Chapter 3: Organizational Cultures & Management Philosophies

3.2 Management Philosophies

Now that you understanding what is meant by ‘organizational culture’, let’s look at five different management philosophies that guide the work of an organization. Management philosophies are like an organization’s “personality.” Some organizations have a more structured, rigid personality (i.e., classical management perspective) while others have a more collaborative personality (i.e., human resources perspective). The aspects of an organization’s culture discussed in the previous section help one identify the overall management philosophy (i.e. personality) of  the organization.

Classical Management Perspective

The original perspective for understanding organizational communication can be described using a machine metaphor. At the beginning of the industrial age, when people thought science could solve almost every problem, American Frederick Taylor, Frenchman Henri Fayol, and German Max Weber tried to apply scientific solutions to organizations. They wanted to determine how organizations and workers could function in an ideal way. Organizations during the industrial revolution wanted to know how they could maximize their profits so the classical management perspective focused on worker productivity.

Case In Point

Owners Richard and Maurice McDonald. McDonalds

After running a restaurant successfully for 11 years, Richard and Maurice McDonald decided to improve it. They wanted to make food faster, sell it cheaper and spend less time worrying about replacing cooks and car hops. The brothers closed the restaurant and redesigned its food-preparation area to work less like a restaurant and more like an automobile assembly line.

Their old drive-in had already made them rich, but the new restaurant – which became McDonald’s – made the brothers famous. Restaurateurs traveled from all over the country to copy their system of fast food preparation, which they called the Speedee Service System. Without cars, Carl and Maurice would not have had a drive-in restaurant to tinker with. Without assembly lines, they would not have had a basis for their method of preparing food.

Being a short-order cook took skill and training, and good cooks were in high demand. The Speedee system, however, was completely different. Instead of using a skilled cook to make food quickly, it used lots of unskilled workers, each of whom did one small, specific step in the food-preparation process.

Instead of being designed to facilitate the preparation of a variety of food relatively quickly, the kitchen’s purpose was to make a very large amount of a very few items.

When you visit different restaurants belonging to the same fast-food chain, the menu and food are pretty much the same. There’s one reason for this uniformity in fast food – it’s a product of mass-production.


The machine metaphor of classical management suggests that three basic aspects should exist in organizations: Specialization, Standardization, and Predictability[1]. Those who advocated this perspective argued that every employee should have a specialized function, thus, essentially any individual could perform a job if they are properly trained. If one individual fails to do the job, they are easily replaceable with another person since people are seen as simply parts of a machine.

Taylor developed his Theory of Scientific Management from his early days as a foreman in a machine shop. Little did he know how drastically he was going to influence organizations and our notions of working life. Taylor could not understand why organizations and individuals would not want to maximize efficiency. In Copley’s biography about Taylor he reveals a man who was driven by perfection: “The spectacle of a [man] doing less than [his] best was to him morally shocking. He enthusiastically believed that to do anything less than your best is to add to the sum of the world’s unrighteousness”[2]. However, workers were not always as enthusiastic about efficiency and quality as Taylor, especially given the significant difference in status and pay between management and labor. For the common laborer during the industrial revolution, this new approach to employment meant possibly losing your job if a “scientific” formula showed that fewer workers could do the same job. If you don’t think this is alive today, think about organizations such as Apple that have employees overseas manufacture iPhones.

Organizational Communication Then

Frederick Taylor
In today’s world, fast food chains are good examples of classical management. Next time you buy that Whopper or Big Mac, you can thank the influence of American businessman Frederick Taylor. Literally using a stopwatch, Taylor’s used his time and motion studies to prove that for every job, there is one best way to perform it in the shortest amount of time. This meant properly selecting, training, and rewarding the appropriate worker with the right task (Taylor, 1947). Peek into the kitchen the next time you order that burger, fries, and coke. It is likely that you will see employees separated by station and task, doing their specific part to fulfill your order. Likewise, the design of hard plastic seats and bright colors in fast food restaurants is done with intention to get customers in and out of the restaurant in an efficient and expedient manner.


During this time, Weber was also developing his ideas about bureaucracy. He was fascinated with what the ideal organization should look like, and believed that effective hierarchies helped organizations operate effectively. Precise rules, a division of labor, centralized authority, and a distinctly defined hierarchy should be driven by rational thought void of emotion and outside influence (Weber). These qualities would allow organizations to operate in a somewhat predictable manner — employees knew what to expect and who was in charge, and management could make decisions based on familiar, relevant information rather than irrational feelings. Think about the bureaucracy of your college campus, there are numerous divisions of labor, rules, policies, and procedures. Registering for classes, tracking transcripts, obtaining financial aid, living in campus housing, are all part of the time you spend navigating the bureaucracy on your campus. Imagine a campus without bureaucracy. What if you couldn’t easily access your transcripts? What if no one kept track of your progress through college? How would you know what to do and when you were done? What if there was no process for applying for financial aid? While bureaucracies can be slow, tedious, and often inefficient, they provide structure we have come to rely on to accomplish personal and professional goals.

Fayol’s theory of classical management focused on how management worked, specifically looking at what managers should do to be most effective. For Fayol, organizational members should be clear who is in charge, and everyone should know their role in an organization. He argued that organizations should be grouped in a precise hierarchy that limits the flow of communication to top-down communication.

Theory X is an example of a classical management theory where managers micro-manage employees by using reward-punishment tactics, and limiting employee participation in decision-making[3]. This theory sees employees as basically lazy or unmotivated. Because of this, managers must closely supervise their workers. Those that do not do their work are disposable parts of the machine. This allows for management to mistreat and abuse their employees, ultimately lowering the very thing they were after, greater productivity.

Organizations using this approach can still be found today. Have you ever had a boss or manager who treated you like an interchangeable part of a machine who had little value? If so, you’ve experienced aspects of the classical management perspective at work. While scientific approaches to organizations were an interesting starting point for determining how to communicate, the classical management approach fell short in many ways. Thus, development and refinement continued to occur regarding ways to understand organizational communication.

Human Relations Perspective

Because classical management was so mechanical and did not treat people as humans, organizational scholars wanted to focus on the human elements of organizations. The human relations approach focuses on how organizational members relate to one another, and how individuals’ needs influence their performance in organizations. In 1924 Elton Mayo and his team of Harvard scientists began a series of studies that were initially interested in how to modify working conditions to increase worker productivity, decrease employee turnover, and change the overall poor organizational effectiveness at the Hawthorne Electric Plant near Chicago[4].

Mayo’s team discovered that, no matter what changes they made to the work environment (such as adjusting lighting and temperature levels, work schedules, and worker isolation), worker productivity increased simply due to the fact that researchers were paying attention to them. Simply paying attention to workers and addressing their social needs yielded significant changes in their productivity. This is where the term “The Hawthorne Effect” developed. Mayo’s work provided an impetus for a new way of looking at workers in organizations.

Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that human beings are actually motivated to satisfy their personal needs. His theory is still of interest to us today as we try to comprehend the relevance of human relations in the workplace. Papa, Daniels and Spiker s describe McGregor’s contributions: “As management theorists became familiar with Maslow’s work, they soon realized the possibility of connecting higher-level needs to worker motivation. If organizational goals and individual needs could be integrated so that people would acquire self-esteem and, ultimately, self-actualization through work, then motivation would be self-sustaining” (33). Remember that Theory X managers do not trust their employees because they think workers are inherently unmotivated and lazy. At the other end of the managerial spectrum, Theory Y managers (those that take a human relations perspective to employees) assume that workers are self motivated, seek responsibility, and want to achieve success. As a result of this changing perspective, managers began to invite feedback and encourage a degree of participation in organizational decision making, thus focusing on human relationships as a way to motivate employee productivity. Today many companies make employees happy by keeping them well rested and supplying them with ways to catch up on sleep even at work.

Human Resources Perspective

The Human Resources perspective picks up where human relations left off. The primary criticism of human relations was that it still focused on productivity, trying to achieve worker productivity simply by making workers happy. The idea that a happy employee would be a productive employee makes initial sense. However, happiness does not mean that we will be productive workers. As a matter of fact, an individual can be happy with a job and not work very hard. Another reason scholars tried to improve the human relations perspective was because manipulative managers misused it by inviting participation from employees on the surface, but not really doing anything with the employees’ contributions. Imagine your boss encouraging everyone to put their ideas into a suggestion box but never looking them. How would you feel?

Human Resources attempts to truly embrace participation by all organizational members, viewing each person as a valuable human resource. Employees are valuable resources that should be fully involved to manifest their abilities and productivity. Using this approach, organizations began to encourage employee participation in decision making.

An example of the human resources perspective is William Ouchi’s Theory Z. Ouchi believed that traditional American organizations should be more like Japanese organizations. Japanese culture values lifetime employment, teamwork, collective responsibility, and a sound mind and body. This contrasts with many American work values such as short-term employment, individualism, and non-participation. Many U.S. companies implemented Japanese organizational concepts such as quality circles (QC), quality of work life (QWL) programs, management by objectives (MBO), and W. E. Deming’s notion of total quality management (TQM). Each of these approaches was designed to flatten hierarchies, increase participation, implement quality control, and utilize teamwork. Human Resources works “by getting organizational participants meaningfully involved in the important decisions that regulate the enterprise” [5].

Systems Perspective

Collectively, individuals in organizations achieve more than they can independently (Barnard; Katz & Kahn; Redding; von Bertalanffy; Skyttner). The systems perspective for understanding organizations is “concerned with problems of relationships, of structure, and of interdependence rather than with the constant attributes of objects” [6]. An organization is like a living organism and must exist in its external environment in order to survive. Without this interaction an organization remains what we call closed, and withers away[7].

All organizations have basic properties. Equifinality means that a system (organization) can reach its goals from different paths. Each professor that teaches public speaking, for example, does so in a different way but, the end result is that the students in each of the classes as completed a course in public speaking. Negative entropy is the ability of an organization to overcome the possibility of becoming run down. Companies like Apple do everything they can to stay ahead of their competition and keep their products ahead of the curve. Requisite variety means that organizations must be responsive to their external environment and adjust when needed. Apple is always under pressure to come up with the newest and best technology. When Apple goes a long time without doing so, the public begins to be critical. Homeostasis points to an organization’s need for stability in a turbulent environment. When gas prices go up, for example, organizations impacted by these rising costs take steps to ensure their survival and profitability. Complexity states that the more an organization grows and interacts, the more elaborate it becomes (Katz & Kahn; von Bertalanffy; Miller). Think about how huge companies such as Verizon must have elaborate organizational systems in place to deal with all of its employees and customers in a competitive market place.

If an organization is a system, how do we use the role of communication to analyze interactions among organizational members? Karl Weick’s Theory of Organizing suggests that participants organize through their communication and make sense of unpredictable environments through interactions. Simply put, organizations exist as a result of the interactions of people in those organizations. An organization is more than just a physical building with people inside. Communication is the “process of organizing” implying that communication actually is the organization[8]. Regardless of whether the focus is on the message or the meaning, systems theory stresses the interdependence of integrated people in organizations and the outcomes they produce as a result of their interactions.

Transformational Perspective 

In response to the problems the other perspectives experience with today’s fast-paced business environment, the transformational perspective asserts that organizations need to be small and flexible so they can shift quickly in response to market demands.

One key characteristics of organization’s with a transformational management philosophy is the the flexibility built in by being  multiunit organizations. According to Hamilton[9] (2014) “A multiunit organization is made up of separate, autonomous businesses under the same holding company. This decentralized structure allows the large parent company to operate with the flexibility of much smaller businesses” (p. 58).  For example, Johnson & Johnson is comprised of over 200 individual companies.

A related characteristic of organizations with a transformational management philosophy is the use of virtual organizations/teams, which is  “a temporary venture among several companies, each with a special expertise or process specialty” (Hamilton, 2014, p. 59).  Independent employees from these various companies communication via mediated means (video-chats, email, telephone), and may never actually meet in person.

By dividing one’s organization into multiple units, and using virtual organizations/teams to conduct business, the transformational organization is able to make quick adjustments to market demands and stay relevant. These organizations typically dont provide the safety of long-term employment, and have to be attentive to frame-of-reference differences (different perspectives, terminologies, and goals) among employees that can impede collaboration. Additionally, because much of the work occurs via mediated means, employees need to be skilled at communicating electronically and at developing trust.

Licenses and Attributions
CC licensed content, Shared previously

  1. Miller, Katherine. Organizational communication: Approaches and processes (7th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 2014.
  2. Copley, Frank Barley, and Frederick W. Taylor: Father of Scientific Management (vol.I). New York: Harper & Brothers. (1923). pp. 207
  3. McGregor, Douglas. The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1960
  4. Roethlisberger, Fritz Jules, and William J. Dickson. Management and the Worker. Vol. 5. Psychology Press, 2003.
  5. Brady, Gene F. Management by involvement: An action guide. Human Sciences Pr, 1989. pp 15.
  6. Katz, Daniel, and Kahn, Robert L. The Social Psychology of Organizations. John Wiley & Sons. (1966). pp. 18
  7. Buckley, Walter. Sociology and Modern Systems Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. (1967). Print.
  8. Eisenberg, Eric, & Goodall, H. L. Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2001. Print.
  9. Hamilto, C. (2014). Communicating for results: A guide for business and the professions. (10th Ed). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage


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