he must become in his sensitivity to ethical values" (1960, p. 12). Indeed, professionals can expect to be granted professional autonomy by the societies in which they operate only "to the extent that human values are preserved and protected" (p. 14). As the prominence of scientific and technological management has increased, so has the question of the relation between management and ethics—both ethics in management and the management of ethics.

In many instances management ethics is not strongly distinguished from business ethics. As in business ethics, key issues in management ethics include standards of communication, conflict of interest, responsibilities to stockholders, treatment of employees, social and environmental responsibilities, leadership obligations, and more. But because of their managerial roles, managers more than businesspersons or entrepreneurs also have to deal with the ethics of introducing ethics into business operations. One of the central issues in management ethics is thus how to introduce and manage ethics in a corporation or other enterprise that is also being managed for shareholder profit and/or stakeholder interests. One of the key questions for management ethics is thus: What is the proper role for ethics in management? Given the practical orientation of management, this includes: How is ethics best managed?

With regard to managing science and technology, the distinctive forms of scientific research and technological development organizations and processes must also be taken into account. Claude Gelès and colleagues (2000), for instance, argue that because most management texts assume a context of traditional business organizations using repetitive tasks and mass production to make a profit, they are not relevant to the management of scientific laboratories that use exploratory research and creativity to produce new knowledge and technical innovation. To achieve their aim of managing innovation to produce more innovation, science and technology managers need to be aware of the special characters of scientists and engineers, and of institutional resistances to new knowledge and technical innovation. They also need to be aware of the special ethical challenges involved in the scientific production of knowledge associated with temptations to scientific misconduct and the need to promote best practices in the responsible conduct of research.

Finally, because management takes place largely by means of establishing policies, the management of science is intimately related to science policy, especially that type of science policy known as policy for science. Here the work of Weinberg, as a reflective scientist manager of a big science and technology organization (Oak Ridge National Laboratory), provides basic orientation. For Weinberg, it is useful to distinguish internal and external criteria for decision-making in the management of science. Internal criteria focus on whether a particular research program is ripe for pursuit and on the competencies of the scientists involved. External criteria are of three types: scientific merit, technological merit, and social merit. Finally, Weinberg argues that especially in big science, which depends for its existence on financial support from the larger non-scientific community, and because science cannot be presumed to be the summum bonum (supreme good) of a society, "the most valid criteria for assessing scientific fields come from without rather than from within the scientific discipline" (1967, p. 82).


SEE ALSO Business Ethics;Science Policy;Science, Technology, and Society Studies;Work.


Bowie, Norman E., and Patricia H. Werhane. (2005). Management Ethics. Malden, MA: Blackwell. A business ethics text with a "management ethics" title.

Brunner, Ronald D.; Toddi A. Steelman; Lindy Coe-Juell; et al. (2005). Adaptive Governance: Integrating Science, Policy, and Decision Making. New York: Columbia University Press. A comprehensive critique of scientific management with the preferred alternative of adaptive governance demonstrated through several case studies.

Burnham, James. (1941). The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World. New York: John Day.

Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. (1977). The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press.

Drucker, Peter F. (1954). The Practice of Management. New York: Harper.

Drucker, Peter F. (1970). Technology, Management, and Society. New York: Harper and Row. See especially the chapter "Work and Tools."

Fayol, Henri. (1949). General and Industrial Management, trans. Constance Storrs. London: Pitman. Originally published, 1916.

Gelès, Claude; Gilles Lindecker; Mel Month; and Christian Roche. (2000). Managing Science: Management for R&D Laboratories. New York: Wiley. An examination of the most appropriate principles and techniques for the management of research organizations.

Hays, Samuel P. (1959). Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890–1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hosmer, LaRue Tone. (2003). The Ethics of Management, 4th edition. Chicago: McGraw-Hill/Irwin. 1st edition, 1987.

Kanigel, Robert. (1997). The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency. New York: Viking. A 675-page treatise on the implications of Taylor's life and work for modern society.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. (1984). After Virtue, 2nd edition. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. An account of the decline of virtue ethics into modern emotivism and a defense of virtue ethics as a viable moral framework for the modern world.

Mayo, Elton. (1933). The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization. New York: Macmillan.

Mazlish, Bruce. (1993). The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-evolution of Humans and Machines. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

McGregor, Douglas. (1960). The Human Side of Enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill. Distinguishes two theories of human nature (Theory X, in which human beings dislike and avoid work, and Theory Y, in which work is as natural as play or rest), and argues that the second is more consistent with social scientific research and has better implications for management practice.

Price, Derek J. de Solla. (1963). Little Science, Big Science. New York: Columbia University Press. 2nd edition published as Little Science, Big Science—and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986).

Spender, J.-C., and Hugo J. Kigne, eds. (1996). Scientific Management: Frederick Winslow Taylor's Gift to the World? Boston: Kluwer Academic. A collection of seven essays on Taylor's contributions and their impacts around the world.

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. (1985 [1911]). The Principles of Scientific Management. Easton, PA: Hive Publishing.

Van de Ven, Andrew H.; Harold L. Angle; and Marshall Scott Poole, eds. (2000). Research on the Management of Innovation: The Minnesota Studies. New York: Oxford University Press. Originally published, New York: Harper and Row, 1989. A series of longitudinal case studies undertaken by faculty at the University of Minnesota.

Weber, Max. (1930). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons. New York: Scribner. Also translated by Stephen Kalberg (Los Angeles: Roxbury, 2002), with various printings of each version. Originally published as journal articles in 1904 and 1905, then later in book form as Die Protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus.

Weinberg, Alvin M. (1967). Reflections on Big Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Influential, critical studies by a leading scientist and manager of science.

Wren, Daniel A. (2005). The History of Management Thought, 5th edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Previous editions were titled The Evolution of Management Thought.