Classic Management: To be or Not to be?

When you look at the landscape for most businesses and corporations today, it would be practically impossible not to see the classic management style in full effect. This is because this type of organizational structure has dominated the workforce since the inception of slavery. Interestingly enough, the authors indicate that the actual blueprint for this model had emerged by 1832. Which is pretty significant since it taps into the fact that the classic organizational model had been around long enough at that point to have surpassed the early growing pains of trial and error and gone on to be a consistent practice among many as a foundation layout for the general workforce. Characterized by a strict division of labor (the separation of tasks into discrete units) and hierarchy (the vertical arrangement of power and authority that distinguished managers from employees) this organization form would become the “classical theory” of management (Eisenberg, Goodall, LeGreco, & Trethewey, 2017, p. 68) Classic management focuses on the simple yet practical notion that in order to perform the tasks at hand, labor is not only needed but required. The larger the organization the more complex and intense the hierarchy becomes; however, the general makeup of the organization never changes much from top to bottom.

Based on the history of the classic organizational structure and considering the fact that it has been in existence for almost two-hundred plus years; it would be almost unnecessary to state the fact that this model will undoubtedly continue and not cease any time in the soon to near future. Partly because as previously noted, this model is the blueprint for labor driven organizations. It is what sets the stage for separation of hierarchy between those who set the rules, and those who must obey them.

Take for example Bank of America, the second largest banking institution in the United States, which is headquartered here in Charlotte, North Carolina.  This institution represents the hierarchal structural landscape of a classic organization. It depicts the CEO and manager at the very top, along with the board of directors; followed by mid level management, which trickles down to the lower level employees. Decisions are made at the top, yet the impact and the actual labor of those decisions are done by those at the bottom. Ironically, the lower level employees have the most control on the success of an organization, because those are the individuals who interact with the consumer on a daily basis. They shape the perception of the company in the public’s view based on continual interaction with those they encounter habitually, such as customer service representatives, bank tellers, loan officers, and etc.

The classic organizational style appears to be beneficial for large organizations such as Bank of America; as it is necessary to maintain a sense of control and balance amongst management and employee. Because there are so many employees across the board in different lines of businesses, than structure has to be established in order to ensure that work is handled accordingly. Without this model, it could possibly create confusion regarding how work is done and who is responsible for reporting that information back up to the chain of command. At this point, I’m not even certain that any other model would be as impactful as the current one in place.

Now let’s look at some of the approaches and contributions made by those as it pertains to the classic organizational structure.

Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management: is based on the assumption that management is a true science resting on clearly defined laws, rules, and principle. Taylor divided work into discrete units and observed workers as they labored, measuring their productivity and using the output and speed of the top performers to set productivity standards for all doing that job. Taylor’s goal was to transform the nature of both work and management (Eisenberg, Goodall, LeGreco, & Tretheway, 2017, p. 73)

Pros: Taylor’s time and motion studies led to improved organizational efficiency through the mechanization of labor and the authority of the clock.

Pros: Many working families adopt a scientific management approach in their efforts to give order to their busy lives. Scientific management in essence creates straightforward structure between management and employee.

Cons: Taylor’s model ushered in a systematic approach to the division of labor that has gone far beyond the design of work for which it was originally developed. Scientific management created a firm division between managers, whose task was to plan and control the design of work, and employees, whose job was to implement those plans. In short, scientific management assumed that some employees are better suited to “thinking” work and some to “doing” work, ultimately laying the groundwork for the class-based distinction between white collar and blue collar employees that we know today (Eisenberg, Goodall, LeGreco, & Trethewey, 2017, p 73)

Cons: This theory does not take into account human motivations for working, personal work relationships, or the flexibility required by the turbulent nature of organizational environments (p. 74).

This model does not work well for employees as it creates more division than unity amongst the two working alliances. The ideal that separating job functionality and creating specifications that some employee’s are more prone to “think” while others are needed to “do” implies that the same level does not need to be exerted and evenly distributed across the board…especially when it comes to positions that are more manual or physical. It is the fastest way to show “whose boss”, and “whose not”.

Fayol’s Classical Management: articulates the five elements of classical management: planning, organizing, commanding (goal setting), coordinating, and controlling (evaluating). Fayol prescribed a strict hierarchy with a clear vertical chain of command; he called this the scalar principle. He believed that each employee should have only one boss and should be accountable to only one plan (p. 74).

Pros: Advocates for the centralization of decision-making and respect for authority; yet discipline and obedience could only be expected if both position and character were present. Discipline is a part of respect for agreed-on rules, and not solely based on position.

Pros: The value of a stable workforce; which decreases a high turnover rate and recruitment costs (p. 75).

Cons:  Employees have to have the knowledge and wherewithal on how to balance their own personal interests in conjunction with that of the company.  This could possibly blur lines; and lead to questioning regarding that of authority.

Weber’s Advocacy for Bureaucracy: the goal of universalism, which sought to introduce standards of fair treatment in the workplace. Most people today associate bureaucracy with red tape and inflexibility of public agencies (p. 77).

Pros: A rigid separation of personal life from work life, a fixed division of labor among participants, A set of general rules that govern performance, the selection of personnel on the basis of technical qualifications and equal treatment of all employees, a hierarchy of offices, and participants view of employment as a career; tenure protecting against unfair arbitrary dismissal (p. 77)

Cons: It is not impossible to rid organizations of all extra organizational influences on member behaviour, bureaucracy does not deal well with nonroutine tasks; and people vary in terms or rationality.

In conclusion, it is my belief that although the classic management style is still viable due to being embedded into the current work organization; it will not always be an integral part of it. Primarily because as times change, so does the organizational makeup of business. More people are leaving corporate America to focus on building their own dreams and by doing so they build smaller more intimate work relationships with employees; as they cut out some of the middle men within the chain of command. Organizations will have to remain flexible with ensuring that they meet their visionary goals without compromising the relationship of those that get them there.


Eisenberg, E., Trethewey, A., LeGreco, M., Goodall, H. L., (2017). Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint; (8th Ed) .Boston MA; Bedford/St. Martins

three women and two men watching on laptop computer on table
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

1 thought on “Classic Management: To be or Not to be?”

  1. Your description of how Bank of America uses the aspects of classical management in their business structure. As you point out, however, while still useful in labor driven organizations. At the same time with so many breaking from the normal careers in big business, the models are smaller and need more interpersonal and team relationships married with some of the fundamental tenants of hierarchy to really work. One suggestion I have from a technical perspective is to add something to break up the text a bit. The photo at the end is good for illustrating the focus of the blog, but having a graphic or something to help push your point up by the Bank of America bit would match this platform. Great writeup!


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