Organization and personality

In recent years, organizations have not had a good press. Large organizations, especially large corporations and Big Government, have been blamed for all manner of social ills, including widespread “alienation” of both workers and executives from their work and from society, with resulting “bureaucracy” and organizational inefficiency. As we shall see later, the empirical evidence that alienation or inefficiency are more widespread than they have been in previous ages and in other societies is nonexistent, as is any evidence that alienation is to be attributed to organizations. However, this kind of criticism has one merit: It takes organizations seriously and recognizes that they do influence the behavior of the people who inhabit them.

A rather different skeptical view of organizations, often expressed by managers, is that it is the person who matters, not the organization. I am sure you have heard it many times: “I used to think that organization was important, but now I think it is much more a matter of personality. The important thing is the person in the office. Someone who has drive, ability, imagination can work in almost any organization.” To be sure, “per-tant for organizational performance does not imply that organizational characteristics are unimportant. The complex world of human affairs does not operate in such simpleminded single-variable ways.

Moreover, personality is not formed in a vacuum. One’s language is not independent of the language of one’s parents, nor are one’s attitudes divorced from those of associates and teachers. One does not live for months or years in a particular position in an organization, exposed to some streams of communication, shielded from others, without the most profound effects upon what one knows, believes, attends to, hopes, wishes, emphasizes, fears, and proposes.

If organization is inessential, if all we need is the person, why do we insist on creating a position for the person? Why not let all create their own positions, appropriate to their personal abilities and qualities? Why does the boss have to be called the boss before his or her creative energies can be amplified by the organization? And finally, if we have to give managers some measure of authority before their personal qualities can be transformed into effective influence, in what ways may this effectiveness depend on the manner in which others are organized?

The answer is simple. Organization is important, first, because it provides the environments that mold and develop personal qualities and habits (see especially Chapters V and X). Organization is important, second, because it provides those in responsible positions with the means for exercising authority and influence over others (see especially Chapter VII). Organization is important, third, because, by structuring communications, it determines the environments of information in which decisions are taken (see especially Chapter VIII). We cannot understand either the “inputs” or the “outputs” of executives without understanding the organizations in which they work. Their behavior and its effects on others are functions of their organizational situations.

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

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