Henry Mintzberg vs Henri Fayol: Of Lighthouses, Cubists and the Emperor's New Clothes

By Lamond, David | Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Henry Mintzberg vs Henri Fayol: Of Lighthouses, Cubists and the Emperor's New Clothes


Lamond, David, Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship


Executive Summary

The purpose of this paper is threefold. First, it is designed to rekindle interest in Fayol's work by way of a focus on the original rather than secondary accounts of his work, and more informed reflection on his ideas. Second, the paper examines the original account of Mintzberg's contributions to thinking about managerial work. When read with the same critical eye as that cast over the work of Fayol, a new understanding of Mintzberg's work becomes apparent. Third, and based on the preceding exposition, this paper argues that what Mintzberg has done, albeit unwillingly and unwittingly, is reaffirm and elaborate Fayol's ideation on management. Drawing on Tsoukas' metatheory of management, the logical links between Fayol's functions and Mintzberg's roles are demonstrated. Understood in this way, we now have available to us a more integrated theoretical base for research, teaching and advising on management and managerial behaviour.

Introduction

Just over 50 years ago, English-speaking managers and academics were introduced directly to Henri Fayol's (1949) ideas about managerial work. A quarter of a century later, Henry Mintzberg (1973; 1975/1989) dismissed as "folklore" what had become known as the classical tradition of managerial work. This work is not, Mintzberg (1973; 1975/1989) said, about the functions of planning, organising, commanding, controlling and coordinating. Rather, management is what managers do, and he saw little evidence of these functions being played out in the activities of the CEOs who were the subject of his observational research.

Despite ongoing criticism by Mintzberg and others (cf Clegg & Dunkerley, 1980; March & Simon, 1958/1993; Perrow, 1973), it has been argued that Fayol's functions "still represent the most useful way of conceptualizing the manager's job" (Carroll and Gillen, 1987:38). Indeed, Wren (1994:193) states that "Fayol's elements of management provided the modern conceptualisation of a management process; his principles were lighthouses to managerial action". Following a comparison of Fayol (1949), Mintzberg (1973), Hales (1986) and Kotter (1982), Fells (2000) concludes that Fayol's (1949) work appears to be very much supported and reinforced by contemporary characterisations.

Nonetheless, Fayol is regularly presented as a man whose ideas are misguided and who is, therefore, only of historical interest. One reason for this line of attack may be found in Wren, Bedeian, and Breeze (2002), who observe that there is, among modern scholars and students, an increasing distance between the fundamental thoughts of early management writers and contemporary, often secondary, accounts of how these pioneers developed their ideas. Wide ranging anecdotal evidence supports the view of Wren, et al (2002), finding that the majority of academics and students who discuss Fayol's contribution have never actually read General and Industrial Management (Fayol, 1949). Instead, these latter day discussants rely on secondary sources, like Mintzberg (1973; 1975/1989), for their appreciation.

Mintzberg has moved away from his focus on managerial behaviour to concentrate on organisational forms and strategies. Several decades further on, in his OMT Distinguished Scholar Address at the 1996 Academy of Management Conference, Mintzberg (1996/1997) urged people to "Discover something new; most everyone else is redigesting what is old." Of course, this raises questions on the one hand as to the value of a certain degree of rumination and, on the other, as to whether there is anything "new" to discover.

In light of Mintzberg's efforts more than two decades apart, the purpose of this paper is threefold. First, it is designed to rekindle interest in Fayol's (1949) work by way of a focus on the original rather than secondary accounts of his work and more informed reflection on his ideas. Although the work was written in France near the turn of the last century, when read, as Reid (1995) suggests, through "3D glasses" it is a surprisingly current text that deals in what writers would describe as an enlightened way with such recent discoveries as employee participation, profit sharing, leadership and empowerment. …

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