Self Management in Organizations: The Dynamics of Interaction

By Takooshian, Harold | Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Self Management in Organizations: The Dynamics of Interaction


Takooshian, Harold, Revue Canadienne des Sciences de l'Administration


Self Management in Organizations: The Dynamics of Interaction Martin De Waele, Jean Morval, and Robert Sheitoyan, Toronto, ON: Hogrefe & Huber, 1993, 226 pp.

It is easy for most management experts to agree with the popular wisdom that there is a difference between "working hard" and "working smart." To be successful in organizational life means to be mindful of interpersonal factors on the job, as complicated as this may be. Such is the aim of this book on self-management: to offer the reader a down-to-earth guide to managing oneself successfully within an organization.

The volume is in three chapters. Chapter 1 is a 45page introduction to the authors' notion of self-management, not so much a concise definition as a detailed 18point description. In point number 3, for example, the self-managed employee "wants to be aware of the changes in his life and to befriend those changes [thus developing] ... his own self' (p. 6). Overall, their ideal of a self-managed employee is someone consciously respectful yet independent of others who learns to identify and master the interpersonal currents inevitable in organizations of any size. The second chapter of 120 pages applies the philosophy of the first to what the authors describe as the four universal "processes" in all organizations: (a) appropriation, which is how to gain a clear understanding of the obvious and not-so-obvious ways the organization functions; (b) relation, which is how to deal with people in a harmonious way; (c) decision, which is how to make the right choices in our job with minimum distraction from our own or others' biases; and (d) action, which is how to effectively implement our decisions. This chapter is clearly the heart of the volume, in which the authors detail many, many obstacles to effective self-management and how to recognize and circumvent them. The final chapter of 28 pages goes beyond self-management to several ways to manage others, such as giving directions and developing a personal style of leadership.

Throughout, the tone is one of deliberate generalities, as if beckoning us readers to plug in our own experiences to see where the authors' guidance leads us. One typical example suffices, from the section on appropriation, where the authors discuss how to react when we receive an ambiguous message: "When there is a divergence of what is being said, privately or officially, and what is actually being done either in actions or in concrete decision-making, the self-managing person is evidently well-advised to appropriate both messages (verbal and nonverbal), rather than base his action only on what is being said" (p. 74). Clearly, guidance like this will have the most meaning for people who have been in organizations for some years and can thus benefit from the authors' insights.

Let us step back a moment here to clarify the title of this volume. Exactly what is "self-management?" This term originated in behaviourist psychology in the 1970s as part of Albert Bandura's larger social learning theory. It might be simply defined as "our inner tendency to set and achieve our own goals, quite separate from any external reward system." For Bandura, we humans are motivated not only by external rewards, but also by our inner needs to observe, reinforce and punish our own actions. It became quite easy for industrial theorists like Edward E. Lawler, Charles C. Manz, and Edward Deci to apply these concepts to the world of work, noting that organizations simply could not survive if they relied only on an external reward system. People have an inner need for self-efficacy, to do a good job, to feel competent in getting a task done, and to be intrinsically motivated to set and achieve their own goals. Successful management lies in aligning this inner "self-management" with external controls, to create what psychologists today dub "citizenship behaviour," "organizational commitment," and "goal integration." Lawler goes so far as to suggest that self-management can virtually replace external systems when, for example, a firm has "employee owners" who oversee their own work-as several airlines and other corporations have now done.

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