Classic Management Theories Are Still Relevant

Good management is good management: it doesn’t matter if someone figured out the good idea 100 years ago or last week.

Are “Classic” Management Theories Still Relevant?

It did make me wonder about the staying power of management models, processes, skills, and conventional wisdom…

There are way too many people in our field that are not true professionals – they don’t do their homework, and rely too much on their own personal experience. They’re the ones who tend to jump from one fad to the next, enthusiastically promoting each one with an almost religious passion.

However, there’s also a danger of not keeping up with the times and sticking with models or skills that really have outlived their usefulness. At best, you run the risk of coming across as a dinosaur when you explain a management model that was developed in the 1920’s to a group of Millennials. Even worse, you may be relying on models that really don’t apply in today’s world.

Classic management ideas are definitely very valuable today. It is amazing how little use of long known good leadership lessons actually takes place in organizations. You don’t need to discover secrets to improve, just adopt ideas others ignore since they are not new (or whatever justification they use for ignoring them).

One of the main things I have been trying to do with my web sites is to get people to use the already well documented successful management practices.

Bad management ideas are bad: Regardless if they were good ideas 40 years ago, or not. I find bad management practices most often never were good practices so worrying about outdated good practices is not something that merits much time. Just avoid bad practices, don’t worry about when the practices were adopted.

As Dan McCarthy says in his post: “Read and respect the classics and keep up with the latest.”

And if you have to focus on one, focus on the classics. Most of what is new isn’t worthwhile so you will likely spend a lot of time reading about fads that die before you can even try to adopt the ideas into your organizational system. There are good new ideas – read Clayton Christensen, for some good new ideas (even many of those are nearly 10 years old now). Agile software development is another area where good tactics seem new. Mainly agile management offers good ideas on tactics for applying lots of good management ideas (often these ideas are not new), it seems to me.

Related: New or Different? Just Choose BetterManagement Advice FailuresNew Management Truths Sometimes Started as HeresiesNot New Rules for Management

6 thoughts on “Classic Management Theories Are Still Relevant

  1. I agree good management is good management, even if people haven’t heard of it because it was dated. I think part of the problem is that people want to be lead to water and then told how to drink. What I mean by that is they don’t want advice, they want a recipe. They want to be told exactly how to do the thing. Because of that, when reading about something that comes from a pre-email era, the how-to looks irrelevant, so the individual throws out the baby with the bathwater. People need to learn that leadership and management is not a recipe. There are just too many variables.

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  2. John you are right the majority of good management ideas are not new. Surprisingly if you look at the successful comoanies that grew out of the industrial boom of the last century many of their ideas are those that Lean is in fact based on. Carnegie Steel was built by paying workers fairly and asking them to improve production, greed settled in and the owners changed the rules and trouble started. US Steel built by J.P. Morgan, did the same thing, but once Morgan was gone greed caused rule chages and eventually the company fell out of step. Henry Ford started out great then greed and ego took over, resulting in the UAW. Dan Pink’s lesson on motivation are not something new, in fact they comne from the era of craftsmenship, when workers and owners cared about each other and their customers. At the time no one needed quality controls, quality was a way of life.

    In our rush to do something new we often forget the fact that next to nothing in life is new, tools may change how we do things. but the actual activities are the same. Today we have more information to makje decisions yet we make more bad ones than ever. The reality is that good decision come from well trained people empowered to do their jobs, not from high paid staff expected and treated like mindless zombies.

    yes there are some good new ideas, or more likely revived updated ones, but we need to learn from history to not repeat the same mistakes. Financial derivatives were not new, they have rearred their head before, guess what they caused a depression, and now they wiped out our economy, a case of not learning from our past, so unless you like needless ups and downs learn from history and use the good ideas.

    As to leadership, in an era of Popularity being the major requirement to get a position, do you honestly expect great leadership, great leadership often requires doing the unpopular. Take a look at the Brits, Winston Churchill was their Prime Minister twice, during both world wars and he helped lead them to their victories in both, yet no one liked him. A true leader can not always be popular, but today if you are not you get no where. Our biggest problem is that no one takes a clear stand on anything, but they all jump on whatever is trendy and popular, even if it is the dumbest thing they could do. Hype, and media appeal are all most companies care about. That is why we have a lot of micro-economic decisions being made, when macro-economics is what governs the world.

    Classic micro-economic short-term thinking is what created the mess (massive shifts to in production volumes, building inventory to hide overhead, juggling the numbers to make a quarter look good at the expense of future period, outsourcing labour to cheaper countries when labour is a minor factor in costs, under estimating the relationship between production workers and the size of the marketplace, etc.) we are in while many asian companies focus their decisions for macro-economic long-term growth (Toyota blew it lately, but Honda hasn’t, and several others are just as good at it today). While many of North Americas companies increase their Asian content, the Asian’s increase North American content (and not by using Meixco).

    Yes folks J.P. Morgan knew that to grow the economy you had to pay production workers (he believed that what ever the increase in profit was that was the increase hourly workers got), but somehow today we think people earning survival wages are going to buy luxury cars and manage to pay for them if we just give them enough credit.

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  3. Surprisingly, if you grew the last century many of the ideas of industrial prosperity success comoanies see those lean actually is based. Carnegie Steel Company to pay workers a fair, requiring them to improve production and construction, greed settled in and the owners changed the rules, trouble began. By the JP Morgan U.S. Steel construction, do the same thing, but once Morgan is not the greed, the company eventually fell out of step rule chages. Henry Ford then began the great greed and self took over, the result of the UAW. Dan powder on the lessons of motivation is not new, in fact, they are from craftsmenship, age comne when the workers and owners of each other and their customer care. No one needs quality control, quality of life approach.

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