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A Behavioral Management Approach Published: Sunday, November 23, 1997

The history of management is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, The history of management is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, society has been concerned with the effective practice of management for thousands of years. On the other hand, the profound study of management dates only from around the turn of the century. Because of the relative newness of management as a field of study no unified theory of management has yet emerged. Moreover you can quickly find organizations using conflicting technologies for transforming their reality, and all this happening under the same roof. Some of our friends, sometimes, question the value of history and theory. Their arguments are usually based on the assumptions that history has no relevance to contemporary society and that theory is abstract and of no practical value. We have dedicated our life to demonstrate the usefulness of theory in our everyday work, experiences and observations.

Thus, next time you are in Plaza Las Americas riding an escalator, observe the behavior of people who ride it. Quite commonly, as the individual gets close to the next floor, he or she stars to walk in order to get there faster. More formal research also suggests that as people get closer to their goals, they are increasingly motivated to work harder to reach them! Here an everyday observation provides a framework or theory to explain behavior in certain situations.

This is why, we should be into the theory business if we are seeking for solid explanations. Almost by definition, management is practiced in the real world, so useful management theory must always be grounded in reality. Following our professional practice, it is easy to identify organizations that have explicitly applied different theories of management. Practically any organization that uses assembly production lines is drawing on a scientific management framework. Numerous organizations, including Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Bacardí and others have adopted some aspect of organizational behavior theory to improve employee satisfaction, motivation and productivity.

Oil companies such as Shell, which manage everything from oil fields to gasoline stations while coping with shrinking natural resources, are drawing on systems theory. Universities often use management science models in registration and course scheduling. Firms that structure plants in nonuniform fashion are using contingency planning approaches. Other organizations are adopting strategic business units configurations and self-directed teams designs.

Theories help companies and institutions by organizing information and providing a systematic framework for action. It is a road map to guide the executive, manager or professional toward achievement of the organization`s goals. Awareness and understanding of important historical developments are also important to contemporary managers. For example, one company was troubled because one of its plants had evolved from a good place to work into one with decline productivity and fragile morale. We reviewed a period of ten years and found evidence that increased management fiscalization had caused the declined in the plant. Because such a long time had passed and a variety of managers had been involved it was difficult for them to articulate a soundable explanation. As we put all the pieces together we were able to suggest a workable solution. But again, interest in management can be traced back a thousands of years. Imagine the monumental task of building an Egyptian Pyramid, the military campaign of the scope of Alexander the Great, the integration of the vast Roman Empire, all ventures requiring tools of strategic designs, coordination, communication and leadership. Behavioral management approach places much more emphasis on individual attitudes and behaviors and on team and culture development processes.

The focus is on employee behavior in an organizational context. Stimulated by the birth of industrial psychology, (Hugo Munsterberg, 1863 - 1916, Psychology and Industrial Efficiency) the human relations movement complemented (not to say supplanted) the school of scientific management as the dominant approach to management in the 1930s and 1940s. Prominent contributors to this movement were Elton Mayo, Abraham Maslow and Douglas McGregor, among others. The sciences of organization behavior, the contemporary perspective on behavioral management theory, draws from a multidisciplinary knowledge base and recognizes the complexities and imperatives of human behavior in organizational settings. Though this approach emerged in the late 50s it is presently of great interest to researchers, managers and organizations. An interesting dimension is the proposition that behavior is governed by consequences, not antecedents.

On the one hand, reinforcers are consequences that strengthen behavior and, on the other, punishers are consequences that weaken behavior. The science of behavior provides important insights into motivation, team dynamics, and other interpersonal and intraorganizational process that affect the organizational capacity to respond. It challenges the view that employees are simple tools and promotes the theory that employees are valuable resources. The behavioral management approach is very useful to the whole venture of changing and transforming organizations of all sorts.

 


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