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Updated Sep 21, 2023

Management Theory of Charles Handy

MIranda Fraraccio
Miranda Fraraccio, Contributing Writer

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For any organization to succeed, it must first start with creating a positive company culture that motivates employees to work. Developing this organizational culture requires looking at a business’s individual behaviors, rituals and values — a concept that Charles Handy studied extensively. 

His views on organizational development and leadership have helped usher in a more humanitarian style of management and a more visionary and purpose-driven organizational methodology.

The management theory of Charles Handy

Handy’s theory focuses on four management styles, or cultures, often found in the workplace setting. His theory observes how each organizational culture drives motivation in its employees by bringing with it its own standards, behaviors and values that must be upheld. Over time, and when properly managed, these standards and values can lead to greater organizational development and stronger leadership — although they have disadvantages as well. 

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Each of Handy’s cultures relates to a Greek god and stems from a different presupposition about human motivation, thought and learning as well as a different assumed basis for power and influence.

Charles Handy’s Four Cultures

1. The Power Culture: Based on Zeus, this culture is one of centralized, or top-down, power and influence. It is generally a formal environment with a fast-paced leader, such as someone like an entrepreneur, who focuses on producing quick results. While this culture can be efficient, it can also be difficult for employees to thrive due to its high expectations and a strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships and trust over valid ideas. Success is often dependent on the quality of the leader.

2. The Role Culture: Based on Apollo, this culture is a bureaucratic one, run by strict procedures, narrowly defined roles and precisely delineated powers. Although this culture uses predictability and stability to help employees understand their role in the organization, it can cause an inability for businesses to adapt.

3. The Task Culture: Based on Athena, this culture is small-team-based, results- and solutions-oriented and marked by flexibility, adaptability and empowerment. A team immersed in a task culture uses its expertise to focus on end results. Through problem-solving and high levels of creativity, the task culture leads to higher engagement across the group — however, staff must be motivated and open to collaboration.  

4. The Person Culture: Based on Dionysius, this culture focuses on the individual as it prioritizes organizations working toward the betterment of its people. Such an organization is values-oriented, people-focused and geared toward meeting individual employees’ self-actualization needs by utilizing each staffer’s individual talents. However, because the culture relies on self-motivation, it can be hard for businesses to effectively implement.

How to use Charles Handy’s management theory in your business

Incorporating Handy’s management theory can greatly impact your business, creating a more collaborative company culture and increasing employee productivity. However, it should be strategically implemented. Here’s how to do it. [Read about the management theory of Frederick Taylor.]

Set clear goals 

Define what your end goals are in implementing this theory into your organization. For example, do you want to grow your company, improve collaboration among your team or develop more efficient and hardworking employees? Whatever your target organizational change, set realistic and attainable goals based on the results you would like to see.

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Avoid setting overly ambitious goals as pushing staff toward unreasonable expectations could impact your business and employees negatively by causing a state of overwhelm or burnout.

Get training

Numerous websites provide valuable information about Handy’s management theory. In addition to training and development programs covering Handy’s management principles, you’ll find various videos and instructional materials that can help you develop the background knowledge and practical expertise to put Handy’s theories to work for your company.

Consult an expert

Consultants with knowledge and experience in the management theory of Handy can guide you in maximizing the benefit of his principles in your own company’s unique environment. [Read about the management theory of Henry Mintzberg.]

Monitor the progress and performance

As you implement Handy’s theory into your business, consider your employees and ensure they feel fully supported and share an alignment of goals. Conduct regular check-ins and survey staff to monitor the progress of your organization and ensure your team’s performance is improving, not decreasing, with these new changes. 

Review your process

After the strategy has been implemented and progress has been made, review your process to evaluate how your company is doing. Determine if your goals were met, what challenges you faced along the way and what lessons were learned — doing so will help your organization to succeed in future implementation.

Other helpful online tools

Widely available online tools and resources can help you implement the Charles Handy theory of management more easily. Videos, assessments and other materials let you choose the resources most valuable to your business.

You’ll likely find the many facets of Handy’s management theory fascinating as you delve more deeply into them. Take advantage of the information available online. It will be well worth your while as you learn to put his theories into practice to help your company grow and mature.

MIranda Fraraccio
Miranda Fraraccio, Contributing Writer
Miranda Fraraccio is a writer with bylines on several B2B publications. She got her start working in different sectors of the music industry, before transitioning to focus on other creative projects, including writing, audio production, and creating visual content.
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