HISTORICAL ROOTS OF ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR

Many disciplines, such as physics and chemistry, are literally thousands of years old. Management has also been around in one form or another for centuries. For example, the writings of Aristotle and Plato abound as references and examples of management concepts and practices. But because serious interest in the study of management did not emerge until the turn of the twentieth century, organizational behavior is only a few decades old.

One reason for the relatively late development of management as a scientific field is that very few large business organizations existed until around a hundred years ago. Although management is just as important to a small organization as it is to a large one, large firms provided both a stimulus and a laboratory for management research. Second, many of the initial players interested in studying organizations were economists. Economists initially assumed that management practices are by nature efficient and effective; therefore, they concentrated on higher levels of analysis such as national economic policy and industrial structures rather than on the internal structure of companies.

Scientific Management

One of the first approaches to the study of management, popularized during the early 1900s, was scientific management. Individuals who helped develop and promote scientific management included Frank and Lillian Gilbreth (whose lives are portrayed in a book and a subsequent movie, Cheaper by the Dozen), Henry Gantt, and Harrington Emerson. But the person commonly associated with scientific management is Fredric W. Taylor.

Early in his life, Taylor developed an interest in efficiency and productivity. While working as a foreman at Midvale Steel Company in Philadelphia from 1878 to 1890, he noticed a phenomenon, which he named "soldiering"-employees` working at a pace much slower than their capabilities. Because managers had never systematically studied jobs in the plant and, in fact, had very little idea on how to gauge worker productivity, they were completely unaware of this phenomenon.

To counteract the effects of soldiering, Taylor developed several innovative techniques. First, he scientifically studied all the jobs at the Midvale plant and developed a standardized method for performing each one. He also installed a piece-rate pay system in which each worker was paid for the amount of work he completed during the workday rather than for the time spent on the job. (Taylor believed that money was the only significant motivational factor in the workplace.) These two innovations resulted in a marked increase in productivity and serve as the foundation of scientific management as we know it.

After leaving Midvale, Taylor spent several years working as a management consultant for industrial firms. At Behlehem Steel Company, he developed several efficient techniques for loading and unloading rail cars. At Simonds Rolling Machine Company, he redesigned jobs, introduced rest breaks to combat fatigue, and implemented a piece-rate pay system. In every case, Taylor claimed his ideas and methods greatly improved worker output. His book, Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, was greeted with enthusiasm by practicing managers and quickly became a standard reference.

Scientific management quickly became a mainstay of business practice. It facilitated job specialization and mass production, consequently influencing the U.S. business system in profound ways. Taylor had his critics, though. Laborers opposed scientific management because of its explicit goal of getting more output from workers. Congress investigated Taylor`s methods and ideas because some argued that his incentive system would dehumanize the workplace and reduce workers to little more than drones. Later theorists recognized that Taylor`s views on employee motivation were inadequate and narrow. And recently there have been allegations that Taylor falsified some of his research findings and paid someone to do his writing for him. Nevertheless, scientific management represents an important milestone in the development of management thought.

Classical Organization Theory

During the same era, another perspective on management theory and practice was also emerging. Generally referred to as classical organization theory, this perspective is concerned with structuring organizations effectively. Whereas scientific management studied how individual workers could be made more efficient, classical organization theory focused on how a large number of workers and managers could be most effectively organized into an overall structure.

Major contributors to classical organization theory included Henri Fayol, Lyndall Urwick, and Max Weber. Weber, the most prominent of the three, proposed a "bureaucratic" form of structure that he believed would work for all organizations. Although today the term bureaucracy conjures up images of paperwork, red tape, and inflexibility, Weber`s model of bureaucracy embraced logic, rationality, and efficiency. Weber assumed that the bureaucratic structure would always be the most efficient approach. (Such a blanket prescription represents what is now called a universal approach.) A bureaucracy is an organizational structure in which tasks are specialized under a given set of rules and a hierarchy of authority. Division of labor is the separation of work loads into small segments to be performed by one or more people. In a bureaucracy, tasks are assigned through the division of labor. A set of outlined procedures exists for each job. Because these procedures are invariable, the tasks assigned for each job become routine for the employee. Thus, creativity is low.

In a bureaucracy, the standards for evaluating job performance do not need to be updated because required tasks never change. However, this lack of variation leads to an impersonal work environment, lacking incentives for extraordinary task performance and ultimately limiting the growth potential of individual employees.

In contrast to Weber`s views, contemporary organization theorists recognize that different organizational structures may be appropriate in different situations. As with scientific management, however, classical organization theory played a major role in the development of management thought, and Weber`` ideas and the concepts associated with his bureaucratic structure are still interesting and relevant today.

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