Episode 301: Let’s Get Started! Management Theories for Us All

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Welcome back to Season Three of Linking Our Libraries! This season we are spending time looking at different tools you can use to be a better manager and leader in your library, archive, history center, or other nonprofit. Over the next 15 episodes, we will cover some groupings of topics: Foundational Ideas, Human Resources, Looking Ahead, and Other People. You do not need to become an expert in any of these skills; but understanding all of them will make you a better leader in your organization.

If you like libraries, archives, or history centers; or if you work in a nonprofit; or if you just want to learn more about management and leadership, you are in the right place!

We are the Central Minnesota Libraries Exchange, and our job is to help libraries! We are a multi-type library system, with member libraries of all sorts: public, schools, academics, special libraries, archives, and history centers. Yes – we are pretty lucky!

This season we are looking at a variety of topics related to management and leadership. Our focus is on libraries, but our topics are relevant to all types of nonprofits working to improve their leadership skills.

Do you want to talk with us about a topic? Want us to set up some training for you? Check out website under “Can We Help You?” and let’s talk!


The Basics

This week we begin with Foundational Ideas.

As a manager, figuring out all the different stuff you need to do can be overwhelming. But everything is easier when you have a roadmap to follow; and fortunately, management is filled with them!

In this episode, we will spend some time looking at some management theories. This will give you some understanding of ideas worked out by people who have spent their careers thinking about the best way to do management well. You may choose to incorporate some of these ideas, or not, as you begin to build your own personal management style. It is always valuable to know what people have done on the past, to help you feel confident in your job.


The Classical School

This group of theories were created from about 1900 into the 1920s. Think back to your history classes; the Industrial Revolution had changed society in a big way: where people lived, where they worked, and how they spent their time. That change – from a lot of agrarian workers (a workstyle characterized by a lot of alone time outdoors), to factory work  – meant more people were crowded into urban areas, all working together indoors, and all contributing small pieces to the overall product. You can see what a big change in work life this would be. Now managers were necessary.

  • One early theory was Bureaucratic management. Using this theory, manager were developed (not just factory owners), and they started putting together rules and procedures to keep work flowing. There was a clear division of labor: laborers labored and managers managed. Yes, it sounds obvious when you say it like that, but it was an innovation that these ideas were put into formal structures. Max Weber (1864-1920) was one of the big theorists working in this area. He spent time looking at how large organizations were structured, and analyzing their management work, determining that bureaucracy was the most rational strategy to use in operating them effectively.
  • Our next theory is Scientific Management. The basic idea of this theory is that there will be one right way to do a task. All managers need to do is to figure out what would work for them, and then to make workers all do that. (If you have been a manager, or a parent, you may already see some challenges in this system.) Another aspect of this theory is that jobs are designed. Of course, in a small organization everyone tends to do everything; but in general people are hired to be clerks, catalogers, Children’s specialists, Technical Services Managers, or other specific job.
    • One of the most prominent theorists in this theory is Fredrick Taylor. He is known as the Father of Scientific Management, and wrote the book Principles of Scientific Management. In it, he talks about work methods designed to increase worker productivity for the organization His best known work was done while he was observing efficiency in moving pig iron at the Bethlehem Iron and Steel Company.You can Google pig irons for images from his work; but our purposes just know they are heavy items that need to be carried from Point A to Point B.
      Workers got paid by the piece, not the hour; so the more they could carry, the more they got paid – but the harder they were working and the more likely they were to be injured, in the moment or developing cumulative injuries over time. Taylor watched to see who the best workers were; then had everyone else moving, bending, stooping, carrying, and resting just like the best worker did. Safety improved, wages rose, and more work was accomplished.
    • Another well-known team of theorists in this area were Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. They started a business together to do motion studies in all kinds of businesses. In their methodology they focused on breaking down each task to its fundamental parts, studying what absolutely had to be part of the final product and what could be eliminated, and the timing the final product to produce the most efficient result. They also considered the psychological aspects of work, and how to make adjustments to make work more efficient.Frank died very early, leaving Lillian to raise their twelve children and run the business – which she did in impressive style. Lillian is generally considered the first industrial/organizational psychologist, and one of the first women engineers to have a doctorate. At a time when it was difficult for women to find work, Lillian ran her business and was a respected professional – writing books, articles, teaching, filing patents on her inventions, and doing truly groundbreaking work in identifying the best ways to get work done.
  • Another theorist who had a big impact on management in this time was Henry Gantt. He was interested in industrial efficiency. He also believed in the obligation of business to be socially responsible to the community they served – a new concept starting to gain interest at this time with the management theorists. Gantt developed several methods to achieve the efficiency he sought, including his most famous contribution still used today: the Gantt Chart. They were used to keep track of building the Interstate highway system and also the Hoover dam. It is deceptively simple to create and use. Down the vertical axis is a list of all the tasks to be completed; across the horizontal axis is your time frame. You can see an entire project, with all the attendant tasks, at once.



Our next big school of management is Administrative. This school looks at the flow of information in operating an organization. It also spends more time looking at the function of managers, and figuring out how to best manager, in contrast to the Classical school that focused on helping workers to be more efficient.


  • Henri Fayol was a prominent theorist in this school. He developed the concepts of the five primary functions of management, and the 14 principles of management. If you have had management classes, it is fairly common to see them organized based on Fayol’s primary functions: planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling.




Our next grouping of theories is called the Human Relations School. This emerged in the 1920s, and dealt with the human aspects of organizations. They would study the behavior of people in groups, in particular workplace groups, to get the best results.

  • Mary Parker Follett is a theorist who fits into this school. She looked at building the work of managers by focusing on the authority of expertise. Managers needed to know how to manage, but staff who had expertise in their areas should be encouraged to self-manage when possible. She also worked with the idea of non-coercive power as a strategy for encouraging worker performance. She understood the importance of informal processes within organizations to get work accomplished. (You do not always go to the Head Boss with a request; sometimes you get better results going to her secretary who can get the necessary paperwork done, and can smooth the way for your request to work.)


  • Another theorist was Chester Barnard. He wrote the book Functions of the Executive. In this, he worked out his three main ideas for managers to use to be good at their jobs: to establish and maintain an effective communication system, to hire and retain effective personnel, and to motivate those personnel. As with other theories we have discussed, these seem so obvious now – but someone had to think of them first.


So that was a look at the foundational ideas of management here in the US, and Western Europe. At this point, the job of “manager” was pretty much defined – but as you know any leadership position is hard! Things change, and trying something once does not mean it will work again. So theorists started changing to reflect that uncertainty.

  • During the 1940s and World War II, systems analysis This management theory solves problems using concepts and quantitative approaches from biology, mathematics, statistics, engineering, and other related fields. There were all kinds of huge technology advances in society during and after the war; so management theorists decided they also could use technology tools to solve the mysteries of good management.
  • Then came Contingency Theory. This theory emerged after the war, and reflected a world where ideas were no longer as clear as they had been, where so many ideas and people were changed forever by their experiences. It questions the use of universal management ideas that would apply in all cases to all people, and assumes that managerial behavior is dependent on a wide variety of elements. Managers needed to be fast and flexible, and to apply whatever tools would work in the individual situation they found themselves.


Modern Theories

Now we are going to jump ahead to the last few decades for some more modern management and leadership theories. You may have used some of these, or had them used in your organizations. We will just give a quick overview; but encourage you to explore any that sound interesting to you! There are many books and articles and websites on each of these theories, so you will not have any trouble finding good information

  • Total Quality Management (TQM) “[This] can be summarized as a management system for a customer-focused organization that involves all employees in continual improvement. It uses strategy, data, and effective communications to integrate the quality discipline into the culture and activities of the organization.” There are eight principles, including Customer-focused, Total employee involvement, Process-centered, and Continual improvement.
  • Six Sigma “Six Sigma at many organizations simply means a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit) in any process – from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.”
  • Theory X and Theory Y: These were formulated in 1960 by Douglas McGregor.
    • “Assumptions of Theory X:
      • An average employee intrinsically does not like work and tries to escape it whenever possible.
      • Since the employee does not want to work, he must be persuaded, compelled, or warned with punishment so as to achieve organizational goals. A close supervision is required on part of managers. The managers adopt a more dictatorial style.
      • Many employees rank job security on top, and they have little or no aspiration/ ambition.
    • Assumptions of Theory Y
      • Employees can perceive their job as relaxing and normal. They exercise their physical and mental efforts in an inherent manner in their jobs.
      • If the job is rewarding and satisfying, then it will result in employees’ loyalty and commitment to organization.
      • The employees have skills and capabilities. Their logical capabilities should be fully utilized. In other words, the creativity, resourcefulness and innovative potentiality of the employees can be utilized to solve organizational problems.”
    • Theory Z: “Theory Z is an approach to management based upon a combination of American and Japanese management philosophies and characterized by, among other things, long-term job security, consensual decision making, slow evaluation and promotion procedures, and individual responsibility within a group context.”
    • Management by Walking Around (MBWA) “One powerful way to connect with your team members is to get up from your desk and go talk to them, to work with them, to ask questions, and to help when needed. MBWA might imply an aimless meander around the office, but it’s a deliberate and genuine strategy for staying abreast of people’s work, interests and ideas. It requires a range of skills, including active listening, observation, recognition, and appraisal.”
    • FISH “Documentary filmmaker John Christensen was shopping in Seattle when he heard cheering in the distance. Curious, he followed the sound and encountered a crowd surrounding a small fish market—World Famous Pike Place Fish, to be exact. Suddenly a fishmonger fired a slippery salmon to a coworker, who made a spectacular one-handed catch as the crowd applauded. Despite the noise and bustle, when a fishmonger focused on serving a customer, it was as if they were the only two people in the world. Everyone was smiling—and buying lots of fish. John noticed that selling fish looked cold and exhausting, yet these fishmongers attacked their work with energy and engagement. John brought a camera crew back to the market and spent several days with the fishmongers. When he and his team analyzed the footage, they identified four simple practices the fishmongers brought to their work that anyone could use to be successful.
      • Be There: Be emotionally present for people.
      • Play Tap into your natural way of being creative, enthusiastic and having fun.
      • Make Their Day: Find simple ways to serve or delight people in a meaningful, memorable way.
      • Choose Your Attitude Take responsibility for how you respond to what life throws at you. Your choice affects others. Ask yourself: “Is my attitude helping my team or my customers? Is it helping me to be the person I want to be?
    • Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson “is a motivational business fable. The text describes change in one’s work and life, and four typical reactions to those changes by two mice and two “little people,” during their hunt for cheese. A New York Times business bestseller upon release, Who Moved My Cheese? remained on the list for almost five years and spent over 200 weeks on Publishers Weekly’s hardcover nonfiction list.[1] It has sold more than 26 million copies worldwide in 37 languages and remains one of the best-selling business books.”

Now you have all kinds of ideas, which you can look up on our webpage for this episode to explore them further! Remember that learning about management theories and ideas can help you to build your own leadership style. You do not need to try everything for yourself; look at some theories across history and cultures to see what ideas other people have come up with for success. Keep building your own skills in this area! We will help you with more specific skills over the rest of this season, so be sure you are subscribed to the podcast.


Books Read

Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich “Trouble comes in bunches for Stephanie Plum. First, professional grave robber and semi-professional loon, Simon Diggery, won’t let her take him in until she agrees to care for his boa constrictor, Ethel. Stephanie’s main qualification for babysitting an extremely large snake is that she owns a stun gun—whether that’s for use on the wandering serpent or the petrified neighbors remains to be seen.

Events take a dark turn when headless bodies start appearing across town. At first, it’s just corpses from a funeral home and the morgue that have had the heads removed. But when a homeless man is murdered and dumped behind a church Stephanie knows that she’s the only one with a prayer of catching this killer.

If all that’s not enough, Diesel’s back in town. The 6-foot-tall, blonde-haired hunk is a man who accepts no limits—that includes locked doors, closed windows and underwear. Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli isn’t pleased at this unexpected arrival nor is Ranger, the high-powered security consultant who has his own plans for Stephanie.

As usual Jersey’s favorite bounty hunter is stuck in the middle with more questions than answers. What’s the deal with Grandma Mazur’s latest online paramour? Who is behind the startling epidemic of mutilated corpses? And is the enigmatic Diesel’s sudden appearance a coincidence or the cause of recent deadly events? ”

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon “Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true? “



This was a very fast overview of a complicated subject. We did not cover all the theories out there that you might try. And we just looked at theories originating in the US and Europe, but of course many other countries and groups of people were developing their own management theories and ideas. We encourage you to explore these, and other, theories of management to help you build your own leadership skills!

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