Monday, August 20, 2007

Influencing Organizational Events

Influencing Organizational Events

It’s nice to understand and predict organizational events, but most of us want to influence the environment in which we live. Whether you are a marketing specialist or a computer programmer, you need to know how to communicate effectively with others, manage conflict, make better decisions, build commitment to your ideas, help work teams operate more effectively, and so on. OB knowledge will help you influence organizational events. Most organizational behavior scholars take this prescriptive view by concluding their systematic research with specific recommendations for organizational action.

This articles takes the view that organizational behavior knowledge is for everyone – not just managers. Indeed, as organizations reduce layers of management and delegate more responsibilities to the rest of the employees, the concepts described in this articles will become increasingly important for anyone who works in and around organizations. We all need to understand organizational behavior and to master the practices that influence organizational events. That’s why you won’t find very much emphasis here on “management”. Yes, organizations will continue to have managers (“adult supervision,” as young employees cynically call them), but their roles have changed. More important, many employees are now expected to manage themselves. As one forward-thinking organizational behavior scholar wrote many years ago: Everyone is a manager.

Satisfying the Need to Understand and Predict

Satisfying the Need to Understand and Predict

All of us have an inherent need to know about the world in which we live. This is particularly true in organizations because of their profound effect on our lives. We feel more comfortable when we can understand why organizational events occur and accurately anticipate future events. The field of organizational behavior uses systematic study to help us understand and predict organizational life. OB’s crystal ball isn’t perfectly clear because human behavior is influenced by a complex combination of factors. Nevertheless, OB helps us make sense of the workplace and, to some extent, predict what people will do under various conditions.

The OB knowledge presented in this book also gives you the opportunity to question and rebuild your personal theories that have developed through observation and experience. For example, what theories do you hold about effective leadership? Look at “It All Makes Sense,” the Self-Assessment Exercise at the end of this chapter. How many of these theoretical statements are true? Even if you answer most of them correctly, the information you will read in this book can further develop and crystallize your personal beliefs so that they more accurately model and predict organizational behavior.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Why Study Organizational Behavior?

Aside from diploma or degree requirements, why should you or anyone else study OB? After all, who ever heard of a career path leading to a vice president of OB or a chief OB officer?

The main reasons for studying organizational behavior is that most of us work in organizations, so we need to understand, predict, and influence the behaviors of others in organizational settings (see Exhibit 1.1). marketing students learn marketing concepts, and computer science students learn about circuitry and software code. But all of us need organizational behavior knowledge to address the people issues when trying to apply marketing, computer science, and other ideas.

What Are Organizations?

Organizations have existed for as long as people have worked together. Archaeologists have discovered massive temple dating back to 3500 B.C. that were constructed through the organized actions of many people. The fact that these impressive monuments were built suggests not only that complex organizations existed, but that the people in them cooperated reasonably well. We have equally impressive examples of contemporary organizations, such as the Sydney Olympics, Hong Kong’s new island airport at Chek Lap Kok, and the people who coordinate that complex network of computer connections called the Internet.

“[A] company is one of humanity’s most amazing inventions,” says Steven Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios. “It’s totally abstract. Sure, you have to build something with bricks and mortar to put the people in, but basically a company is this abstract construct we’ve invented, and it’s incredibly powerful.

So, what are these powerful constructs that we call organizations. They are groups of people who work interdependently toward some purpose. Organizations are not buildings or other physical structures. Rather, they consist of people who interact with each other to achieve a sets of goals. Employees have structured patterns of interaction, meaning that they expect each other to complete certain tasks in a coordinated way – in an organized way.

Organizations have a purpose, whether it’s hosting the world’s greatest athletes or selling books on the Internet. Some organizational behavior scholars are skeptical about the relevance of goals in a definition of organizations. They argue that an organization’s mission statement may be different from its true goals. Also, they question the assumption that all organizational members believe in the same goals. These points may be true, but imagine an organization without goals: It would consist of a mass of people wandering around aimlessly without any sense of direction. Overall, organizations likely have a collective sense of purpose, even though it is not fully understood or agreed upon.


Organizational behavior (OB) is the study of what people think, feel, and do in and around organizations. OB scholars systematically study individual, team, and structural characteristics that influence behavior within organizations. By saying that organizational behavior is a field of study, we mean that scholars have been accumulating a distinct knowledge about behavior within organizations – a knowledge base that is the foundation of this book.

By most estimates, OB emerged as a distinct field around the 1940s. however, its origins can be traced much further back in time. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the essence of leadership. Aristotle, another respected philosopher, addressed the topic of persuasive communication. The writings of sixteenth-century Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli laid the foundation for contemporary work on organizational power and politics. In 1776, Adam Smith advocated a new form of organizational structure based on the division of labor. One hundred years later, German sociologist Max Weber wrote about rational organizations and initiated discussion of charismatic leadership. Soon after, Frederick Winslow Taylor introduced the systematic use of goal setting and rewards to motivate employees. In the 1920s, Elton Mayo and his colleagues conducted productivity studies at Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant. They reported that an informal organization – employees casually interacting with others – operates alongside the formal organization. OB has been around for a long time; it just wasn’t organized into a unified discipline until after World War II.