The theory of management: a historical curiosity from the background of Britain's management development

Journal of Management History (Archive)

ISSN: 1355-252X

Article publication date: 1 May 2000



Brech, E.F.L. (2000), "The theory of management: a historical curiosity from the background of Britain's management development", Journal of Management History (Archive), Vol. 6 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

The theory of management: a historical curiosity from the background of Britain's management development

"The theory of management: a historical curiosity from the background of Britain's management development"

E.F.L. Brech The Open University School of Management

Opinion has been moving steadily in industrial and commercial circles in recent times towards consensus that management is a distinctive profession. There has been the evidence, for example, of the intention of the council of the national central institute to seek grant of charter; that objective being paralleled by a group of eminent business personalities in the development of a Management Charter Initiative. Recognition of professional status must imply acceptance of an agreed specific body of knowledge, resting upon acknowledged fundamental principles governing the professional practice. It is the collation of those principles that constitutes the theory of management: not as an academic or esoteric concept, but as the pragmatic foundation upon which the professional deliberations, judgement, decisions and actions will be established. Considerable interchange of thought and discussion may be required to attain effective formulation of an acceptable statement of theory: to that process the following is offered as a preliminary contribution:

  1. 1.

    Wherever applied, management is a process of responsibility for deploying resources to the accomplishment of a given objective or purpose within a predetermined strategy; that is to say, for obtaining and arranging the resources and regulating their application, through the medium of the personnel employed, to accomplish that objective and implement the strategy.

  2. 2.

    In the industrial and commercial milieu the primary objective of management must lie in the service and satisfaction of customers, with the consequential objective of responsibility for the creation of economic wealth in service of the community.

  3. 3.

    For the given objective or purpose the resources needed will be a combination of manpower (the personnel employed) and physical resources (material and financial), all of which are available for a variety of applications to other objectives; the choice for the given objective thereby enjoins on management the responsibility for effective usage.

  4. 4.

    Effective usage must imply conscious deployment of resources so as to attain the optimum balance of input and output in relation to the objective (cost-effectiveness), the justification of usage for this objective rather than to others, and the readiness to seek improvement of the output/input ratio (betterment of performance, productivity and profitability).

  5. 5.

    The process of responsibility in deployment of resources is exercised as a combined pattern of mental action and human behaviour in relation to the given objective or purpose.

  6. 6.

    The mental action is a process of deliberation leading to judgement and decision in respect of modes of deployment of resources and the continuing maintenance of good performance towards accomplishment of the objective.

  7. 7.

    According to the scale and scope of the operations concerned, the process of responsible judgement and decision may have to be subdivided by delegation, implying the passing on to selected personnel of a given share in responsibility for judgement and decision over those operations.

  8. 8.

    The operations ensuing from the decisions are carried out by the personnel employed to accomplish the objective and deployed under the command of the management team created by delegation: that team has an inherent responsibility for motivating the personnel employed towards effective cooperation in the attainment of high performance, and in any efforts directed to the improvement of performance.

  9. 9.

    The objective or purpose towards which the operations are directed predetermines the main objective of management judgement and decision; but management carries responsibility for interpreting this into subsidiary objectives promoting effective accomplishment, including objectives concerned with the improvement of performance.

  10. 10.

    Judgement and decision can be applied effectively only if there is a feedback process showing achievement against intention, by means of techniques and/or systems of information (tools of management).

  11. 11.

    Effective deployment of resources requires periodic review, confirmation or reinterpretation of intentions (programmes, plans, targets) on the basis of the feedback of information showing actual performance and progress.

  12. 12.

    The criterion of achievement or success will lie in the positive outcome of the output/input ratio, with development of added value from the operations performed in serving markets (customers).

  13. 13.

    In the exercise of this judgement, regard must be paid to the future requirements for accomplishing the objectives as much as to the current position, and adjustments of the latter can be effective only if made with due regard to the future position.

  14. 14.

    The management process thus has an essential economic character in its concern for the usage of resources in the attainment of given ends, and must judge (balance) the economic factors against social demands that may arise from considerations of motivation (for example, the wellbeing of employed personnel).

  15. 15.

    The forward-looking and future orientation of the management process in pursuit of improved performance, of enhanced objectives and of the progress of the enterprise, in service to the community and to the owners, imposes an obligation for deliberatively determined investment of resources for the effective implementation of the pursuit.


  1. 1.

    The wording of the foregoing points may well seem arid, if not even stilted. That is unavoidable in an endeavour to set down major and complex principles in the minimum of text, and at the same time to give them an orientation for general application. Semantics, however, is not the object of the exercise. Attention should be given, rather, to the substance of these points, with their intention and implications, as a contribution towards formulating a coherent and accepted theory of management.

  2. 2.

    The notion of a consolidated "theory" of management as the foundation of effective practice was first advanced in The Principles & Practice of Management (1953), though then couched in terms of "principles"; the overt nomenclature of "theory" was posed in the 2nd edition (1963), with a preliminary statement similar in substance to the above presentation; and further refined for the 3rd edition (1975).

  3. 3.

    At editorial invitation associated with the publication of that 2nd edition, a feature article was presented in the third issue of the new Journal of Scientific Business (November 1963) embodying extracts from the textbook presentation; the Editor's introduction referred to the author's initiative "15 years ago trying to get managers interested in the motion of an authoritative 'theory' underlying their sound practice of management: alas, in vain." The Editor regarded the article as a renewed endeavour and linked it with the textbook, reviewed in another issue; he made a plea for responses from readers to carry forward an interchange of thought about the concept and its content. One short response was published in the issue for February 1964, dealing only with aspects of "decision" in the managerial process; but no others appeared.

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