6 Ways Henri Fayols Management Theory Applies to Small Businesses

Henri Fayol, a French engineer turned management theorist, significantly impacted how businesses view and apply management practices. Born in 1841, Fayol is best known for developing a general theory of business administration and for his “14 Principles of Management,” which have been influential in the formation of modern management theories. Although developed over a century ago, Fayol’s principles still offer foundational insights that are relevant in today’s dynamic business environment, especially for small businesses seeking structure and growth.

For small business owners, applying classical management theories might seem daunting or irrelevant, given the lean operations and tight budgets. However, Fayol’s approach to management is surprisingly adaptable and can provide a roadmap to efficiency, stability, and scalability. In this blog, we will explore six of Fayol’s principles that are particularly beneficial for small business management, examining how each principle can be applied effectively in a smaller setting. Henri Fayol’s Management Theory, often referred to as Fayolism, provides a framework that is particularly beneficial for small businesses. Here are some insights into how Fayol’s principles can be applied:

  • Grouping Employees into Teams: Small businesses can enhance productivity by organizing employees into teams that complement each other’s strengths. This approach not only maximizes individual talents but also fosters a cooperative environment.
  • Motivation through Compensation: Fayol emphasized the importance of compensating employees fairly. For small businesses, this could mean offering bonuses, overtime wages, or additional vacation time to acknowledge exceptional work.
  • Comprehensive Planning: Fayol advocated for meticulous planning in all aspects of business operations. For small businesses, this means scheduling and forecasting to ensure smooth production and service delivery.
  • Efficient Organizing: Ensuring that all necessary resources, including raw materials and personnel, are available at the right time is crucial for small businesses to meet their production targets.
  • Directing with Command: Small business managers should guide and encourage their staff, ensuring that everyone is aligned with the company’s goals and working efficiently towards them.
  • Coordinating Efforts: Coordination is key in small businesses where staff may have multiple roles. Managers need to ensure that all efforts are harmonized to avoid duplication and waste.
  • Controlling Outcomes: Managers in small businesses should regularly check that staff activities align with the management’s directives and make adjustments as necessary.

Division of Work

The principle of “Division of Work” refers to the specialization of tasks within an organization. Fayol suggested that when employees are given a specific area of expertise, efficiency increases. For small businesses, this can mean assigning clear roles and responsibilities that align with individual strengths and skills.

For example, a small local bakery can apply this principle by having dedicated staff for baking, customer service, and delivery. Specialization allows each employee to become more adept at their specific tasks, improving speed and quality. A real-life success story can be seen in “Smith’s Boutique Cakes,” where the owner decided to separate creative tasks from administrative ones, leading to a 30% increase in productivity and significant customer satisfaction improvements.

Implementing this principle can start with simple steps:

  • Identify Key Areas: Break down your business operations into core areas such as sales, operations, customer service, and marketing.
  • Assign Roles Based on Skills: Allocate these areas to employees best suited for these roles based on their skills and interests.
  • Provide Training: Invest in training to enhance their knowledge and efficiency in their respective areas.
  • Evaluate and Adjust: Regularly review the division of tasks to ensure they still meet the business’s needs and make adjustments as necessary.

The division of work not only enhances productivity but also helps in building expertise within your team, which is crucial for small businesses aiming for growth and competitive advantage.

Authority and Responsibility

authority and responsibility

The principle of “Authority and Responsibility” is a core tenet of Fayol’s management theory, advocating that authority should be accompanied by corresponding responsibility. In small businesses, this balance is crucial as it empowers employees while ensuring they are accountable for their actions.

Authority in a small business setting allows team members to make decisions within their realm of work without constant oversight, which is essential for agility and quick responses to market changes. However, responsibility ensures that these decisions align with business objectives and are made with consideration of their consequences.

Challenges often arise when either element is out of balance. For instance, if employees are given too much authority without adequate responsibility, it can lead to misuse of power or decisions that don’t necessarily benefit the whole business. Conversely, too much responsibility with insufficient authority can lead to frustration and inefficiency.

To implement this principle effectively, small business owners can:

  • Clearly define roles: Ensure each team member knows what is expected of them and what decisions they are authorized to make.
  • Empower employees: Provide the necessary tools and authority for team members to perform their duties effectively.
  • Foster accountability: Implement systems that encourage employees to take responsibility for their actions, such as regular check-ins or performance reviews.
  • Lead by example: Demonstrate the balance of authority and responsibility in your own role, showing how decisions should be made and owned.

For instance, a small tech startup implemented a policy where developers could choose their projects based on their expertise and interest but were held accountable for meeting deadlines and quality standards. This approach not only boosted morale but also increased productivity by 40%.


Discipline in management refers to the behavior needed in employees to ensure the effective functioning of the organization. Fayol emphasized the importance of discipline at all levels of the organization, defining it as respect for agreements that are directed at achieving obedience, application, energy, and the outward marks of respect.

In a small business, maintaining discipline can be a delicate balance. On the one hand, a friendly, informal atmosphere can foster creativity and enthusiasm; on the other hand, too casual an approach can undermine professional behavior and productivity.

Effective discipline in a small business could look like:

  • Setting clear standards: Communicate your expectations regarding professional behavior and work ethic clearly and consistently.
  • Being fair but firm: Apply rules consistently and impartially, ensuring that all employees are treated equally.
  • Providing constructive feedback: Offer regular feedback in a manner that encourages improvement rather than demotivation.
  • Encouraging self-discipline: Promote an environment where employees are motivated to achieve personal and organizational goals.

A practical example is “Greenleaf Landscaping,” where management introduced a time-tracking software that employees were required to use during work hours. This not only improved time management across the company but also enhanced project billing accuracy, leading to higher client satisfaction and increased profits.

Unity of Command

The principle of Unity of Command suggests that an employee should receive orders from only one manager or supervisor. This principle is vital in maintaining clear lines of authority and preventing confusion and conflict among team members. For small businesses, which often operate with limited staff and resources, adhering to this principle can streamline communication and decision-making processes, thus enhancing efficiency.

In practice, the Unity of Command ensures that:

  • Employees know who to report to, which simplifies communication and speeds up decision-making.
  • There is less confusion and conflict over instructions, as conflicting directives from multiple supervisors are eliminated.
  • Accountability is clearer, as it’s obvious who is responsible for what outcome.

For instance, a small retail store might have a manager for sales and another for operations, but sales staff should report solely to the sales manager for daily activities. This approach was adopted by “Beacon Boutique,” which saw a 25% decrease in employee disputes and a significant improvement in operational efficiency after clarifying reporting structures.

Unity of Direction

unity of direction

Unity of Direction means that teams with the same objective should be working under the direction of one manager, using one plan. This principle ensures that all efforts within the organization are aligned toward a single goal. For small businesses, this alignment is crucial as it ensures that all activities are focused on achieving specific objectives, which is vital for growth and success.

Applying Unity of Direction in a small business involves:

  • Setting clear goals: Ensure that everyone understands what the business aims to achieve.
  • Aligning team efforts: Organize resources and teams to focus on specific, aligned objectives.
  • Creating and following action plans: Develop strategic plans that everyone understands and follows to drive the business towards its goals.

A practical example comes from “CityScape IT Solutions,” a small IT firm that reorganized its teams to focus each on a specific service line, rather than having overlapping responsibilities. This reorganization led to a 30% increase in project delivery efficiency and a higher rate of customer satisfaction due to better-focused team efforts.

Subordination of Individual Interests to the General Interests

Fayol’s principle of subordinating individual interests to the broader organizational goals stresses the importance of ensuring that personal interests do not override the goals of the business. This principle is particularly relevant in small businesses where personal and professional boundaries are often blurred, leading to potential conflicts and distractions.

To effectively implement this principle, small business owners should:

  • Promote organizational goals: Regularly communicate the business’s objectives and how they align with team and individual goals.
  • Encourage team collaboration: Foster a culture where team success is celebrated, and individual achievements are seen as contributions to the overall success.
  • Resolve conflicts fairly: Address personal grievances and conflicts swiftly and equitably to prevent them from affecting business operations.

An example of this in action is at “Harper’s Craft Supplies,” where management introduced regular team-building retreats that emphasized company values and objectives. This not only strengthened team bonds but also realigned individual efforts towards collective business goals, resulting in a 20% increase in yearly revenue.

Henri Fayol’s management principles provide timeless guidelines that can help small businesses enhance their operational efficiency, employee satisfaction, and overall effectiveness. By applying principles such as Division of Work, Authority, and Responsibility, Discipline, Unity of Command, Unity of Direction, and Subordination of Individual Interests to the General Interests, small business owners can create a strong foundation for sustained growth and success. Implementing these principles may require adjustments and commitment, but the benefits they bring can be transformative, making them well worth the effort for any small business aiming for long-term success.

How can Insights help?

Insights can be extremely valuable for small businesses looking to apply Henri Fayol’s management principles effectively. Here’s how insights can help in each principle discussed:

Division of Work

Insights into the skills, strengths, and weaknesses of employees can help small business owners optimally assign tasks and responsibilities. By understanding where each team member excels, management can tailor roles that maximize individual and team productivity, enhancing overall business efficiency.

Authority and Responsibility

Gathering insights on how employees handle authority and responsibility can inform decisions about delegation and leadership styles. For instance, if data shows that employees are more productive and engaged when given autonomy, a small business can implement more decentralized decision-making practices.


Insights from employee feedback and performance reviews can guide the development of effective disciplinary measures. Understanding what motivates employees and what they view as fair treatment helps in creating a discipline system that is respected and adhered to by all team members.

Unity of Direction

Insights from market research, customer feedback, and internal performance metrics can help align team efforts with the business’s strategic goals. Understanding external and internal factors allows management to adjust strategies and ensure that all activities are contributing towards common objectives.

Subordination of Individual Interests to the General Interests

Collecting and analyzing insights about employee satisfaction and personal goals can help in aligning individual interests with the business’s goals. This may involve understanding the personal aspirations of employees and finding ways to integrate these with the company’s objectives, thereby ensuring that personal agendas do not derail the business’s aims.

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