How do societal forces influence the practice and theory of management? 

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While true changes in society necessitate different management styles and, by reason, changes to management theory, it is possible the inverse of your question is equally important to consider. Historically, the introduction of new management theory was not necessitated by changes in society. Many of the theories were not in...

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While true changes in society necessitate different management styles and, by reason, changes to management theory, it is possible the inverse of your question is equally important to consider. Historically, the introduction of new management theory was not necessitated by changes in society. Many of the theories were not in response to changes in society, but rather a desire by organizations to implement processes that increased productivity without an increase in cost.

Frederick Taylor is credited with the basis of modern-day scientific management. His idea was to provide an incentive to increase employee productivity. Taylor's approach was not the result of a change in societal pressure. Taylor's view more closely aligns with economics than social progress. The adaptation of Taylor's principles to other fields (education or healthcare as examples) had a profound influence on the delivery of services to the public. In some ways, management theory is less reactionary and more proactive to anticipating changes in society than the society changing management practices.

The modern example serves as evidence. Societal changes tend to occur in generational cycles. Everyone recognizes the disruption of technology in how people perceive work, their relationships with others, and how everyday life is conducted. Management theory predicted years before society began to transition to technology the massive shift in economics, dislocation of industries, and the downfall of enterprises that do not think in global terms.

As evidence of the predictive nature of management theory, review some of the management books written in the seventies and eighties. Books by Tom Peters, Edward Deming, and Alvin Toffler are a few examples demonstrating how society lagged behind management theorists. Clearly, if left to society to change management theory and practice, the American economy would have remained committed to the domestic industrial base and isolated to the extent possible from global competition. This, of course, is not the case.

While the question calls for a response placing society changes ahead of management theory, I suggest management theory is at least as responsible for changes in society as society is for changes in management theory. Though a counter position to others, historical evidence supports the notion.

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I would argue that the theory and practice of management evolve as societal forces evolve. Take technology for example—thirty years ago, management did not have to contend with the impacts of internet, and it's only in the past 12 years or so that they have had to contend with social media. Nowadays, it is virtually impossible and almost unheard of to manage a business entirely offline.

To provide another example, think about the situation in South Africa. In the Apartheid era, big business was driven by conservative white men, and they were not in any way obligated to consider the perspective of any other group. When societal forces caused the breakdown of Apartheid, policies such as affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment became critical elements of managing any business.

As societies change, the businesses that operate within them need to change, or they will become relics of the past.

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Societal forces influence management because societal forces change people and technology.  Since management has a great deal to do with these things, they change management theory and practice as well.

For example, in the early 1900s, workers were cheap and not very respected and America was industrializing rapidly.  Therefore, Taylorism was a very popular management style.  It treated workers like  the new machinery, trying to break everything they did down into steps that could be made more rational and efficient.

Today, the major (relatively) new force is information technology.  People are used to using their computer to help them and management is no different.  With quantitative management, managers try to use information technology to rationalize the management process.  

Societal changes change the way people think and the technological environment in which they think.  These factors lead to changes in management theory and behavior.

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