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21st Century Management

Management has been around since the dawn of civilization. In primitive societies almost everyone had to do physical labor.  To escape this burden, about the only choices were going into politics (kings) or religion (priests).

Civilized urban societies led to more specialization, created new vocational alternatives to manual labor, and saw a tendency of those who did not work with their hands to look down on those who did. This particular attitude was fostered by scribes, who used their knowledge of writing to produce literature that mocked the illiterate laboring classes. 

When we read that the Pharaoh build the Pyramids, we know that in fact that actual work was done by other people. As these laborers cut, moved, and placed the stones, the first managers were there to tell them what to do, to see that they did it, and to chastise those whose performance was unsatisfactory.

Basically, these were the functions of managers until the twentieth century. The apogee of this form of management was perhaps reached in late nineteenth in the factory system. One can still visit the Boott Cotton Mills Museum of in Lowell, Massachusetts to see how work and management were organized then.

The Lowell mills were famous because instead of relying on immigrants, they also recruited, hired, and provided dormitories for middle class young women, selling the idea that employment and the money it brought were socially acceptable and increased their marital prospects.  Today one can still read the work rules that these women had to follow. One stated that only short sleeve dresses were permitted.  This was because when the mill managers saw employees talking instead of working, they would strike them in the arm with a rattan.  Long-sleeved dresses impeded the effectiveness of this form of disciplinary action.

The "hit them with a whip" school of management suffered a decline and fall in the 20th century, though remnants still exist in various places in the world and the wish for such methods still is expressed now and then even by contemporary managers.  Other methods of managing workers received classical expression in Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management in 1911. Taylorism led to new management tools involving such techniques as measurement and statistics.

What might be called the "efficiency expert" school of management was for the most part supplanted around the 1960s by a more "humanistic" approach, whose classical exponent was the psychologist Abraham Maslow.  The changes in management thinking in this decade reflected the more educated workforce and greater respect for democracy that grew out of World War II.

In the 1970s Robert Greenleaf invented Servant Leadership, and in the 1990s Peter Block carried this concept forward to Stewardship. These ideas revolutionized the mental model for managers by suggesting that they replace thinking about how to get people to do things with thinking about to help people do things.

Best practice management concepts in the late 20th century also included excellence and total quality management, reengineering, systems thinking, cross functional teams, empowerment, delayering and flat organization charts, learning organization, dialogue, reinventing work, and diversity.  As knowledge in general increased with "Internet speed," management thought, already heavily influenced by psychological sciences, received infusions from numerous disciplines.  Moreover, cross-fertilization between academia and the business community created a vast increase in management related research activity.

Some of these trends such as TQM and reengineering - seemed by 2000 to have run their course. The permanent value of the new thinking underlying them, however, should not be denied; and 21st century versions of these movements should actually be welcomed.

Others trends such as learning and diversity progressed to the point where "second generation" (learning organization) or "new" (diversity) versions appeared. In the early 21st century, it was even easy to see the development of a "third wave" in these well-established concepts.

Just as the 21st century has seen new types of organizations and new ways of doing business arise, so, too, will there be new management trends, ideas, and techniques.  While running after every trendy idea is hardly a recommendable strategy, the wise manager will learn, study, and apply the best current thinking.

At the start of the 21st century, the following rate to be the most important ideas regarding management: 

*   Management is for everyone.  As educational levels rise and information technology accelerates, the distinction between "managers" and "workers" will fade away and management knowledge will be everyone's responsibility. 

*   Management is for learners.  As information becomes the chief product of every business and as knowledge continues to explode, everyone will be a learner and the manager's foremost task will to promote learning. 

*   Management is based on communicating.  As techniques for planning, strategizing, decision-making, and problem solving become the common province of everyone in the organization, the need for improving communication will be paramount and managers will be increasingly using dialogue and other communication tools. 

*   Management is about change. As technology and information reshape all our lives, change management will be "business as usual" and managers will be change agents who guide everyone to find and embrace the best new practices. 

*   Management is broad based.  As boundaries disappear within organizations and in the world at large, the scope of management will grow and managers will be organizational development experts, diversity experts, facilitation experts, consultation experts and much else.


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