What factors have influenced the revolution/evolution of management theory?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A factor in early modern management theory was the Scientific Approach of Frederick Winslow Taylor, which focused on ways to scientifically increase efficiency by focusing on job design. Taylor linked employee motivation and productivity to efficiency through appropriate job design. Henri Fayol's Administrative Approach and Max Weber's Bureaucratic Approach were responses to and subdivisions of Taylor's scientific efficiency approach: all three sought to improve job efficiency to increase work productivity.

In the 1920's Elton Mayo of Harvard University introduced the Human Relations Approach, which was supported by the Hawthorne Studies. This step of evolution in management theory was indeed a small revolution because for the first time since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the human factor was recognized as critical to productivity. Compare this to Taylor's earlier focus on job design, which expressed the idea that humans may work the job design, but the design is what relates to productivity, not the humans.

Mayo's Human Relations Approach was bolstered by Abraham Maslow's 1943 psychological theory of human needs hierarchy, and it became generally recognized that social needs were being met through work and personal productivity. This step in the evolution of management theory further revolutionized management because the Industrial Revolution idea that workers were expendable units of production was replaced by the scientific precept that human relations were not only critical to productivity but were fulfilled through productivity.

The idea of the interconnectedness between human relations, human psychology and job productivity continued to be explored in the Human Relations Approach as behaviorist theory was applied by McGregor through reward/punishment theories: Theory X defining workers by their need for punishing threats to initiate motivation and Theory Y defining workers by their need for approval and reward to initiate motivation. The application of behaviorist reward/punishment in the evolution of management theory presented another revolutionary moment in that workers were again defined as dehumanized units whose interaction with their work was dependent upon external stimuli rather than dependent upon their inner natures and qualities.

The Systems Approach, introduced by biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, attempted to meld into a balance the two oppositional theories of a scientific approach to productivity and a human-focused approach. As a biologist, he focused on the entire environment and the effect of the entirety upon productivity. He examined the interconnected relationships between employees and productivity in the environment of customers, company management and output. Bertalanffy's ideas again revolutionized how people thought about management by including the entire complex company structure in considerations of employee productivity.

The next evolution in management theory produced another revolution in thought when Contingency Theory proposed that productivity depended not only on the company system, as in Bertalanffy's Systems Approach, but also upon the continually evolving external environment within which the company was situated. Contingency Theory of the 1960s emphasized that all management situations were affected by multiple internal and external factors, including economic conditions, government policy, employee relationships and advances in technology. Management of companies could succeed only if contingencies for each of the various changeable factors were provided.

It's important to note that the evolution of these theories, as can be seen by their descriptions, follows the evolution of complexity in the modern business world. As business became more complex because of the development of advanced technologies and an increase in population and an increase in income and standard of living (in developed nations), management theory became more complex because of attempts to define and describe more complex management and companies, a process that reciprocally affected the developing complexity of companies and management.

Chaos Theory of the 1980s, influenced by chaos theory in physics, revolutionized the evolution of management theory by stating that, even with contingencies accounted for and prepared for, business systems could exist in environments that were undirected and unpredictable. By recognizing the inherent nature of chaos manifested in any large (or any sized) group, managers could enable efficiency and productivity by allowing a natural flow--for example, the formation of groups and of communication and leadership styles--to operate within the organization, while managers continued motivating the organization to fulfilling of the company's objectives. 

As a side note, in regards to the wording of your question, which originally asked for just the "revolution" of management theory, it is more likely that what you want is the "evolution" of--the progressive development of--management theory. As it happens, major steps in the evolution (progression) of management theory have in fact introduced revolutionary changes in thought, behavior and the understanding of human nature. Consequently, it was possible to point out both "evolution" and "revolution" in one discussion.