Basic approaches that have evolved over time to improve productivity

The Human Relations Approach

Post-war expansion

The problem of how to benefit from the American example received first priority in the postwar era. Teams were dispatched from the Anglo-American Council of Productivity to examine the phenomena. They pointed to;

  • low productivity,
  • lack of modern machinery,
  • limited horsepower available,
  • anachronistic trade union practices,
  • poor management, and
  • the complete lack of any management education in the UK (Hutton (1953)).

However, apart from the spread of professional bodies and moderate support for the new Diploma in Management Studies (DMS) in colleges that resulted from the Urwick Report of 1946, little was done. After all, business was booming and unemployment was almost nonexistent until the mid-1960s.

Even if UK growth was slow and uneven, it was still superior to anything achieved in the recent past. Yet new ideas began to permeate, management education eventually becoming respectable in the expansion of higher education in the 1960s.

This, however, contained some problems. Academic respectability suggested that managers should be divided, with top managers going to prestige institutions to do MBAs, while middle managers did DMSs elsewhere and supervisors were directed to lower level institutions. This, to some degree, breached the unity of management that had seemed important to the Urwick Committee.

Further, academics tended to interpret respectable as scientific, and scientific as mathematical. A host of esoteric techniques appeared which had perhaps less relevance to the world of business management than to the backroom planner in a multinational.

In attitudes to people also, the behavioral scientists, after initially producing theories that appeared to be readily acceptable as conventional wisdom, have been forced to seriously reconsider their position. Over a quarter of a century, the work of McGregor, Likert, Maslow, Hertzberg, and a score of others seemed to indicate the advantages of the pluralistic approach to human relations.

The impact of Japanese achievements has required as much rethinking for behavioralists as for technologists, although their efforts are as yet not far advanced. In the UK, lack of success and recession had rather led to a reversion to older habits than to a substantial rethink.

Yet, whatever reassessment has been necessary, the need for education and the detailed skills it produces have been reinforced. But what those techniques are is still far from clear, particularly on the personal relationship side. The Japanese are nothing if not unitary in their approach to personal relations.

In Western societies are we then, too divided or stratified to follow them? Can a unitary approach be accommodated in a theory that appears to give great weight to individual incentives? If we could get the quantitative-based techniques right would prosperity be resumed and divisions diminish? It is easy to ask these questions but providing the scientific managers of the future with the appropriate tools and theories is somewhat more difficult.

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