“Here we don’t have management and we don’t have law. We have teams. And the have what you call consensus. Everything’s a group decision. In the last seven months, I’ve only had a few days off here and there. But this is where I want to be. This is living heaven. You work through breaks and you work through lunch. You’re here all hours and even sometimes Saturdays. And you don’t mind. Because no one’s making you do it.”
Alton Smith, tool and die maker
From an ad for Saturn Automobiles
Newsweek October 15, 1990
Utopian as it sounds, the above advertisement is promoting much more than cars. The ad is promoting the kind of work environment that business and industry have been striving for throughout the long history of organizational enterprise. An environment where the workforce is committed to teamwork and is based on equality and initiative, a workforce that is productive without regard for distinctions such as management and labor. (It would be very interesting to visit the Saturn plant, in the twenty-first century to see how well Alton Smith and his teammates are doing.) In the meantime, as we make the transition from one century to the next, an investigation of the historical development of the management concept reveals two important observations:
1. There’s always been a need for managers.
2. Its quite likely there always will be.
Although management as we know it today is largely a development of recent years, it has been of great concern to society throughout history. There’s hardly a major philosopher, historian, or biographer, inducing Aristotle, Caesar, and Aquinas, who hasn’t written about the management of organizations. Egyptian writings as far back as 1300 B.C. indicate a relatively sophisticated knowledge of management and its use in the administration of the bureaucratic states. It’s also evident that the affairs of the Greek and Roman empires couldn’t have been conducted in such efficient fashion without an understanding and use of the principles of management, the church, army, and state all had to be managed.
The history of Western civilization is replete with evidence that organizations such as the military and the Roman Catholic Church pioneered many managerial concepts that still exist today. These concepts include line and staff, formal organizational authority relationships, and so on. About the middle of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution brought about the centralization of factories, which resulted in the greater utilization of machinery and a larger labor force, which prompted the era of employer-employee relations.
It was during the 18th and 19th centuries that economists such as Adam Smith and Alfred G. Marshall became the harbingers of much of today’s organizational and managerial thought. Smith popularized the notion of the specialization of labor, the classical view of the competitive economy, and the “economic man,” the imaginary individual Smith created to illustrate man’s rational, regular, and predictable economic behavior. Marshall was among those economists concerned with the operation of the firm and its management. Smith’s and Marshall’s ideas led to developments of managerial practices that were revolutionary for that time-but be came so well ingrained that today they’re considered elementary. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that the modem theory of management was developed.