What is organizational behavior?
Organizational behavior (OB) is the academic study of how people act within groups. Its principles are applied mainly to try to make businesses more efficient.
The study of organizational behavior includes research areas dedicated to improving job performance, increasing job satisfaction, promoting innovation and encouraging leadership. Each has their own recommended actions, such as reorganizing groups, changing compensation structures, or changing performance appraisal methods.
The study of organizational behavior has its roots in the late 1920s, when the Western Electric Company launched a now famous series of studies of worker behavior at its Hawthorne Works factory in Cicero, Illinois.
Researchers investigated whether workers could be made more productive if their environment was improved with better lighting and other design improvements. To their surprise, the researchers found that the environment was less important than social factors. It was more important, for example, that people get along with their colleagues and feel that their bosses appreciate them.
These early results inspired a series of large-scale studies between 1924 and 1933. They included the productivity effects of breaks, isolation and lighting, among many other factors.
The best known of these results is called the Hawthorne effect, which describes how the behavior of test subjects can change when they know they are being observed. Researchers are learning to determine if and to what extent the Hawthorne effect distorts their results on human behavior.
Organizational behavior was not fully recognized by the American Psychological Association as a field of academic study until the 1970s. However, Hawthorne research is recognized to have validated organizational behavior as a legitimate field of study, and c is the foundation of the human resources profession as we know it now.
Objectives of the study of organizational behavior
The Hawthorne study leaders had some radical notions. They believed that they could use scientific observation techniques to increase the quantity and quality of an employee’s work. And they did not see workers as interchangeable resources. The workers, they thought, were unique in terms of psychology and potential suitability within a company.
In the years that followed, the concept of organizational behavior expanded. From World War II, researchers began to focus on logistics and the science of management. Studies by the Carnegie School of Home Economics in the 1950s and 1960s reinforced these rationalist approaches to decision-making.
Today, these and other studies have evolved into modern theories of business structure and decision-making.
The new frontiers of organizational behavior are the cultural components of organizations, such as how race, class and gender roles affect the constitution and productivity of groups. These studies take into account how identity and context influence decision-making.
Key points to remember
- Organizational behavior is the study of how people behave within groups.
- The first studies determined the importance of group dynamics in the productivity of companies.
- The study of organizational behavior is the foundation of the company’s human resources.
Where organizational behavior is studied
University programs focusing on organizational behavior are found in business schools as well as schools of social work and psychology. These programs draw inspiration from the fields of anthropology, ethnography and leadership studies, and use quantitative, qualitative and computer models as methods for exploring and testing ideas.
Depending on the program, one can study specific topics within organizational behavior or broader areas within it. Specific topics covered include cognition, decision making, learning, motivation, negotiation, impressions, group process, stereotypes, power and influence. Broader areas of study include social systems, dynamics of change, markets, relationships between organizations and their environments, the influence of social movements on markets, and the power of social networks.
Real examples of organizational behavior
The results of research on organizational behavior are used by managers and human relations professionals to better understand the culture of a company, how this culture helps or hinders employee productivity and retention, and how to assess skills and the personality of the candidates during the hiring process.
Theories of organizational behavior inform the assessment and management of groups of people in the real world. There are a number of components:
- Personality plays an important role in how a person interacts with groups and produces work. Understanding a candidate’s personality, either through tests or through conversation, helps determine whether it is suitable for an organization.
- Leadership, what it looks like and where it comes from, is a rich subject for debate and study in the area of organizational behavior. Leadership can be broad, focused, centralized or decentralized, decision-oriented, intrinsic to a person’s personality, or simply the result of a position of authority.
- Power, authority and politics all operate interdependent in the workplace. Understanding the proper ways in which these elements are exposed and used, as agreed by workplace rules and ethical guidelines, are key elements in running a consistent business.