Though many of Benjamin Franklin’s pithy quotes appear in one form or another on Pinterest sites and tchotchke catalogs – “there are no Gains without Pains”, “God helps those that help themselves”, and “Early to Bed, Early to Rise” – the notion of those sayings being posted in the break room of most modern day American workplaces is unimaginable (Eisenberg, Goodall, Trethewey, 2014, p.66). In many organizations, Weber’s idea of bureaucracy, though welcomed by workers in the early twentieth century to protect employees from particularism, has morphed into piles and piles of red tape that often times, unproductively consumes the precious time and energy of both management and employee (Eisenberg, et al., 2014).
In the early 1900s, Taylor’s theory of Scientific Management provided a blueprint for managers and employees that laid out precisely the roles and responsibilities of each individual in the corporation. Following Taylor’s plan would ensure who was to do what task, how it should be done, and that there would be no crossing of roles between worker and manager (Eisenberg, et al., 2014). Around the same, Fayol was fine tuning his theory of administrative science that defined how management should operate, created a distinct vertical chain of command, and, while recognizing the importance of worker retention and fair pay for a job well done, still advocated that workers should put the needs of the organization above their own interests (Eisenberg, et al., 2014).
But while these theories seem outdated when read through an enlightened 20th century lens, our text tells us that many of these ideas are in practice today, just cloaked in new terminology. For instance, “the classical management objective of fitting the right person to the right job is now called ‘individualizing the organization’ and in applications ranging from software design to fast-food sales . . .the goal of reducing the number of steps involved to reliably produce a quality result is still paramount” (Eisenberg, et al., 2014). Grow, Brady and Arndt tell us that Home Depot is still run with a classical management approach with dictates coming from the top down. Lower level managers and employees are given very little leeway over day-to-day operations and there is even a manual entitled “How to Be Orange Every Day” full of Franklin style advice that employees are expected to keep in their apron pockets (Grow, Brady, and Arndt, March, 2006).
Though this sort of management seems unnecessarily rigid, demeaning and demoralizing in modern times of employee rights and respect, the operations of some organizations necessarily depend on a strict chain of command and scientific design of every aspect of every task. A fire department is a good example of this type of organization. A strict hierarchy of command is necessary for both the rescuers and those needing help when the department is called to a scene. There is no time for debate or indecision, as firefighters must act as a seamless unit. Everything on the truck has to be in the proper place, used the proper way, and many hours are spent in training drills to analyze the quickest, most efficient way to attach and pull hoses, use the jaws of life to open a car, administer first aid, etc. Time is of the essence and can mean the difference between life and death – for both the rescuer and the victim – and it is important that firefighters follow tried and trusted rules and procedures that have been practiced until they are practically second nature.
For most of today’s organizations, I believe that the classical management approach is not the best approach. The workday is no longer dawn to dusk, the country’s workforce is diverse, and most employees expect employers to respect a balance between work and down time. Certainly the Home Depot method of management, patterned after the military, is out of step with current theories and practices (Grow, Brady and Arndt, March, 2006). However, as stated in the previous paragraph, there is still a need for many of the structured elements of the classic management approach in organizations, like fire departments, where life and death oft times hang in the balance.
I understand why the firefighting field is extremely competitive as there are many more candidates than positions to fill and the job comes with its own rewards far beyond financial compensation. But with a national unemployment rate hovering just below 5 percent, how do companies, like Home Depot, that seem to use the classical management approach to the extreme by treating employees more like robots than civilians, continue to maintain the staffing necessary to remain in operation?
Eisenberg, E. M., Goodall, H. L. Jr., and Tretheway, A. (2014) Organizational Communication Balancing Creativity and Constraint (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford
Grow, B, Brady, D. and Arndt, M. (March, 2006). Renovating Home Depot. Bloomberg. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2006-03-05/renovating-home-depot