Rationality in Administrative Behavior: Means and ends

Fact and value, as already noted in Chapter III, are related to means and ends. In the process of decision those alternatives are chosen which are considered to be appropriate means for reaching desired ends. Ends themselves, however, are often merely instrumental to more final objectives. We are thus led to the conception of a series, or hierarchy, of ends. Rationality has to do with the constmction of means-ends chains of this kind.32

1. The Hierarchy of Ends

Even at the physiological level means-end relationships serve to integrate behavior. At this level muscular tensions are coordinated for (as a means of) the performance of simple physiological acts—walking, reaching and grasping an object, turning the eyes toward an object. In the adult, these simple movements are largely unconscious and automatic; but the child must with great difficulty learn them, and this learning, although not at a reflective level, is not at all unlike the learning of an adult in a means-end situation.

But the taking of a step, the grasping of an object, is usually itself a means to a broader end. The clearest way to determine which ends are sought for their own sake, and which for their usefulness as means to more distant ends, is to place the subject in situations where he must choose between conflicting ends.

The fact that goals may be dependent for their force on other more distant ends leads to the arrangement of these goals in a hierarchy-—each level to be considered as an end relative to the levels below it and as a means relative to the levels above it. Through the hierarchical structure of ends, behavior attains integration and consistency, for each member of a set of behavior alternatives is then weighed in terms of a comprehensive scale of values—the “ultimate” ends. In actual behavior, a high degree of conscious integration is seldom attained. Instead of a single branching hierarchy, the structure of conscious motives is usually a tangled web or, more precisely, a disconnected collection of elements only weakly and incompletely tied together; and the integration of these elements becomes progressively weaker as the higher levels of the hierarchy—the more final ends—are reached.

The hierarchy of means and ends is as characteristic of the behavior of organization as it is of individuals. As a matter of fact, the mode of specialization which in Chapter II was called “organization by purpose” is nothing other than the arrangement of the organization structure to parallel the system of means and ends involved in the accomplishment of its purposes. Thus, the fire department has as its purpose the reduction of fire losses; but the means to the attainment of this end are the prevention of fires and the extinguishment of fires. These two principal means are often represented in the organization structure by a fire prevention bureau and the fire fighting forces, respectively. Since the latter must, in order to accomplish their purpose, be dispersed over the city, we find at the next level organization units specialized by area.

It is also as true of organizational as of individual behavior that the means-end hierarchy is seldom an integrated, completely connected chain. Often the connections between organization activities and ultimate objectives is obscure, or these ultimate objectives are incompletely formulated, or there are internal conflicts and contradictions among the ultimate objectives, or among the means selected to attain them. Thus, decisionmaking in the Work Projects Administration was complicated by the competing claims of “pump- priming” and immediate relief to the unemployed as agency objectives. In War Production Board decision-making, it was necessary to balance war needs against civilian requirements.

Sometimes the lack of integration in an organization’s means-end hierarchy is due to refusal of the policy-making body to decide a “hot” issue of policy—Congress’s refusal, for example, to determine for Selective Service the relative weight to be given to family status and occupation in deferments from military service. Sometimes the means-end connections themselves are obscure. For example, to say that it is the dispute and inconsistency as to the proper strategies for achieving this end. (The controversy in this country between the “Germany first” and “Japan first” factions comes to mind in this connection.)

Both organizations and individuals, then, fail to attain a complete integration of their behavior through consideration of these means-end relationships. Nevertheless, what remains of rationality in their behavior is precisely the incomplete, and sometimes inconsistent, hierarchy that has just been described.

2. Limitations of the Means-End Schema

This analysis of rational behavior in terms of a means-end hierarchy may lead to inaccurate conclusions unless certain cautions are observed.

First, the ends to be attained by the choice of a particular behavior alternative are often incompletely or incorrectly stated through failure to consider the alternative ends that could be reached by selection of another behavior. It is not enough, in selecting a cantilever design for a bridge across a particular river, to know that this design will serve the purpose of bridging the river. The wisdom of the choice depends on whether the cantilever design will bridge the river more effectively and more economically than a suspension bridge, or a viaduct, or some other design. Rational decision- making always requires the comparison of alternative means in terms of the respective ends to which they will lead. As will be seen in Chapter Vlll, below, this means that “efficiency”—the attainment of maximum values with limited means—must be a guiding criterion in administrative decision.

Second, in actual situations a complete separation of means from ends is usually impossible, for the alternative means are not usually valu- ationally neutral. It is from this difficulty that so many futile arguments arise as to whether “the ends justify the means.” In the case of the Prohibition Amendment, for example, the means employed involved so many value questions—questions of personal liberty, proper police methods, etc.—that these soon overshadowed in importance the “ultimate” objective of temperance. Hence it was fallacious to talk of prohibition as merely a means to the highly desirable end of temperance. The particular means used to attain this particular end had many consequences other than the specific end being sought, and these other unsought ends had to be given their proper weight in considering the desirability of the means.

Third, the means-end terminology tends to obscure the role of the time element in decision-making. If an end is some condition or state to

states over a period of time, and choice is influenced not only by particular ends but also by expectations of what ends may be realized at different times. Choice imposes two problems: (1) If a particular end is to be realized at a given time, what alternative ends must be relinquished for that time? (2) If a particular end is to be realized at a given time, how does this limit the ends that may be realized at other times? When Louis XV said, “Après nous le déluge,” he was expressing the factual judgment that achievement of his particular short-run ends entailed some unfortunate long-run consequences; and he was also expressing a value-j udgment— one of indifference for long- term consequences. Economists would say that he discounted time heavily.

The time element enters into decision-making in still another way. Some decisions are irrevocable in the sense that they create a new situation which, in turn, influences the decisions that follow them. In economic situations this is illustrated by the existence of fixed costs. If a manufacturer is deciding whether he will build a factory to make shoes, his problem is to determine whether the revenue he will get by selling the shoes will reimburse him for his expenditure. But, if he already has a shoe factory, the cost of this factory is a “sunk” cost that cannot be recovered; and he will continue to make shoes, even at an over-all loss, provided his revenues cover any new and additional costs that he must incur to make them. The decision to build the factory, therefore, influences his subsequent decisions. It is the existence of these long-term, irrevocable decisions that more than anything else accounts for the relative consistency of both personal and organizational behavior over periods of time. It also accounts for a certain “inertia” in the adjustment to new situations.

These objections do not mean that the language of ends and means is unusable; they simply mean that it must be employed with considerable care and sophistication. Under some circumstances another terminology may be clearer, and it is the purpose of the next section of this chapter to suggest such a terminology.

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

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