UNIFYING PRINCIPLES OF ORGANIZATIONAL BEHAVIOR AND MANAGEMENT ABSTRACT Theories and models of organizational behavior and management continue to increase in number and complexity. While much of the recent research has not made its way into standard business textbooks, these textbooks nonetheless offer a broad array of topics and concepts that can easily overwhelm both student and practitioner. No common thread appears to link these disparate topics, despite the fact that variations on the same theory often can be found across topics.
This paper describes four underlying principles of organizational behavior and management that distill and synthesize essential features of many of the established theories and models. Each principle is described in terms of two concepts, which can be viewed as dichotomous, continuous, or paradoxical measures of the principle, and applied independently or in combination to explain representative theories. The implications of these underlying principles for teaching organizational behavior and management as well as for conducting organizational analyses are discussed.
INTRODUCTION For several decades, business schools have offered introductory courses in management principles, organizational theory, and organizational behavior. One or more of these courses is generally among the eight to ten required/core courses in a bachelors or masters degree in business. These management courses draw from a wide variety of sciences, including psychology, sociology, social psychology, anthropology, political science, and systems theory.
Concepts and theories from both pure and applied science are introduced to help explain the nature of life in organizations in terms of personality, motivation, communication, planning and control, decision making, leadership, power, conflict, job design, teambuilding, organizational design, organizational culture, and change (Miner, 2002). In part because these topics are drawn from so many disciplines, courses in management principles and organizational behavior are frequently described as “survey” courses.
That is, each week a new topic is introduced which, while certainly part of the fabric of organizational life, appears only loosely tied to prior topics. Even within a weekly topic, such as motivation or leadership, it is often challenging to find a single model that links together all the disparate theories. Thus, a course on organizational behavior and management is unlike a course in mathematics or physics, where the early principles provide a foundation from which more complex models emerge.
This is both a blessing and curse, since lacking an understanding of the basics of mathematics makes comprehension of higher-level models challenging if not impossible, which is not the case in a course on organizational behavior. However, lacking a dominant thread let alone a hierarchy of concepts, management and organization theory often seems unfocused or disjoint. At the same time, some theories or models found under different topics appear to be variants of one another (although not immediately obvious to the student eye).
For example, Freud’s (1965) concept of the Id, Ego, and Superego corresponds in some ways to Aldefer’s (1972) existence-relatedness-growth theory of motivation and to Kohlberg’s (1984) fundamental stages of moral development (preconventional, conventional, postconventional), each moving from self to others to transcendent self-other. Thus, there would seem to be commonalities among select theories, which may in fact be grounded in a finite set of principles.
The purpose of this paper is to introduce four principles of organizational behavior and management that appear to cut across topics and theories, and which can help us better understand the basic themes of organizational life. These principles are: individual vs. collective, differentiation vs. integration, centralization vs. decentralization, and linear vs. nonlinear. The paper begins by describing each principle in turn, and applying the concepts of each principle to existing theories and models of management and organizational behavior.
The concepts related to each principle can be viewed, alternatively, as dichotomous (a choice among opposites), continuous (a point along a continuum), or paradoxical (a contradiction or dialectic to be resolved), and applied in combination to interpret and circumscribe specific theories. Finally, the implications of these underlying principles for teaching management and organizational behavior as well as for conducting organizational and case analyses are discussed. THE UNIFYING PRINCIPLES
There are four unifying principles presented in this paper, each principle represented by two contrasting concepts. The principles are briefly described below, and the application of each principle to organizational behavior and management is illustrated through several examples. The intent of these examples is to demonstrate the range of applications for each principle, rather than to provide an exhaustive analysis. (A more complete set of applications is available from the author. ) INDIVIDUAL VS. COLLECTIVE
Description of the Principle Perhaps no concepts are more central to our understanding of organizations and management than those of the individual versus the collective. In a generic sense, the term “individual” means singular, solitary, one, alone, separate, while the term “collective” means many, multiple, together, gathered, joint. In human terms, these two words represent the primary foci of the fields of psychology and sociology, respectively. And in this sense, they represent the totality of our existence.
That is, we find ourselves either in solitary pursuits (self-oriented) or engaged with one or more other human beings in collective endeavors (other- or relationally-oriented). The sense of self-versus-other in humans develops in early childhood. According to Freud (1965), these take the form of the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. The Id describes the personality of newborns, which is based on the pleasure principle. A newborn’s focus is simply self. It has little concept of other. It wants whatever feels good at any given moment, without regard for the reality of the situation.
Thus, a newborn does not care where its mother is when it is hungry – at home, in a plane, in church – it wants to be fed. The Ego emerges around the age of three, according to Freud. This represents the beginning of our sense of other. The Ego is based on the reality principle (i. e. , the recognition that other people have desires and needs). The Superego emerges at about the age of five. The Superego represents the moral development of a child. It is mainly through the child’s primary caregivers that a conscience develops, defining the difference between right and wrong.
Both the Ego and Superego fall into the category of “other,” the former corresponding to immediate others and the latter corresponding to others not immediately encountered but part of one’s larger social network (which in some cases stretches to all other human beings, other flora and fauna, and the supernatural). The sense of “other” is evidently beneficial for many animals, since the vast majority of species function through collective action (reproduction, food acquisition, domicile construction, protection, etc. ). Yet social organization is a complex process.
Like all other animals, each human being has a self-contained information processing system. Through the senses, data are fed to our brains for analysis and storage. Unfortunately, these independent processing systems are not connected by an efficient channel. Instead, we share information through verbal and nonverbal communication. The natural languages we use to communicate our thoughts are various (the number of different languages estimated to be in the thousands), complex yet limited by the finite set words that must describe all reality, and subject to differing pronunciations and interpretations.
Further, the media employed for this purpose vary in terms of their inherent information richness (i. e. , the amount of information that can be transmitted efficiently via documents, telephones, face-to-face communication), with media of lower information richness often employed over longer distances and when larger numbers of individuals are to be reached. This is part of the challenge of “other,” in leading teams, managing departments, undertaking joint ventures, etc. with an increasingly diverse workforce and global marketplace. Manifestations in Organization and Management Theory
These two concepts – individual vs. collective – form the basis for a number of organizational behavior and management theories, beginning with theories related to personality (an initial or early topic in most organizational behavior and management textbooks). Human personality can be defined as that set of behavioral and emotional tendencies or characteristics that distinguish an individual or group of individuals from others. The source of one’s personality has been the subject of debate for many years, as characterized by the nature-nurture controversy.
The nature-nurture controversy is about the extent to which one’s personality is a function of genetic makeup (nature) versus the environment in which he/she was raised (nurture). This debate has been informed most recently by studies of twins who were raised apart and found to share many of the same preferences, suggesting that genetics plays a larger role than previously thought (Segal, 2000). In essence, the nature-nurture controversy is a debate about the individual versus the collective in human personality.
To the extent that each individual has a unique genetic makeup, our concept of the individual corresponds to what has been called nature. It is the genetic code one is given at birth. The many environmental influences that shape one’s life include, most importantly, parents, siblings, other relatives, neighbors, teachers, and schoolmates. This, in effect, is the collective in one’s life. In addition to the sources of one’s personality, there has been an abiding interest in categorizations or typologies of personality. There have been any number of models put forth, many of which include some variation on sociability (i. . , the extent to which an individual prefers social engagement over solitary endeavors). This dimension of personality was noted by psychologist Carl Jung in his work on personality types, published in the early twentieth century (Jung, 1933). Jung proposed that individuals direct their attention (and, thus, get their energy) in different ways. Some individuals, who he called Introverts, prefer solitary endeavors and are generally seen as private, quiet, and inward-focused. The opposite type Jung called Extraverts, who prefer social settings and are more likely to be seen as gregarious, expressive, and outward-focused.
While most individuals will have some of each type, there may be a preference for one orientation over the other. The stronger the preference, the more consistent one’s behavior across situations. These two Jungian types, Introverts and Extraverts, correspond to orientations towards the individual and the collective, respectively. Beyond social inclinations, each human being is associated with a number of collective entities based on age, gender, nationality, profession, etc. These “memberships” suggest to others something about an individual’s presumed preferences and behavior.
Indeed, stereotyping is a perceptual process of assuming that all the members of a particular group share similar traits or behaviors (e. g. , all Germans are punctual). When someone does not conform to this expectation, there is often surprise and disappointment. In effect, stereotyping concerns the loss of distinction of the individual within the collective. One’s orientation towards solitary versus collective endeavors is important in understanding motivation and success within organizations. It is easy to imagine someone working at a company that takes him/her out of his/her element.
Consider, for example, an individual whose preference is towards social engagement (an Extravert) and who is hired as a computer programmer. For the most part, the job of a computer programmer is to work independently writing computer code. Being extraverted, this individual might be inclined to look for distractions in order to satisfy his/her desire for sociability. In the worst case, the individual is not only less productive than someone else who might be better suited to focusing on this type of task, but he/she may make others in the office less productive as well by frequently interrupting their work.
There are a number of theories that have been offered to help us understand what motivates individuals to accept jobs and work hard at them, often beyond the expected hourly time-frame and level of performance. Among those theories is David McClelland’s (1984) learned needs model, which focuses on three needs: achievement, affiliation, and power. McClelland believed that while most of us have a desire for each of these three needs, some individuals have a particularly strong orientation towards one of the three. Individuals who are high need achievers have a strong desire to work independently.
They like to set their own goals, they prefer achievable goals, and they like feedback on their performance. This combination of factors or conditions makes perfect sense for a high need achiever (i. e. , someone who is motivated by achievement). Because the goals are moderately challenging, they will be accomplished. Therefore, the feedback will be positive. And since the high need achiever works alone, that positive feedback is not shared with anyone else. A strong need for affiliation represents a collective orientation.
Individuals who have this orientation have a strong desire for social engagement. This means that they enjoy being with others – family, friends, co-workers. They would prefer working with others on a project to working alone. And while a high need achiever might be satisfied solely or primarily by the accomplishment of task, the individual with a high affiliation need might prefer to celebrate with others. The need for power represents a combination of the two orientations – individual and collective. Because power is a social construct, more than one individual is required.
That is, one’s power or influence is over another individual or group of individuals. If no one exists to influence, then there can be no power. Yet despite the need for another party, the need for power is more about the ego. The desire for power derives from an individual’s need to control his or her environment, in this case social environment. McClelland believed that the orientation towards one of these three needs was rooted in culture. Culture is the shared beliefs of a group of people, beliefs that are related to the group’s assumptions, values, behaviors, and symbols.
Geert Hofstede’s (1997) study of country culture, in fact, identified four dimensions of culture, one of which was the individualism-collectivism dimension. An individualist culture is one in which the needs and contributions of the individual are highly valued, including self-reliance, freedom, and individual achievement. The United States, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, and the Netherlands rank high on individualism. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, value family, organization, and community. Many Latin American countries (e. g. Guatemala, Equador, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia) rank high as collectivist countries. It is not uncommon to see the individualism-collectivism dimension of national culture played out in the organizations of those countries in the form of teambuilding, job design, and reward systems. DIFFERENTIATION VS. INTEGRATION Description of the Principle Differentiation and integration are the concepts associated with the second underlying principle. Differentiation refers to movement from one to many, from homogeneous to heterogeneous. It involves breaking the whole into distinct parts.
Integration refers to the process of moving in the opposite direction, from many to one, from heterogeneous to homogeneous. It is taking those items that are different and forming, coordinating, or blending them into a functioning, unified whole. Differentiation and integration relate to systems theory. Virtually everything is a system, and every system can be broken down into smaller systems (differentiation) while simultaneously being part of a larger system (integration). Our solar system, for example, consists of the sun, planets, moons, comets, and asteroids, each in itself a system.
At the same time, our solar system is one of many other systems that make up the Milky Way Galaxy, which in turn is one of many systems in the universe. Likewise, our bodies can be viewed in terms of multiple organs (heart, stomach, liver, etc. ), each with a specific function, which interrelate to form a whole human being, while each human is part of a larger system – a family, neighborhood, collective workforce. Differentiation occurs in many ways within the social systems of humans and other species, in some cases emerging at birth.
This is true for most insects, for example, where different tasks are performed by different variants of the insect (e. g. , worker, soldier, and swarmer termites). The roles of males and females of a species often have differentiated roles among many animals, including humans (where the female gives birth and provides initial nourishment). The roles that humans perform in organizations are generally differentiated in one or more ways, as well. Business schools train future employees with specializations in one of a finite number of functional areas – marketing, finance, accounting, etc.
The inherent differences in knowledge and skill required by these disciplines support this educational structure. For some students, a choice of a specialization is partly an acknowledgement of one’s talents or personality, such as an orientation towards either solitary work (e. g. , accounting) or relational endeavors (e. g. , marketing/sales). The challenge of all systems, but especially social systems, is managing the necessary integration that must follow differentiation. This challenge, in an organizational setting, is illustrated by an anecdote attributed to W.
Edwards Deming, one of the founders of the quality process movement. Deming was consulting with a manufacturing firm that was involved in affixing a mylar coat to plates, and his task was to understand the processes employed and offer some suggestions to improve those processes. While visiting the quality control area of the factory, he noticed that workers were busy sanding a coating that had been put on one of the plates. He inquired as to why they were sanding the plate. The workers told him that the mylar coating did not meet specifications, as the workers in another part of the factory were putting the coating on too thick.
Subsequently, he visited that area of the factory and, indeed, the workers were adding a thick mylar coat to the plates. He inquired as to why they were putting on such a thick coat. The workers responded that they had to add an extra thick coat because the guys in quality control sanded the hell out of the coating. This process inefficiency he labeled “burnt toast”: One person puts bread in the toaster and burns it; another person removes the toast, scrapes off the black residue, and places the toast on a plate. Too often, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing in a differentiated collective process.
The overall task has been broken down into subtasks, but the integration is incomplete. There are a lot of reasons why this happens: functions and purpose are never fully explained, information is lost during employee turnover, changes are made to products and processes which obscure the original efforts to integrate, deadlines overwhelm everyone and everything. But, of course, “burnt toast” is also a consequence of the fact that the information processing systems of human beings are self-contained, linked by imperfect communication channels. Manifestations in Organization and Management Theory
Among the skills that distinguish humans from most other animals are the interrelated processes of planning, problem-solving, and decision-making. These processes are essential to everyday life, at both the individual and collective levels (group, organizational). (Because of this dual applicability, authors have sometimes been uncertain as to where to place these topics in organizational behavior and management textbooks – the section on individual processes, or the section on group and interpersonal processes. ) The concepts of differentiation and integration are fundamental to planning, problem-solving, and decision-making processes.
To solve most any type of problem, for example, one must first determine what is part of the problem and what is not. This is the act of differentiation, which then leads to describing or formulating the problem. That is, once the elements of a problem have been determined, these facts must be integrated into a formulation or definition of the problem. In general, integration cannot occur until differentiation has taken place: Until the differences are delineated, one does not have the data with which to integrate. This is illustrated in the social phenomenon called groupthink (Janis, 1972).
Groupthink arises when a cohesive subgroup puts pressure on other group members to conform to the subgroup’s preferred decision, thus curtailing assumption surfacing, critical thinking, and exploration of alternative courses of action. Concurrence or perceived unanimity and group harmony are stressed over extended analysis. In essence, differentiation of perspectives and opinions is discouraged if not dismissed. Because of the unique perceptions, cognitions, and skills of individuals and the limitations of natural language, differentiation occurs automatically whenever there is a collective process (e. . , groups, teams). Each member of the group, for example, arrives with different expectations concerning what the group’s focus will be, the roles that individuals will play in the group, and the process the group will follow (e. g. , number of meetings, length of meetings, decision-making procedures). The expectations of the members must be openly and clearly articulated (differentiation) in order for the group to be able to integrate these expectations into a single plan of action. This often occurs in the early stages of group process – forming, storming, and norming.
The forming-storming stages depict the sharing of values and aspirations (differentiation), while the storming-norming nexus is where integration occurs as the group finds mutual respect and common ground (or it proceeds to the performing stage at risk) (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977). Recognizing the value of heterogeneous teams, managers are advised to select members carefully for a team to ensure diversity and balance. This is the case for cross-functional teams, which are composed of individuals from different functional areas – marketing, production, finance, etc.
In effect, cross-functional teams have added differentiation built into them (Denison, Hart & Kahn, 1996). Planning, problem-solving, and decision-making in a collective context invariably require negotiation and, in all likelihood, conflict management within and between teams/organizations. Frequently, negotiations stall and conflicts emerge because the parties appear to want the same limited resource. When positions clash, the key is to discern the underlying interests of the parties. In other words, resolution is found in differentiating the parties’ true needs so that a win-win solution can be discovered.
Imagine, for example, two employees who both want Friday off from work. Their positions appear intractable and irreconcilable. By discovering their real interests (one employee has a doctor’s appointment in the morning, while the other wants to leave town before rush hour to travel out-of-state to a friend’s wedding), both can be satisfied. Goals are differentiated and integrated in many ways in organizations. Not only do individuals bring their unique goal-sets to an organization, but there are short-term versus long-term goals, departmental versus divisional goals, and formal versus informal goals.
All must be integrated at some point, generally through superordinate goals, if the organization is to function most effectively. Differentiation and integration, of course, also apply to organizational structures. The traditional functional organizational design takes advantage of unique knowledge and skills among workers by organizing processes according to functional specialization. The division of labor of the functional organizational design has the presumed advantage of creating a highly efficient system.
For the functional areas to avoid becoming isolated departments or silos, however, integration is necessary. Otherwise, processes and procedures break down, as illustrated by Deming’s “burnt toast” metaphor. In a highly competitive marketplace, integration becomes even more highly valued. Integration must be built into the organization if the employees are specialists, such as found in functional designs and mechanistic systems. However, integration also can be “built into” the individual if the organization employs generalists, as is the case with many start-up companies and organic systems.
In this case, individuals (generalists) are able to perform many tasks, which allows them to understand, support, and replace one another with some ease. Recognizing the value of an employee with an expanded and integrated skill-set, some organizations will invest in job enlargement, rotation, and enrichment programs to create a more versatile and effective worker (Hackman & Oldham, 1980). CENTRALIZATION VS. DECENTRALIZATION Description of the Principle Within a differentiated system, one can detect two distinct orientations to the concepts of power, control, leadership, decision-making, and organization.
Centralization refers to the concentration or consolidation of responsibility, authority, power, control, functions or operations; decentralization refers to the dispersion, diffusion, or redistribution of responsibility, authority, or control. Thus, while differentiation connotes things being separate and distinct (versus similar or whole, which is the essence of integration), centralization and decentralization refer to the ordering of those entities in terms of their importance, capacity, etc. We generally think of centralization and decentralization in the context of organizational design or structure.
However, these concepts also can be applied to other social constructs, such as groups or teams, and to social processes, such as decision-making. They can even be applied to inanimate objects such as computers: An organization, for example, might have a central processing unit with multiple peripherals or it could have a decentralized network of computers (such as exists for the network we call the internet). In most social systems, centralization of control or decision-making is a natural state assumed by the experienced or skilled (e. g. , parents, doctors) over those less able (children, patients).
Unable to fend for themselves, it is the parents’ role to provide sustenance, security, and guidance to their newborn. As the child matures, however, it demands more freedom and responsibility in terms of where to go, what to touch, what to eat, and what to wear. And while there is a tendency for parents to cling to the centralized approach, some movement towards decentralization is required if the child (and the relationship) is to mature. Centralization also represents a form of social organizing, common among most animals and characterized in human society by tribes, clans, governments, and religious orders.
In this regard, centralization creates uniformity and focus, a way of ensuring common behavior or action under various conditions (in Hofstede’s terminology, uncertainty avoidance). This uniformity is manifest in hierarchical structures and policies, procedures, and rules (codes, laws). Indeed, one of the potential consequences of differentiation is that individuals/specialists will lose sight of the bigger picture and forget that they are part of a collective effort. Through selection-retention processes, socialization programs, and rules, a leader can regain control of an organization.
Over the course of history, leaders have used these and other mechanisms to solidify their power and authority. Centralization is sometimes viewed as the more economical or efficient approach of the two concepts in terms of time, energy, and money. For example, it is far less time consuming in the short run for a child to do what his/her parent demands or for a department to do what its department head commands, just as it is less costly to support one central processing unit than a network of computers. Yet decentralization has its advantages, including creative adaptation and flexibility.
The latter was, in effect, a prime motive in the design and construction of the internet, which allowed information to move through alternate pathways if some computers or connections became inoperable. Decentralization was also part of the movement in the 1980s and 1990s that sought to create global competition by deregulating many industries and relaxing trade barriers. Manifestations in Organization and Management Theory The concepts of centralization and decentralization are most applicable to collective systems. A task force or department, for example, can exhibit one or both of these orientations in their interaction and communication.
Imagine a meeting in which the chair of the meeting begins the discussion of a specific problem, looking to better understand the problem as well as ideas on how to solve it. Initially, at least, the chair is directing the discussion, with questions coming from the chair and answers or opinions from the other members of the group. This is a wheel or star communication network, which is essentially centralized (with the chair at the hub of the wheel and communication flowing from the spokes through the center or hub). As the discussion heats up, however, individuals begin talking with one another. A more free-flowing exchange emerges.
This is an all-channel communication network, where communication can flow between any members of the group/team. Losing control of the meeting, and needing to wrap up this agenda item and move on, the chair regains control by re-establishing the wheel or star network (i. e. , re-directing communication through him or her). This sequence of actions describes the ebb and flow of communications as control moves from centralized to decentralized and finally back to a centralized network. This is also depicted in the leadership/decision-making model introduced by Victor Vroom and Arthur Jago (Vroom & Jago, 1988).
The Vroom-Jago model was designed to predict the level or type of involvement of team members in a decision, based on a series of questions that focus broadly on the importance of decision quality and acceptance. The five modes of decision-making range from autocratic, where the leader makes the decision by himself or herself using available information, to facilitative, where the team is given the problem to solve and the leader facilitates the process, accepting the group’s consensual decision. The former represents a centralized decision-making process and the latter represents a decentralized process.
While the Vroom-Jago model can be viewed as a model of leadership or decision-making, there are a number of other models of leadership that follow similar patterns. The Hersey-Blanchard Life Cycle Theory of leadership (Hersey & Blanchard, 1969), for example, suggests that leaders must change their styles from a high-task/low-relationship style (which Hersey and Blanchard call Telling) to a low-task/low-relationship style (which they call Delegating) as the maturity or readiness of the followers improves (i. e. , the followers’ willingness and ability to perform the requisite tasks). This theory parallels the expected change in parental leadership, previously discussed, which must change with an offspring’s development from child to adult. ) To some extent, this also forms the basis for Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y leaders (McGregor, 1960). A Theory X leader believes that workers are inherently passive or resistant to work, lacking ambition or responsibility, ignorant, self-centered, and opposed to change. Therefore, they must be directed or controlled. Theory Y leaders believe that workers are not by nature lazy or indolent, but they have become so as a result of the way they have been treated by management.
In fact, workers have a capacity and willingness to assume responsibility and perform at a high level. Therefore, it is a Theory Y leader’s task to bring out the best in people. In general, Theory X leaders follow a more centralized approach to managing workers, while Theory Y leaders are more likely to follow a decentralized approach to management (e. g. , delegation of responsibilities). A more recent theory of leadership focuses on transactional versus transformational styles. Transactional leaders attract followers through rewards and punishment. If an individual behaves according to the leader’s xpectations, the follower’s self-interests are satisfied through rewards or reinforcement (e. g. , recognition, gifts, promotion). In contrast, the transformational leader attracts followers due to his or her message or vision. The transformational leader transcends the followers’ basic self-interests (physiological needs) by appealing to their hopes, aspirations, and values. Much like Theory X leaders, the transactional leader controls resources, operating through a centralized approach, while a transformational leader seeks to enrich followers through a decentralized approach, empowering them with a vision and values.
Leaders can effect centralization in an organization is several ways, including through the organizational structure itself (which can limit communication, interaction, growth, and self-management). An increase in span of control (i. e. , number of individuals reporting directly to a leader/manager), for example, will effect greater centralization of authority. And if a larger span creates strain on a leader’s capacity to maintain control, staff personnel who report to the leader/manager and act on his/her behalf will sometimes be added to the organization. They, in effect, extend the leader/manager’s capacity to centralize.
In addition, formalization within the organization (i. e. , policies, procedures, rules) also can serve to support efforts to centralize control. Formalization represents one form of substitute for leadership. Others include the employees’ abilities, task ambiguity/difficulty, organizational socialization, and reward systems (Kerr, 1977). LINEAR VS. NONLINEAR Description of the Principle Finally, there are two concepts that describe distinct and opposite processes of human behavior and organization – linear and nonlinear processes. Linear processes can be described as planned, predictable, sequential, logical, and hierarchical.
Nonlinear processes are unplanned, disjoint, discontinuous, fragmented, spurious, unpredictable, and random. These two processes correspond approximately to the functional capabilities of the hemispheres of the human brain: the left hemisphere specializing in logical, verbal, analytical processes; the right hemisphere specializing in intuitive, nonverbal, synthetic, artistic processes. While logical and verbal processes are rich in structure, intuitive and nonverbal processes are rich in meaning. In a broad context, linear and nonlinear represent science and art, respectively.
Science involves a systematic process of understanding nature, and articulating that understanding in the form of laws or principles. The process of analysis, called the scientific method, is a linear process. Art is less easily codified, often created through processes that are difficult to articulate (e. g. , inspiration, creativity). Much of science can be described as the study of these art-forms in an attempt to move phenomena from the realm of art to science, in essence moving from the nonlinear to linear or multi-linear formulations. One example of this progression is embodied in the recent attention to chaos theory.
Chaos theory gained popularity in the 1980s, when scholars began to write about the complex patterns in natural and social events that heretofore had been characterized as random (Gleick, 1987). These phenomena essentially moved from being viewed as art (which defied codification) to science. This is not to say, of course, that there is no art in science or science in art. Science often involves some degree of inspiration before the scientific method is applied. However, scientists have even tried to routinize or delineate the creative process, as evidenced by books that catalog techniques for idea generation and creative problem-solving (cf.
Van Gundy, 1992). There are many examples of linear processes. For example, the natural evolution from differentiated to integrated systems, described previously, represents a two-stage linear sequence. A slightly more complex linear process, yet a powerful model with applications to many aspects of organizational life, is the following: Input > Process > Output. This basic model can serve to explain a host of endeavors, from human perception, motivation, and decision-making to assembly lines and product manufacture. Manifestations in Organization and Management Theory
The fourth underlying principle has many applications, both in-and-of itself and in combination with one or more of the other principles. In terms of the former, we can think of reinforcement theory as a linear process. A reinforcer is a consequence of behavior that increases the likelihood of the behavior being repeated. It is the last stage of the Antecedent > Behavior > Consequences linear progression. A sequence of reinforcers constitutes a schedule, either a fixed schedule (continuous, fixed ratio, fixed interval) or a variable schedule (variable interval or variable ratio) (Miner, 2002).
A fixed schedule of reinforcement is predictable. For example, an employee receives a paycheck every two weeks (fixed interval). Thus, the fixed schedule of reinforcement can be thought of as linear. In contrast, visits by the company president that occur every six months, on average, to support and encourage employee work efforts represent a variable interval schedule of reinforcement. There may be visits two months in a row, and then no visit for seven months, and then another after nine months. But on average, visits by the president occur every six months. This schedule is less predictable, and might better be perceived as nonlinear.
The goals or objectives of an organization can be categorized as operational or non-operational. Operational goals are specific, measurable goals. The achievement of the goal can be determined objectively (that is, the goal either has or has not been met). Generally, operational goals have numeric targets (e. g. , “to increase productivity 100% by 2010”). Non-operational goals are more qualitative than quantitative, and therefore their achievement is subject to interpretation or debate (e. g. , “to increase productivity substantially”). Operational goals can be thought of as linear, while non-operational goals are nonlinear.
Communication within an organization can follow the chain of command, or information can move through the organization via a more sporadic and unpredictable network of friendships, acquaintances, or chance encounters. The former might be described as the formal communication network, while the latter might better be described as an informal network or grapevine. The chain of command is, by design, planned, logical, predictable (linear) while the grapevine is unplanned, spontaneous, and random or quasi-random (nonlinear) (although chaos theory may hope to find predictable patterns of communication).
Change itself can occur in an organization in ways that are planned or unplanned. Planned or continuous change refers to efforts on the part of an organization to pursue a plan of continuous improvement more or less independent of other challenges that might face the organization during execution. A hospital that decides to fully computerize its medical records, for example, would likely pursue this change to completion, having laid out a plan that anticipates the financial, human resource, and procedural challenges that must be met along the way. Thus, the process is sequential, logical, linear.
In contrast, unplanned or discontinuous change is nonlinear (Christensen, 1997). This change is the result of something sudden and unexpected, such as a new, disruptive technology. The internet represents an example of such a new technology, which changed the way we communicate and do business. As a consequence, newspapers suddenly had to think about how they reported information. Travel agencies were challenged by easier access to airline information. Even computer companies, such as Microsoft, were challenged to re-assess their core products and services. (In Microsoft’s case, re-focusing from operating systems to the internet. Since the notion of linearity is at the core of much of science, this principle often forms the backdrop to theoretical contributions of organizational behavior and management that once were perceived to be random or nonlinear. The progression of research in areas such as conflict management and leadership serves to illustrate the transformation. Early research in leadership and conflict management was characterized as a search for one-size-fits-all models. That is, researchers hoped to find one set of qualities or one style that was best for all situations.
The leadership traits school-of-thought, for example, was interested in identifying that finite set of characteristics that separated successful from unsuccessful leaders. The behavioral school-of-thought, which followed, wanted to identify a set of behaviors that worked best for leaders in all situations, generally believing this to be a dual orientation towards structuring tasks and showing consideration towards followers. Likewise, the conflict management field believed at one point that the ideal conflict style was one that was high in concern for self-interests and high in concern for the other party (i. . , the collaborating approach). Subsequently, these schools-of-thought were supplanted by the situational or contingency school-of-thought. What might have been viewed as random noise in earlier theories of leadership and conflict management became central to more complex theories and models of these phenomena: The appropriate style or approach depends on the situation. That is, there are times for a leader to be task oriented, and there are circumstances when task should be set aside and relational concerns attended to.
Similarly, there may be situations where a competing approach is called for, and other situations where accommodating is a more appropriate response to conflict. Thus, a more complex form of linearity (e. g. , contingency tables, decision trees) emerged. This more complex form of linearity is seen in the Expectancy Theory model of motivation (Porter & Lawler, 1968), the Vroom-Jago model of leadership/decision-making (Vroom & Jago, 1988), the five-stage model of group development (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977), and Greiner’s model of crisis and change in organizational evolution (Greiner, 1972), to name but a few. CONCEPTUAL STATES
As singular principles, the concepts associated with each principle can be viewed in one of three ways: as a dichotomy (binary states), as a continuum, or as a paradox. The first two ways of viewing these concepts can be thought of as linear (logical, sequential), while a paradoxical interpretation is better described as nonlinear. A concept like centralization, for example, can be viewed as a binary state (e. g. , an organization is either centralized or decentralized, as depicted by the pure forms that are illustrated in many management textbooks), or it can be viewed as a state or condition along a continuum (i. . , a degree of organizational centralization, which more accurately represents the structures of real companies). Viewing the four underlying principles as continua makes sense in a number of different contexts. The Vroom-Jago model of leadership/decision-making has, in fact, five decision-making approaches that are possible, representing a continuum from autocratic (highly centralized) to facilitative (highly decentralized). An individual is not simply an Introvert or Extravert, but has some degree of preference along the introversion-extraversion continuum.
The concept of organizational culture also can be viewed as a continuum. Organizational culture refers to the shared beliefs of members of an organization. The more widely shared and deeply held the beliefs, the stronger the culture. Deeply held beliefs that are not widely shared may represent a sub-culture. Thus, we might be better off to talk of the culture of an organization not in absolute terms (e. g. , a clan culture) but in terms of degrees along certain dimensions. (This is true for the four measures of country culture identified by Hofstede, where countries were rated on a continuum along each dimension).
Finally, the concepts associated with a principle can be viewed as paradoxical. A paradox is a self-referential statement or claim that contains an apparent contradiction and appears circular in nature. The declaration “This statement is a lie” is frequently offered as an example. If the statement is a true, then the statement is a lie. But if the statement is a lie, then the statement is not true. However, if the statement is not true, then the statement is not a lie, which takes us back to the original supposition. Life is full of paradoxes.
That is, life is full of situations where neither option can be easily and completely accepted, as the choice of one denies the validity or potential of the other. Nonetheless, we feel compelled to make a selection. Most of us feel, for example, that we must choose between living in the city and living in the country. The former is appealing because of the diversity of people, foods, and activities; the latter brings peace and serenity. To choose one locale is to, in effect, give up the other. With the abortion issue, we are compelled to choose between the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn.
To select one is to deny the other, and vice versa. In terms of our unifying principles, a forced choice might seem warranted in some cases. For example, one must choose between serving self or focusing on others. Organizations must be centralized or decentralized. Tasks must be defined either narrowly or broadly. A process must be linear or nonlinear. However, such a choice denies the value of each concept’s antithesis. Poole and Van de Ven (1989) suggest four ways to rectify the inherent dilemma created by a paradox.
One approach (opposition) is to keep the two opposing concepts separate, and appreciate them for their contrasts. A second approach (spatial separation) is to situate the concepts or principles at different levels or locations in the social world (e. g. , at the micro and macro levels). A third approach is to separate the concepts temporally (temporal separation). That is, one concept or principle applies during period t, the second applies during period t+1. The fourth approach to rectifying a paradox is to find a new perspective that eliminates the contradiction, an approach they call synthesis.
An example of spatial separation occurs in any organization where the levels are alternately decentralized and centralized. An organization that is decentralized by product immediately beneath the president or CEO, for example, might have a production department at a lower level that is centralized by process. Likewise, an organization that is fundamentally centralized might have a research-and-development team that is decentralized. An example of temporal separation would be a problem that initially appears structured or linear but becomes nonlinear.
Problems often appear (or at least are categorized) as structured and become unstructured when immediate solutions become infeasible. Imagine the simple task of replacing a burned-out light bulb. This is a task with which all of us is familiar, and involves simply unscrewing the old light bulb and screwing in a new bulb. This process is clearly linear – predictable, sequential, straightforward – since you have encountered the task before and you know exactly what to do. Now imagine that while attempting to remove the burned-out light bulb you discover that the bulb is stuck, almost frozen in the socket.
On closer examination, you deduce that either the bulb, the socket, or both have become rusted. The light bulb will not come out, and you are not sure what to do. Suddenly a structured problem has become unstructured (nonlinear). According the Smith and Berg (1987), many concepts related to groups and teams can best be understood within the context of paradoxes. They identify, in fact, twelve paradoxes of group life. These include the paradoxes of individuality and identity, which relate to the principle of the individual versus the collective.
For an individual to be effective in a group or team, the individual must give up some of his or her identity to the group. That is, if the individual were to attempt to impose his or her identity on the group, the group would suffer. At the same time, each member must maintain his or her unique identity, for if everyone conformed to the norms or dictates of the group, the group would become homogenous and the diversity necessary for the group to be effective would be lost. Therefore, one must maintain one’s individuality/identity and give it up at the same time.
In organizational design, the matrix organization represents an organizational structure that, rather than choosing between a centralized structure and a decentralized structure, combines the features of both. The classic matrix design is a decentralized structure laid over a centralized structure. In effect, this synthesis requires some members of the organization to report to more than one supervisor or manager. A MULTI-PRINCIPLED APPLICATION While many of the examples cited thus far represent singular applications of a principle, the four principles also can be applied in combination.
As multiple principles, the concepts can be combined to circumscribe a topic of organizational theory and behavior, and to assist in the analysis of an organizational problem or opportunity. To illustrate, consider the case of a public utility (e. g. , a telephone service provider) that had monopolized the market for many years but which is now going to be deregulated by government decree. For such an organization (and many have gone through or are in the process of going through deregulation in countries around the world), this constitutes major change.
How might these four principles – individual-collective, differentiation-integration, centralization-decentralization, and linear-nonlinear – assist in understanding and effecting this transition? From the broadest perspective, this transition might be viewed as a movement from individual (single provider) to collective (multiple providers), from a centralized approach of service delivery to a decentralized approach. As already noted, the latter often encourages creativity and innovation in helping make an industry more responsive and competitive.
This transition might be viewed as essential for telecommunications providers in an burgeoning information age: Governments desire more than linear progress in an era of dramatic (nonlinear) technological discovery and growth. The need for change might best be characterized as an industry or organization falling out of sync with its environment (Duncan, 1979). In other words, there has been a differentiation of the organization from its environment(s) due to new competitors, technologies, consumer demands, etc. hich call for change leading to a re-integration of the organizational and environmental systems. With many utilities, the driving force is usually customer demand for better service at lower cost. One way to understand the government’s decision to call for change is through attribution theory. Attribution theory seeks to explain whether an individual’s (or other entity’s) behavior is due to the individual (internal causation) or to environmental circumstances (external causation).
When someone is late for a meeting, for example, do you attribute his/her tardiness to the individual (self) or to circumstances beyond his/her control, such as traffic (other)? Attribution is determined by assessing three factors: consistency, consensus, and distinctiveness (Kelley, 1973). Consistency asks if the individual’s behavior is reliable (i. e. , the same individual behaving the same way for this task over time). Consensus asks if the behavior is similar for other individuals or entities (i. e. , different individuals behaving in a similar way for the same task).
Distinctiveness asks whether the individual behaves differently in other tasks or situations (i. e. , same individual, different tasks). Thus, these three factors or questions focus on same person (individual) or other people (collective), and on the same task (individual) or other tasks (collective). Consensus and distinctiveness determine perceived causality. If others behaved similarly in this situation (high consensus) and if this individual typically behaves differently in other situations (high distinctiveness), then external causation is inferred.
If the contrary is the case, then internal attribution is the conclusion. Attribution theory can be used to understand how government officials might have come to the conclusion that change was necessary. After receiving concerns and complaints from a number of people, while at the same time recognizing that a single individual with concerns about the utility’s performance was not a habitual complainer or malcontent, officials might conclude that external causes (i. e. , an inefficient, ineffective public utility) and not an individual or individuals expressing concerns were to blame.
Similarly, by noticing that utilities elsewhere, including deregulated utilities, were performing better in terms of customer satisfaction and that this utility was performing poorly in different aspects (e. g. , reliability, cost, consumer satisfaction), the officials might conclude that internal causes (i. e. , this particular utility) and not utilities generally were the source of the problem. In terms of what must be done to implement the proposed change, Kurt Lewin’s (1951) three-stage model of planned change depicts what will need to happen for planning to be successful.
The three stages in this linear process are: unfreezing, moving/changing, and refreezing. The first stage – unfreezing – requires dealing with possible resistance to change, which can come from individuals (personality, habits, fear of the unknown, potential loss of power, etc. ) or the organization itself (design, culture, resource limitations, inter-organizational agreements, etc. ). The former represents individual sources of resistance, while the latter represents collective resistance. Clearly, undertaking a change of this magnitude will require involving key stakeholders from the organization in the process.
Gaining the support of these organizational members will require recognizing the importance of participant knowledge and acceptance, and employing planning/decision-making processes that involve these individuals during all three stages. Both centralized and decentralized communication networks for gathering and disseminating information about the need for change will be required. This will involve centralized communication in some stages (e. g. , in communicating the need for change and what must be done) and decentralized at other stages (e. . , gathering ideas about opportunities that might be available, detecting problems during implementation). Focus groups or cross-functional teams, which represent differentiated interests and perspectives, could be employed. Managing collective resistance will require addressing the existing structure and culture of the organization. Typically, government monopolies function as mechanistic systems or bureaucracies. Mechanistic systems have high differentiation (specialization) and formalization (linearity).
In a more competitive environment, however, the new organization may want to move to a more organic structure, with more generalists (integration) and fewer policies, procedures, and rules (nonlinearity), at least in some departments, to be responsive to a more dynamic and competitive environment. Leadership in such an unfamiliar environment of change would require both the vision that a transformational leader can provide in selling others on the future (decentralization of power and opportunity) and the use of reward systems to reinforce desired behavior throughout planning and implementation (transactional leadership).
While the change effort will require forethought and projection (linearity), within this process some degree of innovation or creativity will be required. This nonlinear or lateral thinking might occur in creating the opportunity or solution initially, or in dealing with the inevitable surprises and problems that arise during implementation of the plan. In the case of a public utility, the nonlinear or creative part of the process might involve thinking of ways the organization must re-invent itself to be more responsive in a competitive market. How will it advertise (which was previously unnecessary)?
What new products or services might be introduced (e. g. , calling plans, airline/frequent flier partnerships, telephones)? In undertaking such dramatic change, leaders will need to establish a mix of nonlinear (nonoperational) and linear (operational) goals. The former would allow the organization to set broad, general direction in an environment that remains somewhat uncertain, capturing the imaginations of stakeholders (e. g. , through goals such as “become the premier telecommunications provider of product and service”), while the latter would allow for specific milestones or targets to ensure timely progress (e. . , through the use of Gantt charts). CONCLUSION There is a tendency in theory and practice to make concepts increasingly complex, in an attempt to capture the intricacies of reality. While models of this type may serve a purpose at some level, managers and other organizational decision-makers often have a difficult time applying these to their actual lives (Morgan, 1986). In negotiating, for example, the number of parties and issues can get so complex that a negotiator will ose sight of simple yet fundamental principles, such as the fact that the other party is negotiating with you because he/she believes you can be helpful (or hurtful) in some way (Volkema, 1999). Nonetheless, theories of organizational behavior and management have continued to increase in number and complexity. For the student of these fields, it can be overwhelming. At the same time, many theories and models seem to be derived from the same basic principles. Is there a finite and manageable set of principles that underlie or connect many of these theories and models?
The purpose of this paper was to argue that there are, and to show how four principles can be used to understand much of organization and management. As the multi-principled application suggests, leaders, managers, and change agents might find these fundamental principles useful in selecting processes when faced with a complex and divisive set of decisions. Does the situation call for more structured thinking (linearity) or an escape from familiar patterns (nonlinearity)? Does the process require more control (centralization) or less top-down management (decentralization)?
Could an advantage be gained by bringing in a specialist (differentiation)? Likewise, students and educators might find these principles useful in helping the former see how ostensibly different theories from distinct topical areas are actually variations of the same fundamental concept. Presented at the beginning of a course on organizational behavior, for example, the principles can provide a backdrop from which seemingly disjoint subject matter can be linked and appreciated, thus providing a thread connecting motivation with decision-making, decision-making with organizational design, etc. without creating the hierarchical demands of the physical sciences. The principles can be re-introduced following each weekly topic as a means of discussing and demonstrating the underlying themes of select theories and models. As with any work of this type, there is always the fear that there are indeed more fundamental principles or archetypes than the number being proffered. This is evident in books and articles about cross-cultural communication, for example, where one author divides the world into four unique regions while the next author sees seven regions. That particular task is made problematic by the fact that there are thousands of cultures in the world, which all authors attempt to characterize as efficiently as possible. ) Or, alternatively, there is the fear that two of the fundamental principles or archetypes are isomorphic. The purpose of this paper, however, is not to answer the efficiency/efficacy question. Rather, it is to suggest that for both practitioner and student, more is less (and less is more). Consequently, scholars and researchers are challenged to look to reduce the panoply of theories and models to their essential core.
In the process, a greater understanding of the foundations of our discipline(s) might be possible, and their application to the challenges of leadership and management. REFERENCES Alderfer, C. P. (1972). Existence, relatedness, and growth: Human needs in organizational settings. New York: Free Press. Christensen, C. M. (1997). The innovator’s dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. Denison, D. R. , Hart, S. L. , & Kahn, J. A. (1996). From chimneys to cross-functional teams: Developing and validating a diagnostic model.
Academy of Management Journal, 39 (4), 1005-1023. Duncan, R. (1979). What is the right organization structure? Decision tree analysis provides the answer. Organizational Dynamics, 60-64. Freud, S. (1965). New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. New York: Norton. Gleick, J. (1987). Chaos: Making a new science. New York: Viking. Greiner, L. E. (1972). Evolution and revolution as organizations grow. Harvard Business Review, 50, 37-46. Hackman, J. R. & Oldham, G. R. (1980). Work redesign. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley. Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K.
H. (1969). Life cycle theory of leadership. Training and Development Journal, 23 (2), 26-34. Hofstede, G. H. (1997). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. New York: McGraw-Hill. Janis, I. L. (1972). Victims of groupthink. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Jung, C. G. (1933). Psychological types. New York: Harcourt. Kelley, H. H. (1973). The processes of causal attribution. American Psychologist, 28, 107-128. Kerr, S. (1977). Substitutes for leadership: Some implications for organizational design. Organization and Administrative Sciences, 8, 135-146.
Kolhberg, L. (1984). The psychology of moral development. San Francisco: Harper & Row. Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper & Row. Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396. McClelland, D. C. (1984). Motives, personality, and society: Selected papers. New York: Praeger. McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise.