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Updated Jun 15, 2023

Classical and Scientific Management Theory

Enlist classical management theories to boost efficiency and worker productivity.

Danielle Fallon O'Leary
Danielle Fallon-O’Leary, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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The evolution of industries and technology over the past century has been momentous. We could never have imagined the way our lives would look now back in the early 1900s. However, the ideas and management theories developed during that time, such as classical management theory, can still apply to the work we do today — if incorporated correctly. 

Classical management theory offers techniques and ideas based on human behavior and scientific logic observations. Here’s everything you need to know about classical and scientific management theory to implement it into your business successfully. 

Did You Know?Did you know
There are a variety of management theories to match your priorities and needs. You can find theories that are scientific, based on human relations, systemic or geared to fit your workers.

What is classical and scientific management theory?

Scientific management theory, also called classical management theory, entered the mainstream in the early 1900s with an emphasis on increasing worker productivity. Although life has changed greatly since then, there are still many ways that classical management theory can benefit your business today. 

Developed by Frederick Taylor, the classical theory of management advocated a scientific study of tasks and the workers responsible for them. Scientific management theory aimed to provide workers with the tools necessary for maximizing their efficiency and output. The theory requires managers to observe employees thoroughly as they complete tasks to determine where problems arise and how time is lost. With their new knowledge, managers can break down projects into a series of assignments. From there, they can appoint the person who is the best fit for each task based on their individual skills. The scientific theory of management is considered better suited to businesses based on repetitive tasks, such as a factory.

The classical management theory has been criticized for creating an “assembly line” atmosphere, where employees do only menial jobs as quickly and effectively as possible. Its focus on productivity can push aside the needs and well-being of the workers completing the tasks. For this reason, it has fallen out of favor among many companies and schools of thought, but there may be elements of it that you will still find helpful. 

To understand if it’s best for your organization, you need to know the foundation of classical management theory. 

Classical and scientific management theory is based on four main principles:

  1. Company leadership should develop a standard method for doing each job using scientific management.
  2. Workers should be selected for a job based on their skills and abilities.
  3. Work should be planned to eliminate interruptions.
  4. Wage incentives should be offered to encourage increased output.

The main principles can be applied to a variety of contemporary industries beyond production in a factory. They encourage managers to be observant and present in daily office activity, employees to excel in their roles, workplaces to be focused and organized and employees to be financially rewarded for the work they complete. 

TipBottom line
Figure out what structure your organization has using Henry Mintzberg’s management theory. Identifying your structure — whether it is an adhocracy, a machine organization, a professional organization, an entrepreneurial organization or a divisional organization — can help guide your company to success.

How do you implement classical management theory into your business? 

Assess your current management style

Prior to making any changes in your company’s leadership style, review your current management methods and their effectiveness. You may find strengths, weaknesses or issues you weren’t aware of and these could affect what kind of management theory is most appropriate for your organization. With a thorough understanding of how your company operates, you can more smoothly and quickly implement a new method. 

You may find similarities between your current management style and classical and scientific management theory or you may find major differences. Those latter areas are where you will need to practice patience and prioritize education as your employees transition and adapt to the new style. 

Clearly outline responsibilities

Review each role at your company. What do you expect each employee to be doing? What work are they doing? From there, you can recalibrate the scope of each role and formalize a list of responsibilities. [Related article: The Management Theory of Max Weber]

When roles are defined, each member of your team knows exactly what is expected of them. Everyone can work on projects that fall directly under their jurisdiction, using their experience and skills to work more productively. You may find holes in your workforce and need to create new positions to fill them to relieve any strain on your existing team. If your employees understand their roles and responsibilities, they are less likely to experience burnout. 

Provide management training for leadership

A key part of adopting any new management style is understanding the basics of managing employees and the complexities of change management. Lay a solid foundation for your change to the scientific school of management by helping your leadership refine their management skills. Since classical and scientific management theory places such an emphasis on hierarchy, you should have a clear sense of which employees are managing others.

Ensure that anyone at a managerial level understands both the changes you want to make and why you want to make them. They should be able to explain the concepts clearly to their direct reports. 

Outline with your managers how they will support your new management style. You can use regularly scheduled check-ins, an open-door policy for questions or a checklist review process. 

FYIDid you know
The management theory of Rosabeth Moss Kanter emphasizes the role of leaders in the behavior and experience of employees.

Implement monetary rewards

Classical and scientific management theory prioritizes rewarding employees for their work. If you want employees to work harder or sell more products, incentivize them with commissions or bonuses. Conduct yearly performance reviews and provide performance-based raises to each employee. Fair compensation will make your employees feel appreciated and give them a real reason to go beyond their required duties.

It is also important to clearly outline the necessary accomplishments required for promotions as well as what salary will be attached to those promotions. When your employees know exactly what is required to be able to work at a higher level, they can work toward that goal — and know what they can expect from a new role. If your business cannot afford regular monetary rewards or salary increases based on performance, figure out other valuable ways you can reward employees. In place of bonuses, you could offer additional paid time off. [Related article: Why You Should Pay Your Employees to Stop Working for You]

Hire a consultant

Any change made at the management level requires careful planning and constant communication with employees to help them understand the transition. Shifting from one management style to another involves a complete overhaul of how your company functions. Rather than tackle all of this on your own, you may want to consult a management trainer or consultant, who has overseen the process before at several other companies and who has an in-depth understanding of the management style you’ve chosen.

Before locking in with a particular consultant, ask for references and make sure they have successfully implemented the management theory you hope to use. You shouldn’t waste resources on someone who is not an expert in the service you need them to provide. Ask how they will make the necessary changes and how they plan to follow up on them. Will you be able to contact them in the future about questions related to the change or would you have to pay an additional fee for such follow-up consultations?

When implementing any new management style, including scientific management theories, educate all employees, not just management, about how the method works and what it means for them. This will help the entire organization transition more quickly and promote teamwork by making all employees feel they are an important part of the success of the new process.

Danielle Fallon O'Leary
Danielle Fallon-O’Leary, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
Danielle Fallon-O'Leary is a longtime marketer with a passion for helping clients strengthen their online brands. She has managed clients' social media accounts, developed marketing campaigns and compiled key data for analytics reports. Other projects have included newsletter curation, workflow management and search engine optimization. Along with her marketing responsibilities, Fallon-O'Leary has had an up-close look at other aspects of small business operations, including invoicing and accounting, employee recruitment and training.
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