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Discovering management
Discovering management

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1.1.2 A human relations approach (Follett and Likert)

In contrast to Fayol and Urwick, Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933) eschewed the scientific-cum-technical approach to management, emphasising instead the importance of manager–worker relations and the need to view management (and leadership) more holistically. Like Urwick, she was an early management consultant and organisation theorist. She also wrote on creativity; the best-known quote from her work is ‘management is the art of getting things done through other people’ (Follett, 1918). Note that she identifies management as an art – not a science. This sits at the heart of her thinking about management and her strong belief that the key task of management is to facilitate cooperation and the involvement of staff in decision making.

Her contribution to modern day thinking about management and employer– employee relations is becoming more widely known, thanks in part to the work of the Mary Parker Follett Foundation:

Follett is increasingly recognised today as the originator, at least in the 20th century, of ideas that are today commonly accepted as ‘cutting edge’ in organisational theory and public administration. These include the idea of seeking ‘win–win’ solutions, community-based solutions, strength in human diversity, situational leadership, and a focus on process. However, just as her ideas were advanced for her own time, and advanced when people wrote about them decades after her death, they remain too often unrealised. We recognise them as an inspirational and guiding ideal for us today, at the beginning of the 21st Century.

(Source: Mary Parker Follett Foundation, undated)

Follett’s human relations approach to the basis of effective management was echoed later by such writers as the American social psychologist Rensis Likert (1903–1981). His research was summarised by Derek Pugh as follows:

Likert distinguishes four systems of management. System 1 is the exploitative authoritative type where management uses fears and threats, communication is downwards, superiors and subordinates are psychologically far apart, the bulk of decisions are taken at the top of the organisation, etc. System 2 is the benevolent authoritative type where management uses rewards, subordinates’ attitudes are subservient to superiors, information flowing upwards is restricted to what the boss wants to hear, policy decisions are taken at the top but decisions within a prescribed framework may be delegated to lower levels, etc. System 3 is the consultative type where management uses rewards, occasional punishments and some involvement is sought; communication is both down and up but upward communication other than that which the boss wants to hear is given in limited amounts and only cautiously. In this system subordinates can have a moderate amount of influence on the activities of their departments as broad policy decisions are taken at the top and more specific decisions at lower levels.

System 4 is characterised by participative group management. Management give economic rewards and make full use of group participation and involvement in setting high performance goals, improving working methods, etc.; communication flows downwards, upwards and with peers and is accurate; subordinates and superiors are very close psychologically. Decision making is widely done throughout the organisation through group processes, and is integrated into the formal structure by regarding the organisation chart as a series of overlapping groups with each group linked to the rest of the organisation by means of persons who are members of more than one group. System 4 management produces high productivity, greater involvement of individuals, and better labour–management relations.

[...] Management, according to Likert, is always a relative process. To be effective and to communicate, leaders must always adapt their behaviour to take account of the persons whom they lead. There are no specific rules which will work well within all situations, but only general principles which must be interpreted to take account of expectations, values and skills of those with whom the manager interacts. Sensitivity to these values and expectations is a crucial leadership skill, and organisations must create the atmosphere and conditions which encourage all managers to deal with the people they encounter in a manner fitting to their values and their expectations.

(1989, pp. 157–158)