July 7, 2017

Organization Behavior – History of Development of The Discipline

Organization Behavior Article Series

The academic field of organizational behavior has been around for at least the past thirty to forty years (Luthans, 2005). This statement motivated me to trace the development of ‘Organizational Behavior’ as a subject in this article.


The academic field of organizational behavior has been around for at least the past thirty to forty years (Luthans, 2005). This statement motivated me to trace the development of ‘Organizational Behavior’ as a subject in this article.

Classical Theory of Organization

The following questions were important in organizing work.

How should work be divided by departments and by individuals?
How much authority should be given to the incumbent of each position?
What should his duties be?
What mean of coordination should be provided?

Both managers and writers on management had in the past tried to discover principles to answer the questions and the quest is continuing now also.

Fayol’s analysis of management and principles that he stated regarding organization became the basis for many writers to develop their thinking on this issue. The most commonly stated principles from this approach are expressed as OSCAR: Objectives, specialization, coordination, authority, and responsibility (Dale, 1965). This thinking of this group of writers who followed and developed Fayol’s thoughts is termed as classical theory of the organization.

The criticism of the classical theory includes the opinion that it is too mechanistic. The theory seems to assume that top management only needs to know what is to be done or what it wants to be done. It will arrange for an organization in which all roles are exactly dovetailed. It will issue the necessary orders down through the chain of command, and hold each person accountable for the performance. Each person is spurred into appropriate action by the hope or reward and fear or penalties. Classical school expressed the belief that, if these steps are followed, the organization will function harmoniously and effectively. No doubt, they laid stress on the principle of esprit de corps, but its implication was not explored.

Behavioral Theory – Organization Behavior

The criticism of classical theory as too mechanistic results in a new theory of organization that emphasized that organizations are made up of human beings and orders and policies will be subject to reinterpretation in the light of psychological “set” of those who transmit them or carry them out as well as the social environment. The people in the organization are motivated by many forces beside those taken into account by the classicists and employees of an organization are often seeking goals different from those expressed in the organization manual. Theory developed in the field of organization design and management based on behavioral variables of human beings in the subject of organization behavior. Chester Barnard was probably the first of the behavioral theorists of organization (Dale, 1965).

Chester Barnard

Barnard stressed the influence of psychological and social factors on organization effectiveness and emphasized that the economic motive, on which business organization depends for incentive, is only of those that influence human beings, even when they are part of organizations as employees after signing a contract. 

Chester Barnard’s book, The Functions of the Executive was published in 1938(Barnard, 1938).

Herbert A. Simon

Barnard’s theories were further developed by Herbert A. Simon in his book Administrative Behavior (Simon, 1957).

E. White Bakke

Bakke pointed out that the individual in organization hopes to use the organization to further his own goals, while the organization attempts to use the individual to further its goals. In the process of working, the organization to some degree remakes the individual and the individual to some degree remakes the organization (Bakke, 1953).

Bakke put forward the concepts of personalizing process and fusion process in organizations. The attempt to make the formal organization a mean of accomplishing the personal goals of its employees is the “personalizing process” and the fusion or integration of the personalizing process and the “socializing process” of the organization is “fusion process.”

Likert’s Motivational Approach

Behavioral theorists take a motivational approach to the company structure and management. They are concerned with the ways in which the goals of individuals and those of the organization can be made to fuse, or at least coincide to some extent. But Rensis Likert has christened a special approach as motivational approach. He said,

“ …management will make full use of the potential capacities of its human resources only when each person in an organization is a member of one or more well knit, effectively functioning work groups that have high skills of interaction and higher performance goals.”

Early Books in Organization Behavior

Bennis, Warren G. (1966), Changing Organizations, McGraw-Hill, New York.

Filley, Alan C., and Robert J. House (1969), Managerial Process and Organizational Behavior, Scott, Foresman and Company.

Luthans, Fred (1973), Organizational Behavior, McGraw-Hill, New York.



Barnard, Chester, The Functions of the Executive, 1938

Luthans, Fred, Organizational Behavior, Tenth Edition, McGraw-Hill, 2005

Simon, Herbert A., Administrative Behavior, 1957


The Historical Roots of Organizational Behavior Management in the Private Sector The 1950s-1980s
Alyce M. Dickinson PhD Western Michigan University , USA
Journal of Organizational Behavior Management 

Volume 20, 2001 - Issue 3-4, pp. 9-58.

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