Three Theories of Management

L. Douglas Mault

December 2006

This article deals with three basic theories of, or approaches to, management. They are Controlling/Directive (CD); Cooperative/Consensual (CC); and Situational/Future (SF).

As soon as "theory” is mentioned, eyes glaze over, groans are heard and people mentally check out. Keep reading, don’t groan, and you’ll find a simple, useful framework that will help you analyze your management style.

Controlling/Directive. Management, to be effective and efficient, feels they must control and direct virtually all of their company’s efforts and activities. Structure is hierarchical in nature, represented schematically in a wire diagram, concerned with span of control, has formal rules, has goals set by the top person(s) and can be described as the "strong leader” style.

Today, this style predominates despite the fact that many people dislike working in such an environment because they feel they are objects or cogs in the wheel.

Cooperative/Consensual. This management style recognizes that a company is a collection of groups that are collections of individuals. CC is less formal, difficult to diagram, focuses on human relations and peer pressure, considers psychological needs, involves groups and individuals in setting goals, relies on intrinsic rewards and can be de-scribed as the "people person” style.

Surveys indicate that most people would prefer this environment to CD and yet only a minority of managers utilize it.

There are many organizations where CD is, and should be, preferred. Some examples that come readily to mind are the military, police and fire departments, professional sports teams and operating rooms.

CC, on the other hand, is often utilized in organizations such as software development, think tanks, R&D and cutting edge educational institutions.

Type SF – Situational. Management realizes that some situations require different styles and that either CC or CD, or a combination, may be useful in a given situation.

A CD manager should recognize that using CC methods may be the best way to resolve a significant problem or develop a long-term plan. By soliciting the contributions of employees, a vast store of skills, knowledge and energy can be brought to bear.

A CC manager may be in a situation where time is so short, or the threat so immense, that using CD techniques is the best choice. Who, on a cruise ship, would want to hear the following announcement: "This is the captain speaking. We have just hit a hidden shoal and are taking on water rapidly. There will be a meeting in my cabin in 30 minutes. All interested parties are invited.”

Type SF – Future. This type will succeed by understanding that the rate of technological change is so fast that what worked in the past will likely not work in the future. In the vernacular, "What got you here ain’t gonna get you there.”

In the future, I believe companies will have evolving, ever-changing systems; flexible, organizational matrices; fluid management groupings; omni-directional communication; automated processes; reliance on knowledge of workers; a willingness to utilize management styles appropriate to the situations they face; continual training with emphasis on interpersonal skills, and a propensity to measure performance and outcomes, not "hard work” and hours on the job.

Know yourself. Where are you? Where do you want to be? Where should you be?

The future is now!

About the Author
L. Douglas Mault is president of the Executive Advisory Institute, Yakima, Wash.