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Classical and Behavioural Approaches Essay

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Updated: Aug 13th, 2019


This is an essay which compares the classical approach to the management and behavioral approach to the management. The paper is designed in such a way that first, there is an introduction followed by the body of the paper. The body of the paper discusses the two approaches in brief along with stating their criticism. Then a conclusion is made from the said discussion.


The concept of management of people as an organized group must have existed ever since human beings started living in organized societies. History shows us that there have been many great empires and civilizations that have developed, grown, and decayed over a period of time.

For an organized activity to be successful there should exist, elements of leadership and management. It can be said that some form of management might have existed over the years. But it is only during the later half of the nineteenth century that established principles and theories of management began to emerge. The early theories of management, often referred to as scientific were based on increasing productivity in a competitive economy fuelled by the industrial revolution.

This approach in most cases treated people as machines without consideration of their feelings or not taking into account the fact that humans are complex beings. But ever since the shortcomings of a scientific approach became apparent a more human centric outlook developed. This viewpoint is referred to as the behavioral approaches, began to take into account that employees are motivated by factors other than money.

Due to the importance of management with regard to an organization’s growth and success, it is important to understand the history of management theories. Growing levels of communication, travel, globalization, and free trade have made the market highly competitive and mangers should be aware of the complexities of management.

They should be able to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches mentioned above. This paper is an attempt at explaining the two approaches followed by a comparative analysis of the same. The first section will discuss scientific management theories followed by behavioral approaches. A comparative analysis will be done next before concluding the paper.

Classical approach to management

Management principles as they exist today have been evolved over a period of time. Its emergence is not a phenomenon of the twentieth century only. Management, in one form, or other existed in the other social, political and economic life of mankind throughout the ages. It has grown along with other social, political and economic institutions.

In olden days it existed in the form of personal leadership. When trade developed, with increasing out put of artisans, management of some type developed. However, the problems of management in those days were simple and capable of easy solution. Henry Fayol, F.W. Taylor and Max Weber contributed much classical approach of management.

The classical period

1890- 1930 is considered as the classical period. This period is called as scientific management period because only during this period the contributions of F.W. Taylor and Henry Fayol furthered the causes of scientific management. Till then management was concerned only in terms of privileges, authority and obligations of ownership. However this period witnessed a great advance in the management practice and also the introduction of better and faster methods of production.

The salient features of this period can be outlined as follows.

  1. Various methods were devised for utilizing human effort intelligently with a view to maximize the output with minimum waste.
  2. Work was planned and controlled.
  3. The organizational structure was thoroughly overhauled.
  4. Wage payment systems were made incentive-oriented so as to provide maximum motivation to workers.

Contribution by different theorists

The classical approach of management is enriched with the contribution by different theorists on different aspects of classical approach. They are explained below.

F.W. Taylor, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth

F.W. Taylor was considered as one of the greatest classical theorists of management and he is the father of scientific management movement. Taylor was one of the first theorists to introduce scientific management principles in management. According to Taylor, scientific management is the discovery of best method of performing a particular work under the existing conditions of knowledge and organizing ability.

He also tried to develop the best and fruitful method of productivity in a given situation. The implementation of scientific management can increase the productivity as it uses the standardized tools and methods. The scientific management approaches focuses on the group efforts rather than individual efforts.

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth also contributed much scientific management approach of classical theories of management. They helped Taylor in the development of scientific management principles. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth contributed much in designing the principles related to time study and motion study (Historical perspective on productivity improvement, 2008).

Henri Fayol and Mary Parker Follet

Henry Fayol developed certain principles which could be used in all management situations. The main contribution by Fayol includes he introduced the concept of division of industrial activities. He also contributed some essential qualities of an effective manager. He is the management expert who classified the management process in to different functions like planning, organizing…etc. He was the developer of 14 principles of managenet (What are the 14 Principles of Management, 2009).

Mary Parker Follet attempted to interpret classical management principles in terms of human factors. She gave solution for managing the conflicts in the organizations. She also suggested that the managers should be ready to recognize the importance of group work and the manager should be a good co-coordinator.

Max Weber – Bureaucracy

Max Weber is another expert in classical approach of management. Weber was of the opinion that well established principles and practices were the best option for growth and productivity. Once the best practices are indentified they should be implemented and practiced without fail. He was also in favor of a high hierarchical structure with clear cut directions which should be followed to the letter.


However in the development of management, scientific management stressed the application of methodology of science rather than individual wisdom and ability in the running of an industry.

Critics of scientific management state that those who follow the scientific management viewed the business organization from extremely mechanical view and treated the worker as a rational profit maximizing element of the system. Thus scientific management, which is considered as the greatest among the classical approach is suffering from this kinds of criticism.

Behavioral approach to management

The industrial revolution and the growth of job opportunities resulted in a mass migration of rural population to the cities. The appalling working conditions brought about by scientific management and the general changes and liberalization in societies resulted in an approach that is more attuned toward the needs of workers other than their salaries and wages. “Several prominent theorists began to direct their attention to the human element in the workplace.

Elton Mayo, Mary Parker Follett, Douglas McGregor, Chris Argyris, and Abraham Maslow were writers who addressed this issue by contending that increased worker satisfaction would lead to better performance” (Behavioral management theory, n.d.). The above list is not comprehensive and only illustrative of the change in approach. This section will focus on theories that had a strong impact in shift of approaches from a scientific one to a more humanistic approach.

Studies by Roethlisberger & Dickson

It could be said that the above two theorists were one of the earliest ones to view employees as humans rather than as workers. Their work is primarily a detailed chronicle of an earlier study, now known as the famous Hawthorne experiment.

Their work does not have an individuality of their own, but is based on other studies including the one mentioned above. But what stands out is their identification of a factor they term as sentiments. The Hawthorne studies identified the concept of informal organizations to which the concept of ‘sentiment’ was added by the two theorists.

According to Organ et al, sentiment is actually the attitude of the employee and if the sentiments are looked after well, productivity will increase. It can be said that “sentiments are the underlying dimensions of attitudes, values, and feelings that shape the informal organization” Organ, Podsakoff & Bradley, p. 48). This study is not original in that sense, but is a contribution to the humanistic approach present in behavioral theories.

Elton Mayo and the Western Electric Hawthorne Works

It is interesting to note that this study was done primarily to understand the effect of lighting (in the workplace) on productivity and not for non-financial motivation. The surprising result was that “those experiments showed no clear connection between productivity and the amount of illumination but researchers began to wonder what kind of changes would influence output” (Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne experiments, 2008).

The validity of the study cannot be questioned because it was done over a period of five years starting in 1927. Six employees of the company were selected to participate in the experiment and they were provided with different working conditions that included better/poorer lighting, rest, lesser working hours and practically no supervision.

The person in charge (supervisor) acted mainly as an observer rather than a taskmaster. Different combinations were tried out and most resulted in increased productivity. The surprising result was that productivity increased even after the girls were sent back to their normal working conditions. It became obvious that lighting was not a major factor in improving productivity.

Mayo and his team at Harvard came to the conclusion that freedom (lack of coercion) and a sense of participation or belonging were the primary factors responsible for the state of affairs. Moreover, the girls had developed their own style of working rather than being forced to follow one as seen in the scientific approaches. The end result was that the world of management began to appreciate the human side of management as better when compared to a coercive approach.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow observed that workers are motivated by needs that are hierarchical in nature. He developed a standard set of needs where one fulfilled need will then lead to the next one. The hierarchy of needs are physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs. Once the basic needs like food, shelter, and source of livelihood are obtained, the employee will seek job security and safety.

Then comes social needs like companionship, sense of belonging, and a feeling to be needed in the organization. any aspect that enhances the ego like recognition and praise comes next (esteem needs). Once all these are achieved, the employee will look at the higher values like truth and meaning of life and existence. He will also be looking for contributing more towards society more than receiving from it.

McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

“Douglas McGregor’s Theory X/ Theory Y (first espoused in the early 1960s) is based to a great extent of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory from the mid 1950s” (Leonard, 2002, p.192).

McGregor theorized two distinct worker attitudes that determine productivity namely X and Y. In the former scenario, work is seen as a bother and hence the employee needs strict supervision and clear cut directions. They also tend to avoid responsibility, but are attracted towards the concept of job security. Observations about Theory Y are based on modern management principles.

They welcome responsibility, do not like to be coerced, and are more attuned towards self-directed work. The concept of job satisfaction is also important. McGregor’s preferred model was Theory Y, but felt that it is more practical in small scale operations. Large scale operations (for example assembly lines) would be much better off using Theory X.


Even behavioral approaches are not faultless. For example, they appear to be too rigid and cannot fully explain the complexity of human behavior. All the factors are pre-determined and it is assumed that all human emotions and needs fall within these parameters.

Comparative study

It can be seen that the behavioral approach is more advantageous and even practical when the human element is involved. The scientific approach is fine when dealing with machines, but where employees are concerned, it is important to take into consideration factors distinct from compensation and income. Today’s managers need to understand both these concepts because elements from the two are present in management practices.

For example, McDonald’s have a highly standardized set of work practices aimed at mass and efficient production. But they also have policies where worker motivation and job satisfaction is given importance. Moreover, concepts like lean manufacturing and just-in-time have their basis in scientific management principles. The concept of Kaizen or continuous improvement is an offshoot of the principles found in the scientific approach (Best, 2001, p. 113).


It can be seen that both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. The principles of lean production, continuous improvement, and just-in-time have their roots in the scientific approach. The importance of human resources management and department in organizations illustrate the importance of the behavioral or humanistic approach to management.

It is essential that the diverse needs that motivate employees and bring about job satisfaction need to be considered in today’s management scenario. But workers also need to be controlled and an element of standardization be present in many processes. It can be concluded that elements of both approaches need to be present in today’s management practices. The factor that should be given more importance is the behavioral or humanistic approach to management.


Behavioral management theory. (n.d.). ArticlesGratuits.com. Web.

Best, M. H. (2001). The new competitive advantage (p. 113). Oxford University Press.

Elton Mayo’s Hawthorne experiments. (2008). Accel team development. Web.

Historical perspective on productivity improvement. (2008). Accel team development. Web.

Leonard, D. C. (2002). Learning theories, A to Z (p. 192). Greenwood Publishing Group.

Organ, D. W., Podsakoff, P. M., & MacKenzie, S. B. (2006). Organizational citizenship behavior (p. 48). SAGE.

. (2009). 12Manage – The executive fast track. Web.

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