In the early part of the 20th Century, American industrial engineer Fredrick Taylor revolutionized management practices through his famous concept of Scientific Management. His basic premise was that for each task there is one best way of doing things, and workers must be taught to do it that way. At the same time, he believed people worked mostly for pay, and accordingly, for higher productivity, workers should get paid better.
He had many enemies, especially union leaders and others who saw his management philosophy as “dehumanizing,” treating people in a mechanistic manner. Indeed, his critics then and now see his “best way of doing things” approach as a way of curtailing creativity, since really there is no single best approach to anything. Eventually, his influence gave away to the Human Relations school, which assumed that people worked for many other reasons besides money, and accordingly, managers should look for ways to satisfy those other needs.
The reality of a global economy is making scholars and professionals think again about Taylor’s ideas. One of the challenges in a global economy is precisely the need to generate “standard” procedures at the international level, like quality standards (such as ISO). For efficiency’s sake, standardization demands agreed-upon patterns for negotiating, business meetings, and general management.
Under this philosophy, it is thought that the world will be a better place if we agree upon a globally standardized way of doing business, and global managers conduct themselves according to this as-of-yet undefined standard. In small ways, this is already beginning to happen in countries like Mexico, were the old “relaxed” way of doing business is giving away to the more formal, U.S. style of treating time as a precious commodity, demanding more punctuality and other time-saving practices.
But these changes are few, and differences in management practices persist. This is in part because not everyone agrees about the benefits of the “standard.” Some criticize it because they suspect the standard will not be the product of a search for the best among different styles, but will simply be an imposition from the United States. Others offer, in my opinion, an even more powerful argument: That as long as there are differences among people, especially as a result of cultural differences, standardizing management procedures will not ensure either the most efficient nor the most desirable system.
From this perspective, businesses should see the global manager as one who has the ability to be many types of managers since he or she will be dealing with a diversity of cultures and personalities.
Standardization is likely to work in some specific management areas, but unless you believe the world as a whole will become culturally homogenized, I doubt we will see a global standard for management. Rather, what I believe will happen is that international managers will have to master management in each country they are in. This would allow for the common ground needed in business, and at the same time, would take into account the many other management practices that exist throughout the world.