The Psychology of Administrative Decisions: The integration of behavior

It is time now to turn from the mechanisms that make integration possible to the pattern of behavior that results from the operation of these mechanisms. The process involves three principal steps:

  1. The individual (or organization) makes broad decision regarding the values to which he is going to direct his activities, the general mothods he is going to use to attain these values, and the knowledge, skills, and information he will need to make particular decisions within the limits of the policy laid down and to carry out the decisions. The decisional activity just described might be cakked substantive planning.
  2. He designs and establishes mechanisms that will direct his attention, channel information and knowledge, , in such a way as to cause the specific day-to-day decisions to conform with the substantive plan. This decisional activity might be called procedural planning, and corresponds to what was earlier described as “constructing the psychological environment of decision.”
  3. He executes the plan through day-to-day decisions and activities that fit in the framework provided by steps (1) and (2).

In reality, the process involves not just three steps but a whole hierarchy of steps, the decisions at any given level of generality providing the environment for the more particular decisions at the next level below. The integration of behavior at the highest level is brought about by decisions that determine in very broad terms the values, knowledge, and possibilities that will receive consideration. The next lower level of integration, which gives greater specificity to these very general determinants, results from those decisions that determine what activities shall be undertaken. Other levels follow, each one determining in greater detail a subarea lying within the area of the level above.

At the higher levels of integration only the very general aspects of the situation can be given consideration. Particularization can take place only when attention is directed to the more detailed possibilities and conse- quences. Hence, a fundamental problem of administrative theory is to determine how this plexus of decisions should be constructed—what the proper division of labor is between the broad “planning” decisions and the narrower “executory” decisions. A second fundamental problem is that of procedural planning—to devise mechanisms that will make effective the control of the executory decisions by the planning decisions.

1. Types of General Decisions

It should be made clear that actual events are determined by choice among on-the-spot alternatives for immediate behavior. In a strict sense, a decision can influence the future in only two ways: (1) present behavior, determined by this decision, may limit future possibilities,16 and (2) future decisions may be guided to a greater or lesser degree by the present decision. It is from this possibility of influencing future choice by present decisions that the idea of an interconnected plexus of decisions derives. The first type of influence has already been discussed, but the second requires further consideration.

When a problem of a particular kind has several times arisen for decision, it may lead to a generalized query of the following kind: “What criteria can I discover which can be used as a basis for ch°ice whenever a problem of this kind arises?” For example, the experienced fire fighter asks, “Are there any underlying principles of fire fighting which can be applied to the many fire situations with which I edd?”

When the problem has been posed and a solution reached, then a decision has been made that will guide all further decisions on this subject. This it may do by selecting (1) particular values as criteria for the later decisions, (2) particular items of empirical knowledge as relevant to the later decisions, (3) particular behavior alternatives as the only ones needing consideration for later choice.

(1) The specialization of administrative functions, each with its own “objective,” directs each portion of the organization toward the rethra- tion of a particular restricted set of values. To accept reducing fire losses” as the objective of a fire department is to establish a criterion of value that will guide the fire department administrator in ah his evasions.

(2) In many fields, general decisions are reached as to the facts that should be taken into consideration in making any subsidiary decision. The engineer, for instance, has routine procedures of calculation for determining whether a given bridge design allows the required factor of safety in bearing its stresses.

(3)  Similarly, in many fields, general decisions determine the beW- ior alternatives that are to be considered when a specific choice is faced. A football team goes on the field with a definite repertoire of “plays” which it can call into use at appropriate moments. A poficeman, seeing an mfinction of the law, is trained to respond in terms of “arrest,” “warning,” or “report.”

The psychological mechanisms by which these general criteria, previously decided upon, are brought to bear upon an immediate problem for choice have already been described.17 By creating internal and external stimuli, these prior decisions determine the framework of attention with which the mind responds to the specific choice-situadm. This narrow frame of attention is in distinct contrast with the broader area of reference that is involved when the prior, controlling decision is made. That is, the set of factors taken into consideration when it is deternfueth that “a fire department will be established with the objective of minimizing fire losses” is quite different from the set that influences a fire-fighter to decide, “I had better connect a 2V2-inch line to this hydrant.” This stratification of decisions makes it possible for each choice to be guided directly or indirectly by much broader considerations of rationality than would be possible if it had to be made “on the spot” without benefit of previous consideration. Hence, we are led to a concept of “planned” behavior as the proper means for maintaining rationality at a high level.

2. The Planning Process

The psychological processes involved in planning consist in selecting general criteria of choice, and then particularizing them by application to specific situations.18 A designing engineer selects as his objective a railroad to extend between cities A and B through mountainous country. After a preliminary examination of the topography, he selects two or three general routes that seem feasible. He then takes each of these routes as his new “end”—an intermediate end—and particularizes it further, using more detailed topographical maps.

His thought processes might be described as a series of hypothetical implications: “If l am to go from A to B, routes (1), (2), and (3) seem more feasible than the others; if I am to follow route (1), plan (la) seems prefer- able; if route (2), plan (2c); if route (3), plan (3a)”—and so on, until the most minute details of the design have been determined for two or three alternative plans. His final choice is among these detailed alternatives.

This process of thought may be contrasted with a single choice among ail the possible routes. The latter method is the one dictated by logic, and is the only procedure that guarantees that the decision finally arrived at is the best. On the other hand, this method requires that all the possible plans be worked out in full detail before any decision is reached. The practical impossibility of such a procedure is evident. The planning procedure is a compromise, whereby only the most “plausible” alternatives are worked out in detail.

Let us present another illustration. Suppose the problem is to select a dam site for a storage reservoir. For simplicity, it will be assumed that the desideratum is to secure a specified volume of water storage at a minimum cost, and that water storage above the specified amount will be of no value. Usually the real problem is not so simple. The cost can be estimated, for each point along the river, of building a dam with the required storage capacity. However, to make an accurate estimate, detailed studies would need to be made of the foundation conditions at each point. Then, this huge array of cost estimates could be compiled and the dam site with least cost selected.

Actually, the engineer proceeds quite differently. By inspection of a topographic map, he immediately picks out a half-dozen “plausible” dam sites, and forgets the rest. He is sufficiently familiar with dam construction costs to know—with a fair degree of certainty—that any other site he might choose would have a higher construction cost. Next, he makes an approximate estimate of dam costs for each of the plausible sites, assuming “normal” foundation conditions. Finally, he selects the most promising sites and makes careful foundation studies as a basis for final estimates.

At each step in this process there is a chance that the dam site which really is most desirable will be eliminated without complete analysis. He must exercise great skill in determining the degree of approximation that is allowable at each point in the procedure.

3. The Function of Social i Organization

It was mentioned several times in this chapter that the mechanisms leading to the integration of behavior might be interpersonal. If organizations and social institutions be conceived, in the broad sense, as patterns of group behavior, it is not hard to see that the individual’s participation in such organizations and institutions may be the source of some of his most fundamental and far-reaching integrations. The organizational influences on the individual are of two principal kinds:

(1) Organizations and institutions permit stable expectations to be formed by each member of the group as to the behavior of the other members under specified conditions. Such stable expectations are an essential precondition to a rational consideration of the consequences of action in a social group.44

(2) Organizations and institutions provide the general stimuli and attention-directors that channelize the behaviors of the members of the group, and that provide those members with the intermediate objectives that stimulate action.20

No pattern of social behavior could survive, of course, that did not anticipate and provide in some manner for the satiation of the stimuli of hunger, sexual desire, and fatigue. Beyond this, institutional arrange- ments are subject to infinite variation, and can hardly be said to follow from any innate characteristics of man. Since these institutions largely determine the mental sets of the participants, they set the conditions for the exercise of docility, and hence of rationality in human society.

The highest level of integration that man achieves consists in taking an existing set of institutions as one alternative and comparing it with other sets. That is, when man turns his attention to the institutional setting which, in tum, provides the framework within which his own mental processes operate, he is truly considering the consequences of behavior alternatives at the very highest level of integration. Thought at this comprehensive level has not been common to all cultures. In our Western civilization it has perhaps been confined to (1) the writings of utopian political theorists and (2) the thought and writings surrounding modem legislative processes.21

Human rationality, then, gets its higher goals and integrations from the institutional setting in which it operates and by which it is molded. In our democratic culture, legislation is the principal designer and arbiter of these institutions. Administrative organizations cannot perhaps claim the same importance as repositories of the fundamental human values as that possessed by older traditional institutions like the family. Nevertheless , with man’s growing economic interdependence, and with his growing dependence upon the community for essential governmental services, for- mal organization is rapidly assuming a role of broader significance than it has ever before possessed. This is not without its advantages, for adminis- trative organizations are usually constructed and modified with a delibera- tion and freedom from tradition which—though far from complete—gives them great adaptability to meet new needs with new arrangements.

The behavior patterns which we call organizations are fundamental, then, to the achievement of human rationality in any broad sense. The rational individual is, and must be, an organized and institutionalized individual. If the severe limits imposed by human psychology upon delib- eration are to be relaxed, the individual must in his decisions be subject to the influence of the organized group in which he participates. His decisions must not only be the product of his own mental processes, but also reflect the broader considerations to which it is the function of the organized group to give effect.

4. Mechanisms of Organization Influence

The means that the organization employs to influence the decisions of individual members have already been outlined in the introductory chapter. They will be analyzed at length in later chapters and therefore require only brief discussion at this point.

  1. The organization divides work among its members. By giving each a particular task to accomplish, it directs and limits his attention to that task. The personnel officer concerns himself with recruitment, training, classification, and other personnel operations. He need not give particular concern to the accounting, purchasing, planning, or operative functions, which are equally vital to the accomplishment of the organization’s task, because he knows they have been provided for elsewhere in the organization structure.
  2. The organization establishes standard practices. By deciding once for all (or at least for a period of time) that a particular task shall be done in a particular way, it relieves the individual who actually performs the task of the necessity of determining each time how it shall be done.
  3. The organization transmits decisions downward (and laterally or even upward) through its ranks by establishing systems of authority and The most familiar form this takes is the hierarchy of formal authority; but of equal importance are the assignment to particular individuals of the formal function of advising, and the growth in any actual organization of an informal system of influence based partly upon formal status, and partly upon social relationships.
  4. The organization provides channels of communication running in all directions through which information for decision-making flows. Again these channels are both formal and The formal channels are partly based on, and partly separate from, the lines of formal authority, and the informal channels are closely related to the informal social organization.
  5. The organization trains and indoctrinates its members. This might be called the “internalization” of influence, because it injects into the very nervous systems of the organization members the criteria of decision that the organization wishes to The organization member acquires knowledge, skill, and identifications or loyalties that enable him to make decisions, by himself, as the organization would like him to decide.

5. The Process of Coordination

One of the principal functions of these organizational influences has explained, the effectiveness of an individual in achieving his aims in any social situation will depend not only upon his own activity, but also on how well that activity relates to what the other individuals concerned are doing. In any large organization—the Federal government is an excellent example—the task of relating the activities of one individual or unit to those of others becomes one of the greatest importance, complexity, and difficulty. War activities have illustrated this strikingly on numerous occasions. An administrator responsible for airplane gasoline production may wish to issue orders—quite logical for the execution of his task—that would interfere with the task of another administrator responsible for rubber production. The procurement of steel for merchant shipping may conflict with the procurement of steel for warships, or for tanks. The execution of a large military operation may require the coor- dination, in time, of a host of preparatory activities. These illustrations could be multiplied many times.

Viewed from the position of the individual in organization, coordination involves several elements: the relation of the individual’s objectives and intermediate aims to those of other segments of the organization; the individual’s assessment of the alternatives available to him and to the other members of the group; and his expectations as to the courses of action that will be followed by the others.

Self-Coordination. In the simplest situations, the individual participant can bring his activities into coordination with the activities of others through simple observation of what they are doing. In a group of three or four painters working together, each one may take a part of the job, and the entire group may work as a team with each one fitting in where he thinks his efforts will be most effective and will interfere least with the others. Occasionally a command may be given; but most of the adjustments take place silently and without discussion.

Anyone who has observed an unorganized group of persons act in an emergency has seen organized behavior of this variety. Of course, if the group has been organized previously to the emergency or if one or more members of the group are recognized as “leaders,” the mechanism of coordination may be much more elaborate, involving vocal commands.

In most situations, the successful performance of a task by a group of persons requires a slightly higher degree of coordination. For instance, it may be necessary for effective performance that they all apply their efforts simultaneously. Even under such circumstances, the coordination may not be deliberate nor involve explicit commands. The various members of the

All these situations where self-coordination is possible require that the individual be able to observe the behaviors of the organization mem- bers and adjust his to theirs. Where this direct observation is not possi- ble—as in most situations of any complexity—the organization itself must provide for the coordination.

Group Versus Individual Alternatives. The individual views the attainment of his objectives as dependent upon the particular course of behavior he follows. For each of the courses of action open to him there is a distinct set of consequences or results. Rational choice, as has been explained, consists in selecting and bringing about the result that is preferred to the others.

When choice takes place in a group situation, the consequences of a course of action become dependent not only upon the individual’s selec- tion of a particular alternative, but upon the selections of the other members of the group as well. Only when the behaviors of the others are taken as “constants”—that is, when expectations are formed regarding their behaviors—does the problem of choice take on a determinate form. When such expectations have been formed, the only remaining indepen- dent variable is the individual’s own choice, and the problem of decision reduces to the former case.

Hence, the set of alternatives available to the group must be carefully distinguished from the set of alternatives available to the individual. The latter is only a subset of the former, a different subset for each given set of behaviors of the other members of the group. The alternative that the individual actually selects for his own behavior may be quite distinct from the alternative that he would select if he could determine the behaviors of all the other group members.

If the individual’s expectations of the behaviors of his colleagues are accurate they will usually be rather different from the way he wishes his colleagues would behave. Since his own decision, to be rational, must be related to his expectations rather than his wishes, he must aim not at that alternative among all those possible for the group which he prefers, but at that alternative among all those possible for him which he prefers.

That a distinction must be made between a plan of campaign that depends on the opponent’s doing the wished-for thing, and a plan that depends upon the opponent’s doing the “correct” thing is a cardinal princi- ple of military tactics, and indeed of any competitive activity. A plan of the first kind never succeeds, for its success depends upon the false assumption that the opponent will do what you want him to do. In the practical world, plans are characterized as “utopian” whose success depends on tiflliavinf nn flip narr  nf manv individuals, hilt which fail to

Now a very special situation arises when all the members of the group exhibit a preference for the same values and for the same outcomes out of all those possible of realization by the group. All the firemen fighting a fire are agreed on the aim of their joint behavior—to extinguish the fire as quickly as possible. In such a case there is one set of behaviors for the members of the group which, on entirely objective empirical grounds, is the most expeditious for the accomplishment of this aim. The members of the group may disagree as to what this best solution is, but any such disagreement is on a factual level—a question of judgment, not of values.

The attainment of the “best” result implies that each member of the group knows his place in the scheme and is prepared to carry out his job with the others. But, unless the intentions of each member of the group can be communicated to the others, such coordination is hardly possible. Each will base his behavior on his expectations of the behaviors of the others, but he will have no reason to expect that they will fit into any preconceived plan. Lacking formal coordination, the result will be highly fortuitous.

Under most practical conditions, self-coordination is infinitely less effective than a predetermined scheme of action that relieves each mem- ber of the group of the task of anticipating the behavior of the others as a basis for his own.

Communication, then, is essential to the more complex forms of cooperative behavior. The process of coordination in these more compli- cated situations consists of at least three steps: (1) the development of a plan of behavior for all the members of the group (not a set of individual plans for each member); (2) the communication of the relevant portions of this plan to each member; and (3) a willingness on the part of the individual members to permit their behavior to be guided by the plan.

This process is not unlike that whereby the individual integrates his own behavior into a coordinated pattern. In the integration of the group, communication fills the gap—supplies the nerve tissue, so to speak—left by the absence of any organic connection among the individuals.

The Group Plan. The idea of a plan for the behavior of a group does not involve any metaphysical notions of a “group mind.” It is a specification as to how a number of persons shall behave, rather than a specification as to how one person shall behave. The plan has its existence on paper, or in the respective minds of the individuals who create it. These individuals may be many, or few; they may belong to the group, or they may not.

In the discussion thus far, it has been assumed that a plan will come into being only when there is perfect agreement among the group members as to which of all the possibilities available to the group they would like to see realized. As a matter of fact, this is not strictly necessary. Group coordination may be possible in many cases where different individuals have different notions of the “optimum.” It is necessary only that they agree in finding one plan preferable to any alternative that would be open to them as individuals if there were no cooperation.45

Since the present discussion is concerned not so much with the reasons why individuals cooperate as with the mechanisms that make cooperation possible, the subject of the “group plan” may now be left, to be more fully discussed in the next chapter.

Communication. General organization decisions can control the behavior of the individual only through psychological mechanisms that bring values and knowledge to bear upon each individual decision at the time it is made. In group behavior, there is a similar necessity of communicating the group plan to the individuals who are to carry it out. This does not mean that the whole plan must be communicated, but that each individual must know what he is to do.

No step in the administrative process is more generally ignored, or more poorly performed, than the task of communicating decisions. All too often, plans are “ordered” into effect without any consideration of the manner in which they can be brought to influence the behavior of the individual members of the group. Procedural manuals are promulgated without follow- up to determine whether the contents of the manuals are used by the individuals to guide their decisions. Organization plans are drawn on paper, although the members of the organization are ignorant of the plan that purports to describe their relationships.

Failures in communication result whenever it is forgotten that the behavior of individuals is the tool with which organization achieves its purposes. The question to be asked of any administrative process is: How does it influence the decisions of these individuals? Without communication, the answer must always be: It does not influence them at all.

Acceptance of the Plan. The final step in coordination is acceptance by each of the organization members of his part in the group plan. The problem of securing this acceptance will furnish the principal topic of the next two chapters.

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

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