Academic journal article Management International Review

Some Developments in the Study of Organizations

Academic journal article Management International Review

Some Developments in the Study of Organizations

Article excerpt

The Problem

Modern organizations can no longer be depicted in the entrepreneurial terms used by classical economists. Working capital may be obtained from numerous sources, and management is often dissociated from ownership. So the picture of the entrepreneur-proprietor who assumes the risk, takes the decisions, and disposes of the profit, no longer applies to the larger businesses today. Similarly, the "Principles of Management" of the Scientific Management School were deduced from premises which often contained faulty assumptions about human motives and behaviour. Possibly some of the more recent theories of social scientists make equally erroneous assumptions about finance, technology, and production. For example, participative or democratic management may be advocated on social grounds in circumstances where it could not possibly produce the results intended. Moreover, the theorists do not speak with one voice. All of them have made valuable contributions to the development of organization theory, but we need some means of resolving the inconsistencies between the various approaches.

Four Basic Assumptions

In view of these difficulties, how may progress be made in understanding the nature of organizations so that those who manage them may be better equipped for their task? The work of the Industrial Administration Research Unit at The University of Aston in Birmingham indicates a possible approach. This work is based on four main assumptions:

1. In order to find which organizational problems are specific to particular kinds of organizations, and which are common to all organizations, comparative studies are needed which include organizations of many types.

2. Meaningful comparisons can only be made when there is a common standard for comparison -- preferably measurement.

3. The nature of an organization will be influenced by its objectives and environment, so these must be taken into account.

4. Study of the work behaviour of individuals or groups should include study of the characteristics of the organization in which the behaviour occurs.

Comparative Data and Methods

To satisfy our first requirements, for comparative studies, our initial sample of 52 organizations contained not only manufacturing businesses but also service organizations of various kinds -- government, local authority, retail, and commercial. To begin with, and for convenience, we limited ourselves to work organizations in the Birmingham area employing more than 250 people. A work organization is defined as one that employs (i. e. pays) its members. The products and services represented included motor car bumpers, milk chocolate buttons, insurance policies, road repairing, research, passenger transport, and many others.

We wrote first to the chief executive of the organization, who might be its chairman, area superintendent, works manager, chief officer, or whatever, and we began by interviewing him at length. There followed a series of interviews with department heads of varying status, as many as were necessary to obtain the information we required. Interviews were conducted with standard schedules listing what had to be found out. Since this was descriptive data about the organization and its immediate environment, and was not personal to the respondent, we made no attempt to standardise interview procedure. Wherever possible documentary evidence was sought to substantiate verbal accounts.

Common Standards of Measurement

To satisfy our second requirement, for a common standard, we used the scaling techniques which psychologists have found useful in measuring attitudes or analysing performance on different mental tasks. The major difficulty in this connection is, of course, the demonstration that the items forming a scale "hang together", that is: they are in some sense cumulative. To this end, we used mean item analysis values, generalised biserial coefficients, and random split-half reliabilities. …

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