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44 Examples of Management Theory

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Management theories are models and concepts with broad explanatory power that are used to explain how some managers and some firms are more successful than others. These include foundational theories that explain massive economic progress such as the industrial revolution. Management theories can also explain negative aspects of organizations such as inefficiencies and irrational patterns of organizational behavior. The following are common management theories.
Division of Labor
Work is divided into tasks and assigned to different people to improve productivity.
Specialization of Labor
Workers with specialized skills complete specialized tasks in order to improve productivity and quality.
Interchangeable Parts
Standardize things so that they can be easily replaced.
Pareto Principle
The first 20% of effort may produce 80% of results.
Unity of Command
Employees are to be given consistent directions from management.
Authority Equals Accountability
Authority and accountability can’t be detached. Workers with little authority or influence in an organization can’t be blamed for major problems.
Esprit de Corps
A sense of teamwork, belonging, camaraderie and purpose improve productivity and creativity.
Contingency Theory
There is no ideal management style. Style is adapted to the demands of each situation.
Systems Theory
Viewing organizations as complex systems whereby changes can have unintended consequences.
Theory of Constraints
Views an organization as being limited by bottlenecks known as constraints. Where these are removed, an organization improves. Based on the idea that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Keep it Simple
The theory that organizations have an irrational preference for complexity whereby doing things the simplest way would massively improve efficiency.
Appreciative Inquiry
Looking at what is working and scaling that as opposed to focusing on problems.
Theory X
The common assumption that employees are inherently untrustworthy and need to be monitored and controlled.
Theory Y
The common assumption that employees are motivated, responsible and talented and need only be provided with opportunity to thrive.
Dilbert Principle
The theory that incompetent employees are quickly promoted to management to limit the damage they can do in a hands-on role.
Magical Unicorn
The theory that management is often seeking a magical solution to all problems such as a trendy new technology or management approach.
Scientific Management
A late 19th century theory that has been so widely adopted that its mostly considered self-evident and obvious now. Calls for analysis, standardization, logic, work-ethic and the use of data.
Bureaucratic Management Theory
Structuring organizations into a controlled hierarchy and meritocracy with a clear change of command. Also calls for systematic processes, rules and procedures.
Motivation-Hygiene Theory
Some benefits motivate workers while others are simply expected as an entitlement.
Parkinson's Law of Triviality
The theory that management will avoid complex problems that are difficult to solve in favor of trivial problems that are more easily understood. Also known as bike shedding.
Parkinson's Law
The theory that work expands to consume the budget and schedule available.
Creativity of Constraints
The theory that constraints such as low budget and short timelines lead to more creative work outputs.
Hawthorne Effect
Employees alter their behavior when they feel they are being observed. Can have both negative and positive impacts.
Parkinson's Law of Bureaucracy
Bureaucratic organizations tend to grow even where workloads are constant or in decline.
Mythical Man-Month
The rule of thumb that adding more people to a late project only makes it later.
Treadmill of Productivity
The faster you work, the faster you will be given more work. Many employees will adapt to this to slow their delivery.
Underpants Gnomes
The theory that strategies are often missing a critical step.
Parkinson's Law of Committees
A tendency for group decisions to be risk-adverse out of a desire to avoid controversy.
Abilene Paradox
The tendency for group decisions to be fully irrational. Suggests that decisions are better made by a named person with authority and accountability.
Triple Bottom Line
Firms that target revenue, social and environmental goals as opposed to just revenue.
Stakeholder Theory
The theory that everyone that is impacted by a firm is a stakeholder in that firm.
The philosophy of slow but continuous improvement as opposed to dramatic shifts and changes.
Japanese meaning “the actual place.” Advocates for managers being immersed in things where they actually occur such as a restaurant CEO who spends much time at the chain’s restaurants.
The process of building support for a change long before it is announced. A Japanese approach that can be translated “turning the roots.”
Muda, Mura, Muri
The three sources of waste in an organization that can be translated: low value activities, inconsistency and overburden.
The process of asking why five times in succession to dig deeper into issues.
Sharing what works across departments.
Law of Holes
If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Relates to escalating commitment and failure is not an option.
Corporate Narcissism
The theory that groups can take on narcissistic qualities whereby they are overconfident, unrealistic and disconnected from customer and competitive reality.
Radical Transparency
The theory that secrecy doesn’t create competitive advantage but rather impedes it.
Last Responsible Moment
Delaying decisions, planning and work until they really need to be done.
Ship Often
An approach to value creation that gets real things out in the real world quickly so that they can be improved with feedback.
Creative Tension
The theory that group harmony sacrifices creative progress such that turbulent organizations are more likely to succeed.
Heliotropic Effect
The theory that people move towards the most beautiful vision they have of themselves. If you see a big future for everyone on your team they may actually move towards this vision.

Management Theory

This is the complete list of articles we have written about management theory.
Creativity Of Constraints
First Principles
Hawthorne Effect
Management Principles
Management Theory
Parkinsons Law
Systems Theory
Underpants Gnomes
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