Modes of organizational influence

Decisions reached in the higher ranks of the organization hierarchy will have no effect upon the activities of operative employees unless they are communicated downward. Consideration of the process requires an examination of the ways in which the behavior of the operative employee can be influenced. These influences fall roughly into two categories: (1) establishing in the operative employee himself attitudes, habits, and a state of mind which lead him to reach that decision which is advantageous to the organization, and

(2) imposing on the operative employee decisions reached elsewhere in the organization. The first type of influence operates by inculcating in the employee organizational loyalties and a concern with efficiency, and more generally by training him. The second type of influence depends primarily upon authority and upon advisory and informational services. It is not insisted that these categories are either exhaustive or mutually exclusive, but they will serve the purposes of this introductory discussion.

As a matter of fact, the present discussion is somewhat more general than the preceding paragraph suggests, for it is concerned with organizational influences not only upon operative employees but upon all individuals making decisions within the organization.

Authority. The concept of authority has been analyzed at length by students of administration. We shall employ here a definition substantially equivalent to that put forth by C. I. Barnard.’ A subordinate is said to accept authority whenever he permits his behavior to be guided by the decision of a superior, without independently examining the merits of that decision. When exercising authority, the superior does not seek to convince the subordinate, but only to obtain his acquiescence. In actual practice, of course, authority is usually liberally admixed with suggestion and persuasion.

Although it is an important function of authority to permit a decision to be made and carried out even when agreement cannot be reached, perhaps this arbitrary aspect of authority has been overemphasized. In any event, if it is attempted to carry authority beyond a certain point, which may be described as the subordinate’s “zone of acceptance,” disobedience will follow.8 The magnitude of the zone of acceptance depends upon the sanctions which authority has available to enforce its commands. The term “sanctions” must be interpreted broadly in this connection, for positive and neutral stimuli—such as community of purpose, habit, and leadership—are at least as important in securing acceptance of authority as the threat of physical or economic punishment.

It follows that authority, in the sense here defined, can operate “upward” and “sidewise” as well as “downward” in the organization. If an executive delegates to his secretary a decision about file cabinets and accepts her recommendation without reexamination of its merits, he is accepting her authority. The “lines of authority” represented on organization charts do have a special significance, however, for they are commonly resorted to in order to terminate debate when it proves impossible to reach a consensus on a particular decision. Since this appellate use of authority generally requires sanctions to be effective, the structure of formal authority in an organization usually is related to the appointment, disciplining, and dismissal of personnel. These formal lines of authority are commonly supplemented by informal authority relations in the day- to-day work of the organization, while the formal hierarchy is largely reserved for the settlement of disputes.

Organizational Loyalties. It is a prevalent characteristic of human behavior that members of an organized group tend to identify with that group. In making decisions their organizational loyalty leads them to evaluate alter- native courses of action in terms of the consequences of their action for the group. When a person prefers a particular course of action because it is “good for America,” he identifies himself with Americans; when he prefers it because it will “boost business in Berkeley,” he identifies himself with Berkeleyans. National and class loyalties are examples of identifications which are of fundamental importance in the stmcture of modem society.

The loyalties that are of particular interest in the study of administration are those which attach to administrative organizations or segments of such organizations. The regimental battle flag is the traditional symbol of this identification in military administration; in civil administration, a frequently encountered evidence of loyalty is the cry, “Our Bureau needs more funds!”

This phenomenon of identification, or organizational loyalty, performs one very important function in administration. If an administrator, each time he is faced with a decision, must perforce evaluate that decision in terms of the whole range of human values, rationality in administration is impossible. If he need consider the decision only in the light of limited organizational aims, his task is more nearly within the range of human powers. The fireman can concentrate on the problem of f ires, the health officer on problems of disease, without irrelevant considerations entering in.

Furthermore, this concentration on a limited range of values is almost essential if the administrator is to be held accountable for his decisions. When the organization’s objectives are specified by some higher authority, the major value-premise of the administrator’s decisions is thereby given him, leaving to him only the implementation of these objectives. If the fire chief were permitted to roam over the whole field of human values—to decide that parks were more important than f ire trucks, and consequently to remake his fire department into a recreation department—chaos would displace organization, and responsibility would disappear.

Organizational loyalties lead also, however, to certain difficulties which should not be underestimated. The principal undesirable effect of identification is that it prevents the institutionalized individual from making correct decisions in cases where the restricted area of values with which he identifies himself must be weighed against other values outside that area. This is a principal cause of the interbureau competition and wrangling which characterize any large administrative organization. The organization members, identifying themselves with the bureau instead of with the over-all organization, believe the bureau’s welfare more important than the general welfare when the two conflict. This problem is frequently evident in the case of “housekeeping” agencies, where the facili- tative and auxiliary nature of the agency is lost sight of in the effort to force the line agencies to follow standard procedures.

department against the financial needs of other departments—whence the need for a centrally located budget agency that is free from these psychological biases. The higher we go in the administrative hierarchy, and the broader becomes the range of social values that must come within the administrator’s purview, the more harmful is the effect of valuational bias, and the more important is it that the administrator be freed from his narrower identifications.

The Criterion of Efficiency. We have seen that the exercise of authority and the development of organizational loyalties are two principal means whereby the individual’s value-premises are influenced by the organization. What about the issues of fact that underlie his decisions? These are largely determined by a principle that is implied in all rational behavior: the criterion of efficiency. In its broadest sense, to be efficient simply means to take the shortest path, the cheapest means, toward the attainment of the desired goals. The efficiency criterion is completely neutral as to what goals are to be attained. The commandment, “Be efficient!” is a major organizational influence over the decisions of the members of any administrative agency; and a determination whether this commandment has been obeyed is a maj or function of the review process.

Advice and Information. Many of the influences the organization exercises over its members are of a less formal nature than those we have been dis- cussing. These influences are perhaps most realistically viewed as a form of internal public relations, for there is nothing to guarantee that advice produced at one point in an organization will have any effect at another point in the organization unless the lines of communication are adequate to its transmission, and unless it is transmitted in such form as to be persuasive. It is a prevalent misconception in headquarters offices that the internal advisory function consists in preparing precisely worded explanatory bulletins and making certain that the proper number of these are prepared, and that they are placed in the proper compartment of the “router.” No plague has produced a rate of mortality higher than the rate that customarily afflicts central-office communications between the time they leave the issuing office and the moment when they are assumed to be effected in the revised practice of the operative employees.

Information and advice flow in all directions through the organization—not merely from the top downward. Many of the facts that are rel-evant to decision are of a rapidly changing nature, ascertainable only at the moment of decision, and often ascertainable only by operative employees. For instance, in military operations knowledge of the disposition of the enemy’s forces is of crucial importance, and military organization has developed elaborate procedures for transmitting to a person who is to make a decision all relevant facts that he is not in a position to ascertain personally.

Training. Like organizational loyalties and the efficiency criterion, and unlike the other modes of influence we have been discussing, training influences decisions “from the inside out.” That is, training prepares the organization member to reach satisfactory decisions himself, without the need for the constant exercise of authority or advice. In this sense, training procedures are alternatives to the exercise of authority or advice as means of control over the subordinate’s decisions.

Training may be of an in-service or a pre-service nature. When persons with particular educational qualifications are recmited for certain jobs, the organization is depending upon this pre-training as a principal means of assuring correct decisions in their work. The mutual relation between training and the range of discretion that may be permitted an employee is an important factor to be taken into consideration in designing the administrative organization. That is, it may often be possible to minimize, or even dispense with, certain review processes by giving the subordinates training that enables them to perform their work with less supervision. Similarly, in drafting the qualifications required of applicants for particular positions, the possibility should be considered of lowering personnel costs by drafting semi-skilled employees and training them for particular jobs.

Training is applicable to the process of decision whenever the same elements are involved in a large number of decisions. Training may supply the trainee with the facts necessary in dealing with these decisions; it may provide him a frame of reference for his thinking; it may teach him “approved” solutions; or it may indoctrinate him with the values in terms of which his decisions are to be made.

Source: Simon Herbert A. (1997), Administrative Behavior, Free Press; Subsequent edition.

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