Organizational management is an ever-changing field since scholars and researchers continue to present additional insights to help improve business performance. Leaders can identify and apply the most appropriate theories depending on their respective situations. Contingency models are practical frameworks that managers have applied in their respective companies within the past six decades. Since contingency frameworks indicate that there is no sure approach for organizing, planning, or supporting decision-making processes in firms, leaders need to select the best approach to improving organizational performance.
Defining Contingency Theories of Management
Since the early 1900s, organizational scholars have succeeded in presenting unique theories capable of influencing human resources activities and overall business performance. Contingency theories stand out as powerful models that do not support a defined approach for leading, planning, and organizing firms. Shenkar and Ellis (2022) define such theories as a group of frameworks that allow managers to identify, define, and implement practical action plans in their companies depending on the existing conditions. Shenkar and Ellis (2022) go further to explain how contingency models require those occupying positions of influence to establish meaningful relationships with their followers if positive outcomes are to be completed. The emerging circumstances in an organization, both external and internal, should inform the actions the involved leaders implement.
The adoption of contingency theories in the workplace remains practical due to a number of reasons. First, they present numerous opportunities to analyze and learn from existing situations (Santos, 2021). Second, leaders apply emerging insights to improve operations while focusing on clients’ needs. Companies relying on various contingency theories will be in a position to adapt to external influences, embrace emerging technologies, and compete in the wider market. Individuals who embrace these models will apply different tactics in their respective capacities depending on the identified problems and defined goals.
A proponent of Contingency Theories
Modern contingency theory emerged from the works of Fred Edward Fiedler, a famous psychologist from Austria. Fiedler relied on his past understanding of situational awareness in organizational settings. This background made it easier for him to come up with his landmark piece of work that was published in the year 1964 (Santos, 2021). The article’s title was “A Contingency Model of Leadership Effectiveness.” In their work, Fiedler observed that the personality of the involved leader was essential to promoting organizational efficiency. According to the theory, managers need to monitor the existing situation in their firms and apply the best tactics to improve performance.
Various aspects explain why contingency theory influenced the development of revolutionary models that continue to support business operations today. First, the framework takes the issue of the situation seriously as a concept capable of dictating relations and power influence. Second, the leader-follower relationship associated with contingency theory describes how the best environment emerges in a given company. Managers can rely on such an idea to foster loyalty, honesty, and confidence among the targeted followers (Shenkar & Ellis, 2022). Third, Fiedler presented task structure to describe the importance of defining activities more clearly and outlining the best approaches to accomplish them. Fourth, the concept of position power defines the manager’s ability to apply his or her authority to reward or punish followers. Such efforts work synergistically to support the realization of the anticipated organizational objectives.
Situational leadership emerged as a new contingency theory in 1969. In the book, Management of Organizational Behavior, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed a revolutionary approach intended to guide leaders to achieve positive results. The emerging framework described how managers could monitor followers’ readiness and empower them based on the existing scenarios. Robert House would later introduce a new model to expand the contingency theory. In 1971, House presented the Path-Goal Model to describe how those in managerial positions could behave, defending their workers’ motivation and satisfaction levels (Salem et al., 2021). He would revise and improve the theory in his article “Path-Goal Theory of Leadership: Lessons, Legacy, and a Reformulated Theory” of 1996. The model can provide insights and guidelines in such a way that positive performance is eventually recorded.
Decision-making theory has become another common contingency theory based on Fiedler’s contributions. Herbert Simon, the father of this model, considered some of the existing works on the topic and merged the same with the ideas in his book, Administrative Behavior, published in 1947. Simon came up with an advanced framework for analyzing leaders’ behaviors during uncertainties and risks (Childs et al., 2022). According to Simon’s model, managers need to adopt and implement rational choices whenever organizing their firms (Salem et al., 2021). The involved professionals can decide to pursue choices and actions that might support organizational profitability. These descriptions show that contingency theory is an influential idea that can help organizational leaders empower their followers and deliver much-needed goals.
Leaders need to apply befitting strategies in their firms depending on the recorded situations. Contingency theories present effective tactics and ideas for guiding employees, addressing their concerns, and ensuring that they deliver positive results. Fiedler’s contributions remain instrumental whenever analyzing these frameworks. The above discussion has revealed that the subsequent publications by different authors delivered additional theories that are applicable in companies depending on external and internal circumstances. Contingency theories are favorable frameworks capable of empowering leaders to guide their followers, formulate desirable decisions, and eventually maximize productivity.
Childs, M., Turner, T., Sneed, C., & Berry, A. (2022). A contingency theory approach to understanding small retail business continuity during COVID‐19. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 50(3), 216-230.
Salem, A., Wu, L., Aslam, S., & Zhang, T. (2021). Spotlight on leadership path-goal theory silos in practice to improve and sustain job-oriented development: Evidence from education sector. Sustainability, 13(21), 12324-12343.
Santos, J. (2021). Contingency theories of leadership: Effectiveness of the college instructor’s leadership style. EDUCATION: Journal of Education, 6(2), 107-113.
Shenkar, O., & Ellis, S. (2022). The rise and fall of structural contingency theory: A theory’s ‘autopsy’. Journal of Management Studies, 59(3), 782-818.