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Critical Appraisal of Theory of Principles (or Classical Theory)

Classical school Public Administration

The thinking in the Classical School of thought which believes in organisational principles was influenced by the writings of Henry Fayol. Since he was the one who for the first time advocated the functional division of work, he is called the earliest “Functionalist”. Also for the attempt on his part to universalise the principles of administration, he is also called as “Universalist”. Hence we shall be presenting the critical appraisal of the Classical Theory vis-a-vis the approach of Fayol.

For Fayol management meant looking ahead. He tried to replace ad­hocism prevailing in the administration. He gave meaningful principles which were intelligible even to the common man. The principles of Division of work, Hierarchy, Authority and Responsibility, Co-ordination, Equity etc. are by and large valid even today.

The theory given by Fayol was however, criticised on the following grounds:

  1. The Marxist thinkers criticised the approach adopted by Fayol as exploitative with respect to workers. According to them, the theory was aimed at generating more and more profits for the factory owners and bringing further dehumanisation in the organisation which had already been there in the organisations with the application of the principles of Scientific Management.
  2. The social scientists criticised the theory of organisational principles for totally overlooking the human relations aspects of the organisation. They stressed that productivity in an organisation is not only a function of structure but it also depends upon a host of other factors which include motivation of the personnel and the willingness on the part of the employees to do the job. They criticised the theory due to their apprehension that for increasing production, an individual worker will be forced to work for more hours and this would result in relegating welfare of the employees activities in favour in these organisations to the back-seat i.e. Industrial Revolution and Scientific Management dehumanised the human beings. The Managerial Revolution as advocated by Fayol and his associates will further dehumanise them.
  3. Workers too criticised the theory of principles for the reason that here too workers are treated as units of production who are always subject to review and assessment/control, which is highly disliked by the workers, as nobody enjoys being constantly watched. Also, Trade Unions were dissatisfied with this approach due to the fact that although more and more profit is generated at the cost of the workers, the major part of it goes to the capitalists. The theory hence is anti-worker and pro-capitalist.
  4. The most vociferous criticism of the Theory of Organisational Principles came from Herbert Simon. He criticised the organisational principles as mere myths, proverbs and slogans only i.e. they were the result of wisdom which had been available to the people in the form of old sayings and there was nothing new in it According to him, like the myths and proverbs, the organisational principles too come in pairs i.e. for every principle, there exists a contradictory principle. For example the principle of ‘centralisation’ contradicts the principles of ‘Initiative’. The more the centralisation, the lesser initiative is the general experience of the personnel in the lower positions in administration. Similarly, the principle of Unity of Command contradicts the concept of specialisation in the organisation. Because, occupational specialisation means that a person has to obey the orders of more than one person who are his supervisors in different functional areas which is contrary to the strict unity of command concept. In a similar manner, the principle of Hierarchy contradicts the principle of span of control. If one tries to keep the span of control smaller to effect efficiency in the organisation, the levels in the hierarchy are increased and as a result the communication within organisation becomes slower which impairs efficiency.
  5. The organisational principles have also been criticised for their
    dysfunctionality i.e. once they are applied in the organisation, the effect is that some new problem not otter, anticipated by the management crops us. For example, as explained above, the span of control principle advocates a smaller span of control for closer supervision over personnel which results in enhanced efficiency in the organisation. But putting this principle in practice means increasing the levels of communication, as additional steps in the organisational hierarchical ladder are created which results in the unnecessary delay in taking organisational decisions. This impairs the organisational efficiency. Similarly the principle of unity of command, when applied very strictly in an organisation in order to conform to the principles of Fayol, often leads to a situation where employees at the lower levels of the organisation avoid carrying out orders which should be otherwise carried out normally by them and hence it leads to loss of efficiency and unnecessary friction between the management and the workers.
  6. The model has been criticised by the scholars of the Ecological School of Thought as being a ‘Closed Model’ which does not take into account the factors external to the organisation which are responsible for organisational effectiveness. For example aspects of human motivation, constructive aspects of organisational conflicts, external economic environment etc. and their impact on the organisation has been neglected totally.
  7. The thinkers in this school of thought have also been accused of being over-zealous, who in their excessive zeal to arrive at a generalised model of organisational principles went to the extent of excessive generation of the facts. This has resulted in the total loss of the value-content in the model and the loss of specificity in the subject matter. Rigid application of all the principles is not possible and they need to be modified and their dose needs to be regulated in order to achieve the best results.

The model, therefore, seems to carry pretty an unbalanced view about the organisation and seems to be inspired from the Top-view of the organisation where the view-points of managers and the capitalists seem to be taking precedence over the interests and views of the lower level employees. In essence, it overlooks the fact that a machine operator is also an important entity along with the machine, and if either one of them goes out of order, no work could be carried out at all

However, despite these inadequacies, the Approach of Fayol has certain positive points too. Most of the criticism of Fayol, it seems is out of ego-clashes. For example, the managers criticised this approach on the ground that management is an art and Fayol’s theory attempts to make it a science lessening the importance of the managers. This clearly reflects an ego-clash since the approach of Fayol tried to replace the ad-hocism and heuristic way of doing things in administration and it curbed the arbitrary use of power by the management.

Secondly, Fayol too was aware of the fact while formulating organisational principles that their rigid application is not possible. He hence thought it wise to give broad guidelines to the administration in the form of principles and left it to the administrators to find the right mix of these principles suiting the needs of an organisation e.g. what should be the right proportion of authority and responsibility in respect of a job was left to the managers to decide.

Thirdly, Fayol genuinely believed that managers are not always born but people with ordinary skills can be trained and shaped to become managers. This fact was later on substantiated by Behavioural School of Thought. Hence it is improper to criticise his approach on the grounds that management is an art and that managers are always born.

Fourthly, Fayol never talked of concepts of human relations and human behaviour and hence it is improper to criticise him for something that slipped out of his attention for the simple reason that its importance had not been realised by that time Instead he should be given credit for replacing ad-hocism in the administration and for arranging things in an orderly manner. At the same time, it should be realised that he gave the concepts like equity, stability of tenure, initiative etc., which indirectly reflect the importance of human factors in the organisation. Hence the criticism that he ignored human factors at work altogether is not proper.

Public Administration by G.Rajput

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