HR & Management

Evolution of management over the past century

6 min read

16 May 2013

Globalisation, advances in technology and increased diversity have put organisational challenges into hyper drive.

Despite the inspirational stories we read about modern companies – such as Zappos, Innocent Drinks and Google – most of us are using out-dated management practices and failing to get the most out of our people. 

Not convinced? Consider this: 65 per cent of people are unhappy at work, only 14 per cent understand their company’s strategy, and 75 per cent are seeking jobs as we speak. Now, what do you think that does for your bottom line?

Management thinking and practice have evolved over the last century as a result of increased understanding of human and organisational behaviour, the economic climate and historical context, and the changes in generations over time. But if we’re really honest, much of what we practice today is due to the consulting industry playing on executives’s fears and aspirations by selling products and services that cause more problems than solutions, and our own human weakness of always looking for a quick fix… even to very complex issues. 

Let’s take a look in the rear-view mirror and see how we got here: 

1910s-1940s: Management as science

Management as Science was developed in the early 20th century and focused on increasing productivity and efficiency through standardisation, division of labour, centralisation and hierarchy. A very “top down” management with strict control over people and processes dominated across industries.

1950s-1960s: Functional organisations

Due to growing and more complex organisations, the 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of functional organisations and the Human Resource (HR) movement.
Managers began to understand the human factor in production and productivity. Tools such as goal setting, performance reviews and job descriptions were born.

1970s: Strategic planning

In the 1970s, we changed our focus from measuring function to resource allocation and tools such as Strategic Planning (GE), Growth Share Matrix (BCG) and SWOT were used to formalise strategic planning processes. After several decades of “best practice” and “one size fits all” solutions, academics began to develop contingency theories.

1980s: Competitive advantage

As the business environment grew increasingly competitive and connected, and with a blooming management consultancy industry, Competitive Advantage became a priority for organisations in the 1980s. Tools like Total Quality Management (TQM), Six Sigma and Lean were used to measure processes and improve productivity. Employees were more involved by collecting data but decisions were still made u200bu200bat the top, and goals were used to manage people and maintain control.

1990s: Process optimisation

Benchmarking and business process reengineering became popular in the 1990s and by the middle of the decade, 60 per cent of Fortune 500 companies claimed to have plans for, or have already initiated such projects. TQM, Six Sigma and Lean remained popular and a more holistic, organisation-wide approach and strategy implementation took the stage with tools such as Strategy Maps and Balance Scorecards.

2000s: Big Data

Largely driven by the consulting industry under the banner of Big Data, organisations in the 2000s started to focus on using technology for growth and value creation. Meanwhile, oversaturation of existing market space drove to concepts such as Blue Ocean Strategy and Value Innovation.

How we lead our people and how we solve problems and innovate, are some of the most important aspects of Management to get right. In our research, we’ve therefore looked specifically at two aspects of Management throughout history, and how these will develop in the future: 

Management Approach: the style of top management, ranging from:

  • Control (i.e. your boss tells you what to do and how to do it);
  • Set Goals (i.e. your boss sets goals and expectations, but you have more freedom with regards to how you achieve them); and
  • Inspire (i.e. your boss gives you scope and freedom to innovate on both the what and the how).

Approach to Innovation / Problem Solving: how leaders solve strategic problems and develop new products and services. 

This ranged from:

  • Top Down (i.e. solutions are created and come from the top);
  • Top Down with Bottom Up Data (i.e. the rest of the organisation contributes information and experiences, but solutions are still created at the top); and
  • Participatory (i.e. solutions are created collaboratively, and throughout the organisational levels).

After a century of trying to control people, processes and information, we have come to a point in organisational history where we need to recognise that what worked before just simply isn’t enough anymore. Traditional Management is fine if you want compliance, but if you want innovation and growth, you need to engage your people on a whole new level. 

Over the next couple of weeks I will discuss the future of organisations, and what it really takes to increase value creation, innovation and employee engagement in today’s business environment.

Therese S Kinal is the CEO and co-founder of Unleash, a disruptive innovator in the management consulting industry. She is the co-author of ‘Unleashing: The Future of Work’.