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Fayol’s Management Theory Essay

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Updated: Apr 4th, 2019


An organization basically comprises of people drawn from various backgrounds and cultures. Different organizations also operate using different structures, systems and technologies. Therefore, managers face the challenge of managing the people working in the organization as well as the activities in the organization.

To address such challenges, managers refer to the management practices suggested by theorists such as Jules Henri Fayol’s management practices. Although some scholars such as Frederick Taylor differed with Fayol on the applicability of a set of principles to all organizations, Fayol believed that a common type of management would work for all organizations.

This paper shall look at some of the management principles proposed by Fayol and their applicability in the contemporary management practices. The paper shall conclude that these practices are still applicable in the contemporary organizations.

Classical management theory

Mclean (2011) views an organization as an entity that is made up of complex structures. It is the duty of the human resources managers to ensure that only qualified people are recruited to work for the organization. Human resources managers are also expected to allocate resources in the best way possible.

They are also in charge of coordinating various activities within the organization in order for everything to run smoothly. Henri Fayol is one of the first people to explore the area of management and develop theories about it. The principles he suggested are still useful to the contemporary management practices.

His theories have been very useful to managers in the smooth running of organizations. However, his theories have also been critiqued by various scholars for example Michael Porter. Henri Fayol’s theories were widely accepted at the time when they were introduced because it was a period of massive change as people moved from an agrarian to an industrial society (Mclean 2011).

Consequently, there was need for people in factories to know how run manage these factories so that efficiency and effectiveness could be increased. Henri Fayol’s classical management theory was very useful at this stage.

The theory was developed after a period of practical experience, observation as well as personal insights.

Role of managers

According to Mclean (2011), Fayol proposes that managers are supposed to oversee that running of the organization to ensure that everything is done in the right manner.

Although this theory was proposed in the 1900’s, it remains one of the most useful theories in the contemporary management practices. The theory is particularly useful because of its wide acceptability in the management of organizations.

In his theory, Fayol suggests five functions namely: to forecast and plan, to organize, to command, to co-ordinate, and to control (Bagad 2008). These have been very useful in the contemporary management practices. Henri Fayol is believed to be one of the theorists that have left a permanent mark on the history of management.

However, managers have the discretion to interpret, apply and also critique Fayol’s theory depending with the context they are in. Most of the books dealing with management present Fayol’s work alongside other theorists, the most common being Taylor.

Most of these books suggest that the difference between Taylor and Fayol is the emphasis which they put on their schools of thought. Most authors of management books view Fayol’s theoretical work as having emanated from his experience as he was working in a managerial post.

Fayol is criticized by some contemporary authors who portray him as inflexible and authoritarian. They view him as a person who generalized a lot of things in management and suggested that a certain set of management principles could be applied in all areas of management at all times.

Principles of management

According to Parker & Ritson (2005), Henri Fayol is one of the pioneer theorists in the field of management. He is the one who developed the classical management theory. Although the theories he developed have been useful to date, various people have critiqued his ideas.

Consequently, some people have ended up misrepresenting Fayol’s view. Many people believe that at the time when Fayol was developing his theory, the concept of organizational management was still at its infancy.

As a result, he is viewed as one of the people who laid the foundation of contemporary management theories. However, there is no doubt that whichever perspective one looks at, Henri Fayol has contributed immensely to the contemporary management. Fayol’s contribution to management is three fold. First, he proposed that organizations and businesses were made up of six important activities.

They include technical; commercial; financial; security; accounting; and management (Parker & Ritson 2005). Additionally, Fayol named some aspects which he viewed as being very important to the managerial activity. The five are: forecasting and planning; organizing, coordination; command; and control (Miner 2006).

Furthermore, Fayol identified fourteen principles that were useful in guiding managers in organizations. Some people view Fayol’s school of thought as complete and useful in guiding the management process whereas others believe that it is flawed and needs some adjustment to fit the contemporary management.

Although Fayol proposed various approaches to managerial issues, his fourteen principles are the ones that are frequently cited as his greatest contribution to management (Parker & Ritson 2005).

Functions of management

According to Pryor & Taneja (2010), Henri Fayol rose to fame when he published his book, ‘Administration Industrielle et Generale’. The book was translated to English as General and Industrial Management. It is the publication of this book that established Fayol as one of the greatest theorists in the area of management.

At the time when Fayol started contributing to the management field through these theories, there was hardly any other information that was available to help in management issues. His theories were developed from his experience as a manager and reflection on the theories that he thought worked best (Pryor & Taneja 2010).

Fayol believed that an organization or a business is comprised of five major activities. They include: technical; commercial; financial; security; accounting; and management. Moreover, he suggests five functions of management. The five are: planning, organizing; coordination; command; and control. In addition to this, Fayol proposed fourteen principles of management.

These were meant to act as a guide to the successful manager. The fourteen principles include: division of work; authority; discipline; unity of command; unity of direction; subordination of individual interests to the general interests; remuneration; centralization; scalar chain; order; equity; stability of tenure of personnel; initiative; and esprit de corps.

These fourteen principles are considered to be the foundation of most contemporary management theories. Fayol is credited as being the first to outline the difference between technical and managerial skills.

He suggests that it is important for employees to possess both skills. However, he emphasizes the importance of technical skills at the managerial level.

Application of Fayol’s principles

Wren (2001) observes that due to the competitive nature of the corporate environment globally, some firms emerge and even before they are well established, they fail. It is also possible for large firms that have been in the market for a long time to fail.

Some of the failures are due to managerial issues that could have been avoided if the right management practices were employed. In an attempt to avoid closing down, some firms choose to merge with others.

Others opt to retrench some of their staff to be able to cope with the challenges that the firms are facing. However, most of these problems could be avoided if Henri Fayol’s management practices are followed in such companies.

In 1888, Henri Fayol was promoted to become the managing director of a company that dealt with production of steel (Wren 2001). At the time when he was taking over as the managing director, the company was at the verge of collapsing due to bankruptcy.

Fayol later noted in his book that what saved the company from collapsing was the application of a new way of doing things. This is because he continued running the company together with the same people but chose to look for another way of managing the affairs of the company.

Although Fayol attributes the survival of the company to his new strategies, some scholars think that it was not the new strategies only that helped to save the company from collapsing. Other factors must have been involved as well.

The role of Fayol’s experience in development of management principles

While he was working as a mining engineer, Fayol was very keen to observe how the affairs of the firm were managed and kept a record of what he observed (Wren 2001). At one point, he observed that the activities of the firm were halted temporarily when a horse that was doing some work in the firm fell and broke its leg.

The entire firm had to stop operating because there was no one to give the keeper of the stable permission to replace that horse. Consequently, Fayol concluded that it was very vital for authority to be present at all times in order to avoid such delays in the operations of a firm.

Later, he formulated a principle that was useful in such situations. The principle stated that authority and responsibility go hand in hand and should not be viewed as separate entities. He also recommended that more time should be taken during the selection of managers to ensure that only the best are chosen.

Frederick Taylor also contributed to the area of management through his principles of scientific management (Brunsson 2008). Like Fayol, he believed that it is important for all organizations to have managers and practice management.

However, Taylor differed with Fayol on the fact that all organizations resemble and could be run using a set of principles. Taylor believed that certain activities that managers were expected to perform depend on the context and the particular situation.

Therefore, it was not possible to generalize the functions of the managers. Taylor also recommended that managers should be people who are more competent than the rest of the employees in an organization.

Criticism of Fayol’s management principles

According to Brunsson (2008), Henri Fayol suggested a set of management practices that he believed should be applicable to all organizations. The practices have been the foundation of modern day management and have been taught to students and management consultants globally.

It is common knowledge that different organizations are engaged in different things. For an organization to remain relevant and successful in the competitive business environment, it has to be unique. The idea of management according to Fayol contradicts this belief in a way.

Brunsson (2008) observes that the management practices he proposed are based on the belief that organizations are similar to one another. In generalizing the concept of management, Fayol believed that starting professional training for managers would be possible and also very helpful.

Fayol’s definition of management conforms to most of the definitions that have been given by other scholars. In his definition of management, Fayol included the following aspects: planning, organizing, coordinating, and controlling and commanding (Sapru 2008).

Consequently, managers are responsible for giving commands that should govern the direction of the company as well as defining the objectives of the organization. The managers should also monitor how work is being done and recommend any necessary corrections (Brunsson 2008).

Most of the scholars in the field of management, such as Henry Mintzberg and John Kotter, have borrowed a lot from Fayol’s school of thought on management practices.

Henri Fayol developed management theory because he believed that the lack of such a theory is what made it hard for higher institutions in France to teach management.


From Fayol’s perspective, organizations are very similar to one another and managers of these organizations have to deal with similar situations. This is why he believed that developing a set of principles in management would be very useful in the operations of any organization.

He proposed certain principles that would aid managers in their operations within the organization. However, some scholars such as Taylor have differed with Fayol’s school of thought and have suggested that there are no universal set of principles that can apply to all organizations since every organization is unique.

Despite the numerous criticisms that Fayol’s management theory has faced, it still remains relevant in the contemporary society. Most of the scholars still borrow from it and managers apply it in their organizations.

Reference List

Bagad, V 2008, Management Finance, Pune, Technical Publications.

Brunsson, H 2008, ‘Some Effects of Fayolism’, International Studies of Management & Organisation, vol. 38, no. 1, Spring, pp 30-47.

McLean, J 2011, ‘Fayol – standing the test of time’, British Journal of Administrative Management, Spring, pp 32-33.

Miner, J 2006, Organizational Behavior 3: Historical Origins, Theoretical Foundations, and the Future, New York, M.E. Sharpe.

Parker, D & Ritson, A 2005, ‘Revisiting Fayol: Anticipating Contemporary Management’, British Journal of Management, vol. 16, pp 175-194.

Pryor, G & Taneja, S 2010, ‘Henri Fayol, practitioner and theoretician – revered and reviled’, Journal of Management History, vol. 16, issue 4, pp 489-503.

Sapru, R 2008, Administrative Theories and Management Thought, New Delhi, PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd.

Wren, A 2001, ‘Henri Fayol as strategist: a nineteenth century corporate turnaround’, Management Decision, vol. 39, issue 6, pp 475-487.

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