E2: Show notes

by Pedro Monteiro

These are some of the things we discussed in Episode 2 on General and Industrial Management (Chapter 4) by Henri Fayol.

The Origins of Organization Theory. Some of the podcasters think that although Fayol speaks of ‘management’, he is also foundational to organization theory given the specific view of the corporation as a distinctive arrangement. Indeed, there are many insights on organization design in the text. 

Principles: Packaged Deal or Baselines? Opinions were split on whether the text has a tentative nature, open to expansion and further work, or a more authoritative presenting a recipe to be followed. This is probably because Fayol was writing for something that did not exist (in a codified manner) which would perhaps explain the need to be imposing; nevertheless, capturing his experience in the book made possible the development of discussions on management and organizations.

Principles without Proofs. The vagueness of the text at times places Fayol close to pop management books – indeed some researchers attribute to him the origin of management fashions (Brunsson, 2008). This lack of evidence brings the question: Why should we trust him? Just because of his credentials? Compared to someone like Taylor, Fayol falls short in examples and hard proofs.

Principles as Ideals: The 'What' Without The 'How'. We all agree that the principles appear a bit idealized. He never explains how to get to the situations described in the principles. This is perhaps because Fayol takes a top-down perspective given his high place in the corporation he worked. Plus, at times, it seems the author equates being a good manager with being a good (or super) man. Indeed, the extent managers should be involved in technical work is unclear.

Fayol and Unitarism. We discovered that Fayol views organizations in a unitarist perspective. The assumption is that organizations only exist as a harmonious ‘whole’ in which there is no place for divergences and everything moves towards one (best) direction. The problem is that by ignoring conflict he simply has nothing to say on how to achieve/maintain such harmony or address possible disagreements. Our research and work experience (similar to the one of most people) is that competing agendas abound and sometimes decisions require trade-offs in which final dividends are only partially known.

The Manager for Fayol is a Status Quo Agent in a Static Context. Perhaps this unitarist perspectives is linked to the very industry and period Fayol worked – a context of quasi monopoly – making him very much a man of his time. The organization described by Fayol seems to be a static island: competition is not an issue. This is probably why all efforts of Fayol’s manager is to maintain stability with an explicit value placed on tenure. Quite different form the more contemporary mantra of managers as change agents and growing of non-traditional employment schemes.

Economic Interest as Only Goal. Another ‘dated’ idea in the work of Fayol seems to be the reductive assumption that economic interests are the only goal of organizations. This lightly upset some of us who believe on the relevance of shareholder value.

Control as an Enduring Element in Management. Fayol seems more ‘modern’ in issues that defy the passage of time by definition – or so it seems. Although he appears to value in some passages to the importance of empowerment in the workforce, a spirit of ‘command and control’ runs through his text. Constant supervision and applying sanctions are essential in the routine of managers as described by Fayol. We certainly know more of the importance of incentives in relation to work motivation today, but supervision instruments have arguably only expanded. Examples in our discussion included the use of internet filtering or CCTV which reflect classic ideas of surveillance well-discussed by Foucault via the panopticon idea (see below).

Espirit de Corps: The Roots of Organizational Culture and Communities of Practice. During the discussion, we discovered that the notion of spirit de corps can be read both as the origin of ideas around organizational culture/shared values which populated management discussions in the 90s and is also as linked to the idea of communities of practice. Another brilliantly contemporary idea of Fayol is his discussion on the ‘abuse of written communication’ which we know so well in this age of email.

What would Fayol say about Matrix Organizations? Regarding the famous and widely debated issue of whether Fayol would approve a matrix organization – in light of his notion of unity of command – we actually found that his principle is not completely in contradiction with a matrix structure. In that principle, the examples are mostly about how jurisdictions should be clear among departments and the insistence that top leaders should not overstep middle-management authority over employees.  

References

Brunsson, K. H. (2008). Some Effects of Fayolism. International Studies of Management and Organization, 38(1), 30–47.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. Vintage.

Images of the Panopticon