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A Comparison of the Key Differences Between Scientific Management and the Contingency Approach to Management

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A Comparison of the Key Differences Between Scientific Management and the Contingency Approach to Management


‘Management is the process of coordinating work activities so that they are completed efficiently and effectively with and through other people' (Robbins et al., 2006, p.9). Two major approaches which are concerned with efficiently and effectively managing organisations is Scientific Management and the Contingency approach towards Management.

These two significant approaches to management are different due to their perspectives, yet neither is invalid and they are both concerned with the same matters (Robbins et al., 2006). This essay compares and contrasts the key differences between the two theories and the relevance of these approaches in modern management systems.

Defining the Theories

Scientific management is a well-established approach towards management, and it can be traced back to the work of Frederick Taylor (1856-1915), whereas the contingency theory is a contemporary approach which is based on contingency variables. The scientific theory is mechanistic, as it considers everything is red-terminable by that which preceded it (Yolles, 1999). One way to identify scientific management is ‘the use of scientific methods to define the one best way for a job to be done' (Robbins et al., 2006, p.45). Frederick Taylor, also known as the ‘Father of Scientific Management', was highly regarded as an efficiency expert. He discovered the ‘best ways to perform tasks' and he used the scientific approach in developing the ‘best practice' (Sofo, 1999, p.252). Scientific management succeeded in formalising the division between workers, decision-making management and separating job design from job execution (Sofo, 1999). Taylor wanted to ensure maximum prosperity for the employer and his employees, to make certain that the individual had reached their highest state of efficiency (Taylor, 1967).

The contingency theory applies a contemporary approach towards management. In contrast to the scientific theory, this approach acknowledges that there is not one best way to manage in a given situation, and that situational variables from both the internal and external environments impact on management practices (Robbins et al., 2006). This open system perspective stresses the importance of organisations facing different contingencies, and thus requires different styles of management (Robbins et al., 2006). The theory emphasises situational suitability rather than rigid adherence to universal principles as stressed by scientific management, and it creates the impression that an organisation is confined to its situation (Kreitner, 2004).

Scientific management's Frederick. W. Taylor was concerned with first line managers, as he was concerned with worker's inefficiencies and wanted to improve productivity, whereas the contingency approach is concerned with learning to manage in accordance with organisational variables. Although multiple organisational forms and management styles are standardised, the contingency theory recognises the importance of judgment as a managerial tool, and identifies the importance of the interaction with the environment and organisation (Jones, 1997).

The Foundations

The foundation of each approach varies, yet they are both concerned with increasing productivity and effectiveness. Scientific management first emerged when Taylor began looking at human work systematically in 1885, whilst working at the Midvale Steel Works as a chief engineer. He examined individual tasks and identified every action and movement involved in order to determine the optimum time required to complete a task. His information supported managers in determining whether employees were performing at their best and if they could increase productivity (Crainer, 1997). Scientific management advanced when Frederick Taylor conducted his pig iron experiment. His observations from this experiment reduced costs by introducing a piece rate system, which was implemented at the Bethlehem Iron Company of South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1899. After working at Bethlehem for two years, he achieved a 200% increase in productivity (Clegg et al., 2005). Scientific methodology is based on these early pig iron experiments, and they offer some very useful lessons to management researchers (Wrege et al., 2000). The contingency approach is based on the parameters in an organisation that effects organisational decisions. This approach emphasises that effective planning, organising, leading, and controlling must be customised to the particular circumstances faced by an organisation (Barnett, 2006). It recognises that managers must interpret and understand the situational

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