Organizational identification

To designate the phenomenon we are discussing, we may introduce the term “identification” which has already had some currency in political theory. “Identification” is used in psychoanalytic literature to denote a particular kind of emotional tie. Freud describes the nature of the tie thus:

It is easy to state in a formula the distinction between an identification with the father and the choice of the father as an object. In the first case one’s father is what one would like to be, and in the second he is what one would like to have. The distinction, that is, depends upon whether the tie attaches to the subject or to the object of the ego.83

Freud hypothesized, further, that identification is a fundamental mechanism in group cohesion:

We already begin to divine that the mutual tie between members of a group is in the nature of an identifi cation of this kind, based upon an important emotional common quality; and we may suspect that this common quality lies in the nature of the tie with the leader.8

Lasswell, presumably adopting the term from Freud, devotes an entire chapter9 to “Nations and Classes: The Symbols of Identification.” Nowhere, however, does he define the term, other than to speak of “identifying symbols like ‘nation,’ ‘state,’ ‘class,’ ‘race,’ ‘church,’ ” and to define a “sentiment area” as “the locus of those who are mutually identified.” Further, he nowhere asserts that the underlying psychological mechanism is identical with the Freudian concept of identification.

1. Meaning of Identification

To make explicit the definition of the concept which Lasswell names, we will say that a person identifies himself with a group when, in making a decision, he evaluates the several alternatives of choice in terms of their consequences for the specified group. We shall not assume that the mechanism underlying this phenomenon is the Freudian one. In fact, in this case as in many others, the Freudian hypothesis appears to be a greatly oversimplified one.

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. A person is said to act from “personal” motives when his evaluation is based upon an identification with himself or with his family.

The group with which a person identifies himself can be characterized by the geographical area which it inhabits, its economic or social status in the society, and any number of other criteria. The “nation” is an example of geographical identification; the “proletariat” and “women” are examples of economic and social identification symbols. Examples of identifications which are important to our political institutions may be found in the literature on legislative processes and pressure groups.84

The identification of the individual may be either with the organization objective or with the conservation of the organization. For example, a person making a decision can identify himself with the function or objective of education—he can evaluate all alternatives in terms of their effect upon education. On the other hand, he may identify himself with a particular educational organization—he may resist the transfer of certain recreational functions from a school department to a park department—and seek the conservation and growth of that organization. As pointed out in Chapter VI, two types of organizational loyalty must be distinguished, corresponding to these two kinds of identification.

These identifications with group or with function are such an all- pervasive phenomenon that one cannot participate for fifteen minutes in political or administrative affairs, or read five pages in an administrative report, without meeting examples of them.

Newspapers carry frequent illustrations of such identifications. Following is a brief news item about the California highway system:

California can hardly think of spending $150,000,000 to bring its highways up to military standards when the network of rural roads is seriously in need of reconstruction, State Highway Engineer Charles H. Purcell said today.

Purcell told a legislative interim committee the chief concern of the State Division of Highways was how to obtain the $442,500,000 required to make the rural roads adequate to carry normal civilian traffic in the next ten years.

If the War Department wants some 5,887 miles of California’s strategic highways improved to its standards, the State engineer declared, it was the “primary responsibility” of the Federal Government to advance the money. The same highways system, he added, is considered adequate for civil use.”

The Highway Engineer apparently conceives it to be his function to choose between competing possibilities for highway construction in terms of the value of “civilian need” rather than the value of “military need” or some composite of both values. He further implies in his statement that, when funds are spent through a state agency, values to the state are to be given a weight in the decisions for allocating these hands, while values which may diffuse across state boundaries are not to be con- sidered. Neither criticism of, nor agreement with, this position is intended here. The points to be noted are that the Engineer’s judgments are consequences of his organizational identifications, and that his conclusions can be reached only if these identifications be assumed.

The hearings before the House Committee on Appropriations of the United States Congress are a fertile source of illustrations of the phenomenon of identification. The following example will suffice:

MR. OLIVER: That, of course, is all worth-while service, but how do you feel you are accomplishing practical, concrete results from the studies and surveys you are making in the different directions referred to?

Miss ANDERSON: Well, that is very difficult to say, because it is intangible in a way.

MR. OLIVER: In other words, it is information which, of course, either the States or some organizations in the States should take up, and acting on the suggestions you make, provide some remedy or relief?

MISS ANDERSON: Yes. For instance, take the State of Connecticut. There has been a great deal of information given to the State of Connecticut, and I have no doubt that the information that we gave them on these conditions, and what they have followed up themselves since, will manifest itself in certain legislation in the next session of their legislature.

MR. OLIVER: Now, why should not the States undertake to collect that information? Why should they be expected to send to Washington, many, many miles away, and call on the Federal Government to collect information which is much more readily available to them and to their own officials?

Miss ANDERSON: The Labor Department in only one or two States in the country are able to collect that material themselves. They have not set up that kind of investigational organization.

MR. OLI\TJR: IS not this true: So long as the Federal Government willingly responds to requests of that character—and it appears from your statement that each year you are being called on to become active in a new field—just so long as ready response is made to requests, the States will decline to do that which primarily should devolve upon them?

A little later in the dialogue the Congressman adds:

MR. OLIVER: How long, in times like these, should we continue to render a service of that character for the States which all seem to concede is primarily a duty devolving on the State?12

It is clear that although the Congressman states his first argument in terms of efficiency, the real issue in his mind is an organizational one. An activity which might be of legitimate value if pursued by a State is to be valued less highly if pursued by a Federal agency because it “is primarily a duty devolving on the State.” We will forgive the Congressman the supreme illogic of his qualifying phrase “in times like these.” It is significant, however, that his illogic, quite as much as his logic, stems from an organizational identification.

2. The Psychology of Identification

No single or simple mechanism is likely to explain realistically the phenome- non of identification. Some of the contributory factors may be enumerated:

  1. Personal Interest in Organizational Success. The decision which is made in terms of organizational values is, to that extent, impersonal; but attachment to the organization derives from personal motives. The individual is willing to make impersonal organizational decisions because a variety of factors, or incentives, tie him to the organization—his salary, prestige, friendship, and many others.

Many of these personal values are dependent not only on his connection with the organization, but also on the growth, the prestige, or the success of the organization itself. His salary and his power are both related to the size of the unit that he administers. Growth of the organization offers to him and to his employees salary increases, advancement, and opportunity to exercise responsibility. A large budget will enable him to undertake activities and services which will excite the interest and admiration of his professional peers in other organizations. Consequently, these motives lead to an identification with conservation goals.

Conversely, failure of the organization, or curtailment of its budget, may mean salary reduction, loss of power, or even unemployment to the administrator. At the very least it forces on him the unpleasant duty of dismissing personnel and seriously impairs the incentive of possible advancement f or his subordinates.

  1. Transfer of Private-Management Psychology. The private segment of our economy operates on the assumption that management will make its decisions in terms of profit to the individual business establishment. Again, this motive would lead primarily to identification with conservation rather than with particular organization objectives. These same attitudes may be present in persons who, while they never have had administrative responsibility in the private segment of the economy, have absorbed these notions from a predominantly private-economy cultural environment.85

It would be an interesting subject of research to determine the extent to which private-management attitudes persist in a communistic economy like that of Soviet Russia. It would be extremely difficult, however, to separate this factor from the elements of personal motivation which would continue to bind the individual to the organization even in a nationalized economy.

The illustration drawn from the administration of public welfare in the state of California86 is a good example of the consequences which flow from a “private” conception of organizational efficiency. So zealous were the state and county agencies, respectively, in rejecting clients who were the “responsibility” of the other that it proved politically impossible in most counties of the state to set up an impartial medical board to pass on the employability of doubtful cases.

  1. Focus of Attention. A third element in the process of identification is the focusing of the administrator’s attention upon those values and those groups which are most immediately affected by the administrative When an administrator is entrusted with the task of educating Berkeley’s children, he is likely to be more clearly aware of the effect of any particular proposal upon their learning, than of its possible indirect effects upon their health— and vice versa. He identifies himself, then, with the organization objective.

It is clear that attention may narrow the range of vision by selecting particular values, particular items of empirical knowledge, and particular behavior alternatives f or consideration, to the exclusion of other values, other knowledge, and other possibilities. Identification, then, has a firm basis in the limitations of human psychology in coping with the problem of rational choice.

From this point of view, identification is an important mechanism for constructing the environment of decision. When identification is faulty, the resulting discrepancies between social and organizational values result in a loss of social efficiency. When the organizational structure is well conceived, on the other hand, the process of identification permits the broad organizational arrangements to govern the decisions of the persons who participate in the structure. Thereby, it permits human rationality to tran- scend the limitations imposed upon it by the narrow span of attention.87

An example of the manner in which the focus of attention of participants in an administrative structure is determined by their position in the structure came to the author’s attention while he was making a study of the administration of recreation activities in Milwaukee. The playgrounds in that city had been constructed by the Playground Division of the Department of Public Works, but activities on the grounds were supervised by the Extension Department of the School Board. Maintenance of the grounds had also been turned over to the latter agency, and there was some belief that maintenance was inadequate.

It is understandable that the Extension Department, suddenly confronted with vast new financial obligations by the expansion of physical facilities, should attempt to minimize cost of maintenance so as not to divert funds from supervisory activities. The fact that the early construction work was highly experimental has resulted in maintenance costs beyond original expectations. It is likewise understandable that the Playground Division, whose work has been the construction of physical facilities, should consider it a false economy to inadequately provide for the maintenance of those facilities.

There has been a difference in emphasis, for example, as to the place of landscaping in the playground design. The Playground Division has stressed the importance of proper landscaping in affecting public attitudes toward playgrounds. It has insisted that the playground should be an asset to the appearance of the neighborhood.

The Extension Department spent the first ten years of its existence working with the meagerest physical facilities. The playgrounds were for the most part hot and dusty with no thought of landscaping. From those ten years of experience the Department learned that the success of a playground depends primarily upon leadership rather than upon physical plant.

Each department understands fully that both objectives are desirable, and to a certain extent necessary, in the administration of a successful program. The question is not “which” but “how much,” and since it is the Extension Department which has charge of the funds maintenance activities have suffered to a certain degree.16

3. Identification and Adequacy

One of the most common consequences of functional identification is a failure to balance costs against values in making administrative decisions. The accomplishment by an administrative program of its organizational goals can be measured in terms of adequacy ( the degree to which its goals have been reached) or of efficiency (the degree to which the goals have been reached relative to the available resources). To use a very crude example, the adequacy of the recent war production program would be measured in terms of the size and equipment of the armed force put into the field; its efficiency in terms of a comparison of the production actually attained with what could have been attained with a best use of national resources. American war production turned out to be of a high degree of adequacy; whether it was efficient is quite another question.

The tendency of an administrator who identifies himself with a par- ticular goal is to measure his organization in terms of adequacy rather than efficiency.88 It is not always recognized by these specialists that there is absolutely no scientific basis for the construction of so-called “standards of desirable service” or “standards of minimum adequate service” for a particular function, until it is known what this service will cost, what resources are available for financing it, and what curtailment in other services or in private expenditures would be required by an increase in that particular service.

What annual report is ever published which does not include some such recommendation as the following:

The chief and very urgent recommendation at the close of this fiscal year is for an increase in staff. This is especially necessary in the Minimum Wage Division, the work of which has increased enormously since the Supreme Court decision validated minimum-wage legislation. Many States still in the early stages of wage-law administration are looking to the Women’s Bureau for help in organization, in securing the necessary wage and hour data, and in the all-important work of bringing unif ormity into the setting of rates and the practice of enf orcement. Frequent visits to the States, and meetings in Washington of State officials, are necessary. The staff of this Division must be increased, as it is not able to meet all the demands upon it.

That is the universal administrative plaint. “The budget is inadequate.” Now, between the white of adequacy and the black of inadequacy lie all the shades of gray which represent degrees of adequacy. Further, human wants are insatiable in relation to human resources. From these two facts we may conclude that the fundamental criterion of administrative decision must be a criterion of efficiency rather than a criterion of adequacy. The task of the administrator is to maximize social values relative to limited resources.19

If, then, the process of identification leads the administrator to give undue weight to the particular social values with which he is concerned, he is in no position, psychologically speaking, to make a satisfactory decision as to the amount of money which should be allocated to his function, or as to the relative merits of his claims upon public funds, as compared with the claims of competing units.91

Budgetary procedures are the most important means of translating questions of adequacy into questions of efficiency. The budget, first of all, forces a simultaneous consideration of all the competing claims for support. Second, the budget transports upward in the administrative hierarchy the decisions as to fund allocation to a point where competing values must be weighed, and where functional identifications will not lead to a f aulty weighting of values.

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

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