Reviewed by Danielle Sender
In his book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Peter F. Drucker discusses the history of management in America and attempts to redefine the term as it pertains (or how he thinks it will pertain) to organizations in the 21st century. Drucker begins by attacking common misconceptions surrounding the discipline and practice of management. He explains where and how these assumptions originated and the way in which evolution of business and management practices over the last 100 years has led to new truths in the field.
A common misconception that many people have is that the word “management” innately refers to business management. Drucker explains that this idea originated during the Great Depression, a time when the American people distrusted large corporations and the climate surrounding business was extremely hostile. During this time, government organizations started to refer to their management divisions as “administration” divisions, in an attempt to eliminate all association with business’ bad reputation in the public’s mind.
A shift in public opinion occurred mid 20th century, when American business was booming as a result of its pivotal role in World War II. During this time, the term “business management” was reincarnated and became the general concept that people associated with management. While management is obviously crucial in business, Drucker argues that management exists in all types of organizations and that as the “non-business” sector continues to grow in the 21st century, the need for effective management practices in these organizations will expand.
Throughout the book, Drucker makes references to well-known management scholars of the 20th century such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Mary Parker Follett. He examines the similarities as well as the differences between their theories and what is actually practiced today. Many of the differences can be attributed to the progress that has been made in areas such as workplace conditions, technology, and the way employees are treated. Despite the advancements in thought and technology, many of their ideas are still applicable to management organizations today. The work of management pioneers such as Frederick Winslow Taylor and Mary Parker Follett has contributed enormously to the study and practice of management, and their contributions are perhaps recognized and valued more highly today than they were during their lifetime.
In the book, Drucker discredits the notion that there is one type of management structure that works for all types of organizations. Management theorists throughout history have tried to promote their theory as the one that works for everyone but in reality, there is not a sole management structure that can satisfy the needs of every organization. In many of the new management structures popular today, the main focus is on teams. Drucker says that while teams can be extremely productive and efficient when organized correctly, there must always be a boss. It is crucial that there is someone who has complete command over final decisions, so that when an organization inevitably finds itself in a crisis situation, there is someone who is able to give the go-ahead without deliberation or consultation with a group of people. Drucker goes as far as to say that “‘hierarchy,’ and the unquestioning acceptance of it by everyone in the organization, is the only hope in a crisis” (11). He explains that teams are important but it crucial to know when and where they are effective, and that this is contingent on the task at hand.
All management theories present a different perspective on where employees fit in the organization and how they should be managed. Drucker points out that the way in which employees have been regarded and valued by management has evolved over the last century and that this has resulted in a different relationship between employee and management. Drucker makes an important point—employees are people with a life outside of work and they are not dependent on their employer as may have been the case 100 years ago. In today’s world, employees have a number of options when it comes to their work environment. Drucker asserts that management must regard employees as partners and their wants and needs must be respected in order for them to be successful.
According to Drucker, in order for an organization to succeed in the 21st century, their organizational/management structure must be designed for “change as the norm.” They must be proactive leaders of change rather than reactive followers. I believe that this is an extremely effective approach to management. With globalized operations and continuous technological advances, organizations must be up-to-date with current fads. A great example of this is the advent of social media. Social networks connect millions of people, and companies must be involved in these networks or they will be left behind. In the last few years, we have witnessed the defeat of companies that refuse to familiarize themselves with new technologies and update their business practices in accordance with these technologies. Managers, including public relations practitioners, must make extensive use of social media tools, as they offer free insight into how publics perceive their organization. I think that if organizations follow Drucker’s management advice, they will do just fine in the 21st century!
Public relations students know that public relations must be regarded as a management function in order for them to be effective. I recommend this book to public relations students, as I believe it offers great insight into what successful management entails and what they can contribute to their organization’s management practice.