May 12, 2019

Organizational Behavior – Theoretical Frameworks

Organizational Behavior Article Series


Theoretical Frameworks or Perspectives in Psychology

Initially psychology was developed using the mental thinking expressed by persons interested in developing the subject of psychology. But John B. Watson differed from that approach and he pioneered the approach in which visible behavior and visible environmental stimulus became the subject of study. B.F. Skinner developed this behavioristic framework further by bringing in the contingent environmental consequences. Behavior is not the outcome of stimulus alone, but it is an outcome determined by the stimulus as well as the contingent environmental consequences of a behavior. This means, there are alternative behaviors for the same stimulus and which behavior is exhibited by a person depends on expected environmental consequences.

Cognitive perspective on psychology have developed by arguing that human beings are capable of thinking and concepts related to thinking must be brought into the subject of psychology whose objective is to explain behavior. Even though, one cannot see or observe thinking, still developing concepts related to thinking and using the concepts to explain behavior is required in psychology. Even though one cannot see or observe gravitation, the concept of gravitation is a useful concept in physics. Similarly, concepts related to thinking or cognition are to be developed and used in psychology was the argument of propopents of congitive approach to psychology.

The perspectives in psychology have influenced the development of organizational behavior.



Cognitive Framework

Cognitive approach emphasizes the positive and freewill aspects of human behavior and uses concepts such as expectancy, demand, and intention.  Cognition can be simply defined as the act of knowing an item of information.  In cognitive framework, cognitions precede behavior and constitute input into the person’s thinking, perception, problem solving, and information processing.

The work of Edward Tolman can be used to represent the cognitive theoretical approach. According to Tolman, learning consists of the expectancy that a particular event will lead to a particular consequence. This cognitive concept of expectancy implies that organism is thinking about, or is conscious or aware of the goal and result of a behavior exhibited by it. It means that a person desires a goal and also knows the behavior that will lead to achievement of the goals.

In the subject of organizational behavior, cognitive approach dominates the units of analysis such as perception, personality and attitudes, motivation, behavioral decision making and goal setting.

Behavioristic Framework

Pioneer behaviorists Ivan Pavlov and Jon B. Watson stressed the importance of studying observable behaviors instead of the elusive mind. They advocated that behavior could be best understood in terms of stimulus and response (S-R). They examined the impact of stimulus and felt that learning occurred when the S-R connection was made. Modern behaviorism, that marks its beginning with B.F. Skinner, advocates that behavior in response to a stimulus is contingent on environmental consequences.  Thus, it is important to note that behaviortistic approach is based on observable behavior and environmental variables (which are also observable).

Social Cognitive Framework

Social learning theory takes the position that behavior can best be explained in terms of a continuous reciprocal interaction among cognitive, behavioral, and environmental determinants. The person and the environmental situation do not function as independent units but, in conjunction with behavior itself, reciprocally interact to determine behavior.  It means that cognitive variables and environmental variables are relevant, but the experiences generated by previous behavior also partly determine what a person becomes and can do, which, in turn, affects subsequently behavior. A persons cognition or understanding changes according to the experience of consequences of past behavior.

Bandura developed social learning theory into the more comprehensive social cognitive theory (SCT).  Stajkovic and Luthans have translated this SCT into the theoretical framework for organizational behavior. Social cognitive theory recognizes the importance of behaviorism’s contingent environmental consequences, but also includes cognitive processes of self regulation. The social part acknowledges the social origins of much of human thought and action (what individual learns from society), whereas the cognitive portion recognizes the influential contribution of thought processes to human motivation, attitudes, and action.  In social cognitive theoretical framework, organizational participants are at the same time both products and producers of their personality, respective environments, and behaviors.  The participants as a group of produce the environment, every individual is a product of the enironment and through his behavior changes the environment for others as well as for himself, every individual is a product of his personality, but also influences his personality as consequence of results of his behavior.

Bandura identified five basic human capabilities as a part of SCT.

1.     Symbolizing: People process visual experiences into cognitive models. They help in future action.
2.     Forethought: Employees plan their actions.
3.     Observational: Employees learn by observing the performance of the referent  group (peers, supervisors and high performers) and the consequences of their actions.
4.     Self-regulatory: Employees self regulate their actions by setting internal standards (aspired level of performance).
5.     Self-reflective: Employees reflect back on their actions (how did I do?) and perceptually determine how they believe then can successfully accomplish the task in the future given the context (probability of success between 0 to 100% is estimated).

Fred Luthans organized the OB text, ninth edition under the social cognitive theory .

Chapters 2,3,4,5 provide the discussion on the social factor that is the organizational factors. Chapters 6 to 9 are the cognitive and personal factors. Chapters 10 to 14 are the behavior factors. Chapters 15 to 18 are the chapters dealing with managerial decisions, processes and actions to realize positive behavior or high performance in organizations.


Article originally posted in organizational-behavior-theoretical-frameworks

Updated on 2 May 2019

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