Modifying identifications through organization

It would seem that a major problem in effective organization is to specialize and subdivide activities in such a manner that the psychological forces of identification will contribute to, rather than hinder, correct decision-making.

1. Modes of Specialization

The way in which activities are subdivided in the organization will have a major influence on identification. The administrative segregation of a function will be satisfactory to the extent that (1) the activities involved in the performance of the function are independent of the other activities in the organization, (2) indirect effects of the activity, not measurable in terms of the functional objective, are absent, and (3) it is possible to set up lines of communication which will bring to the unit responsible for the performance of the function the knowledge necessary for its successful execution.

All three of these are technical and factual questions. This means that any attempt to devise an administrative organization for carrying on a service by means of an armchair analysis of the agency’s function into its component parts is inherently sterile. Yet a large part of the administrative research, so called, which has been carried on in the last generation is exactly of this nature.

2. Allocation of the Decision-Making Function

To the extent that identifications modify decisions, the effective allocation of decision-making functions must take these identifications into consideration.

If any basic principle governs this allocation, it is that each decision should be located at a point where it will be of necessity approached as a question of efficiency rather than a question of adequacy. That is, it is unsound to entrust to the administrator responsible for a function the responsibility for weighing the importance of that function against the importance of other functions. The only person who can approach com-petently the task of weighing their relative importance is one who is responsible for both or neither.

This presupposes, however, that persons will identify themselves with their organizational units. While we have indicated that there are a number of factors making for such identification, it should not be supposed that it is ever complete or consistent. The administrator who is faced with a choice between social and organizational values usually feels a twinge of conscience, stronger or weaker, when he puts organizational objectives before broader social ones. There is no inevitability in any particular identification.

It might be hoped, then, that it would be feasible to broaden, to some degree, the area of identification which governs the administrator’s decisions. Steps might be taken to transfer allegiance from the smaller to the larger organizational units, and from the narrower to the broader objectives. To the extent that this is achieved, the precise location of decision-making functions is of less importance.

Lord Haldane’s Committee deplored what they called the traditional attitude of antagonism between the Treasury and the other departments.

I do not know myself that I have been particularly conscious of it, but there is no doubt that in many departments there are individuals who seem to believe in the Russian proverb, “Whose bread I eat his songs I sing,” and who think it is incumbent upon them as members of a particular department to show what they conceive to be their loyalty to that department by supporting it, right or wrong. Such a view I believe to be a thoroughly mistaken one. The loyalty of every citizen in the State is to the country at large. It is the countty’s bread that he eats, not the bread of the Ministry of Health or the Department of Agriculture, or the Exchequer and Audit Department. If he finds something which he thinks it is in the interest of the country to point out, he ought not to be deterred from doing his plain duty by the feeling that he might be disliked in his own department or might prejudice his personal advancement. That, of course, is still more true when you take departments collectively, and when you get one department very jealous of another department, very angry if there is any poaching on its preserves, upon which follow barren interminable interdepartmental correspondence.92

Here, clearly, is the end to be aimed at; but it will take more than hope and preaching to reach it. If personal motives, private-business atti-tudes, and limitations of the span of attention are the factors making for narrow organizational identifications, then any attempt to weaken such identifications, or to transfer them, must modify these same factors. Loyalty to the larger group will result when loyalty to that group is rewarded even in conflict with loyalty to the smaller group. Loyalty to the larger group will result when the distinction is clearly understood between the private- economy and public-economy modes of thought. Loyalty to the larger group will result when administrative situations are understood in terms of efficiency rather than adequacy.

3. Psychological Types in Decision

These considerations suggest that a very fundamental classification of administrative types might be developed in terms of the variant thought- processes underlying decision. The development of this theme would carry us too far afield from our main topic, but a few remarks may serve by way of illustration.

Observation indicates that, as the higher levels are approached in administrative organizations, the administrator’s “internal” task (his relations with the organization subordinate to him) decreases in importance relative to his “external” task (his relations with persons outside the organization). An ever larger part of his work may be subsumed under the heads of “public relations” and “promotion.” The habits of mind characteristic of the administrative roles at the lower and higher levels of an organization undoubtedly show differences corresponding to these differences in function.

At the lower levels of the hierarchy, the frame of reference within which decision is to take place is largely given. The factors to be evaluated have already been enumerated, and all that remains is to determine their values under the given circumstances. At the higher levels of the hierarchy, the task is an artistic and an inventive one. New values must be sought out and weighed; the possibilities of new administrative structures evaluated. The very framework of reference within which decision is to take place must be constructed.

It is at these higher levels that organizational identifications may have their most serious consequences. At the lower level, the identification is instrumental in bringing broad considerations to bear on individual situations. It assures that decisions will be made responsibly and impersonally.

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

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