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Classical Donuts, The One Best Way

November 16, 2009

This is a story about classical management theory and donuts. An odd combination perhaps, but I can assure you the donuts would have lasted longer if there had been a touch more classical theory in the mix.

The coffee was good, the donuts weren’t bad and the folks working behind the counter seemed real pleasant at first. Since it became a regular stop, I obviously started out as a satisfied customer. As I became a frequent patron however, I began to make a few critical observations.

It wasn’t unusual for some of the employees to arrive late. Those that were on time seemed to grumble about lots of things including the ones that were late. There was daily confusion regarding pricing. New employees would stand around with little idea how to go about their jobs. There were regular disagreements about responsibilities and the conditions that the night crew had left.

The inefficiencies first thing in the morning began to get to me. Their system was such that if there were three people behind the counter and four customers in the store, there were problems. Customers became impatient and before the day was one hour old, you could see the stress building in the employees. No wonder they were often late and feisty.

As I would wait in line, I found myself designing systems to alleviate both their and my frustration. I got to the point that I wanted to jump over the counter, grab the donuts, pour the coffee, toss the money on the counter and run. Eventually I made the same decision that many of there employees had, I won’t go back.

Management in this establishment should have schooled themselves in the basic principles of classical management theory and found the “best way” to serve donuts. The classical school of management traces its origins to the days of the industrial revolution. New technologies and the emerging concentration of productive capacities created a need for management, just like the line at the bakery cried out for relief.

Classical management theory can be sub divided into two areas, classical scientific and classical administrative. Classical scientific management addressed the need to improve productivity and efficiency. The scientific management school’s objective was to find “the one best way” to do a job. Frederick Taylor, known as the father of scientific management, set out to increase worker efficiency by scientifically analyzing jobs. Based on the belief that their was “one best way” to do a job, he believed that it was management’s responsibility to find that “way” and to put it in operation.

Classical administrative management evolved as a result of the need to more effectively manage the emerging industrial organizations. The focus of the classical administrative school was to advance managerial principles. The principles developed provide general guidelines for today’s manager to organize and administer their organization.

Henri Fayol, the leader of the classical administrative school,.believed that good management was not a personal trait but rather a skill that could be acquired. Fayol developed fourteen principles of management. Included in Fayol’s principles are the indivisibility of authority and responsibility, unity of command (one person, one boss), centralization of purpose and decentralization of effort, equity and esprit de corps.

While the work of Taylor and his contemporaries is decades old, many a business would be well served by reviewing these scientific theories before investing in the current business best seller. The plight of the bakery, while perhaps amusing and inconsequential, is regrettably not atypical of many businesses both large and small.

Classical management theory has certainly had its detractors over the years. The behavioralist’s attacked the classical theorists for insufficient emphasis on the human element. Perhaps justifiable, but classical scientific theory should be looked at as a base upon which the behavioralists and others may improve

Of greater concern in the current era is the nearly complete neglect of the sound foundations provided by classical management theory in favor of faddist prescriptions put forth by “pop management gurus”. There may not be “one best way”, but there sure are some ways that are better than others and its management job to find them. During the discovery process there are some basic principles of good management that must be respected.

You can incorporate quality circle meetings and other innovations in your business, but if they are not supported by a strong foundation of classical management principles, you will be wasting your time. When you set out to find the “one best way”, you may find several “better ways”, but by not setting out to find that “one best way”, you will condemn your organization to frustration and mediocrity.

Start each day with the thought in mind to find “the best way” to serve the donuts. Because it’s your business, make it a classically sound organization.

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