Behavioral Management Theory

As management research continued in the 20th century, questions began to come up regarding the interactions and motivations of the individual within organizations. Management principles developed during the classical period were simply not useful in dealing with many management situations and could not explain the behavior of individual employees. In short, classical theory ignored employee motivation and behavior. As a result, the behavioral school was a natural outgrowth of this revolutionary management experiment.

The behavioral management theory is often called the human relations movement because it addresses the human dimension of work. Behavioral theorists believed that a better understanding of human behavior at work, such as motivation, conflict, expectations, and group dynamics, improved productivity.

The theorists who contributed to this school viewed employees as individuals, resources, and assets to be developed and worked with — not as machines, as in the past. Several individuals and experiments contributed to this theory.

Elton Mayo's contributions came as part of the Hawthorne studies, a series of experiments that rigorously applied classical management theory only to reveal its shortcomings. The Hawthorne experiments consisted of two studies conducted at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in Chicago from 1924 to 1932. The first study was conducted by a group of engineers seeking to determine the relationship of lighting levels to worker productivity. Surprisingly enough, they discovered that worker productivity increased as the lighting levels decreased — that is, until the employees were unable to see what they were doing, after which performance naturally declined.

A few years later, a second group of experiments began. Harvard researchers Mayo and F. J. Roethlisberger supervised a group of five women in a bank wiring room. They gave the women special privileges, such as the right to leave their workstations without permission, take rest periods, enjoy free lunches, and have variations in pay levels and workdays. This experiment also resulted in significantly increased rates of productivity.

In this case, Mayo and Roethlisberger concluded that the increase in productivity resulted from the supervisory arrangement rather than the changes in lighting or other associated worker benefits. Because the experimenters became the primary supervisors of the employees, the intense interest they displayed for the workers was the basis for the increased motivation and resulting productivity. Essentially, the experimenters became a part of the study and influenced its outcome. This is the origin of the term Hawthorne effect, which describes the special attention researchers give to a study's subjects and the impact that attention has on the study's findings.

The general conclusion from the Hawthorne studies was that human relations and the social needs of workers are crucial aspects of business management. This principle of human motivation helped revolutionize theories and practices of management.

Abraham Maslow, a practicing psychologist, developed one of the most widely recognized need theories, a theory of motivation based upon a consideration of human needs . His theory of human needs had three assumptions:

  • Human needs are never completely satisfied.
  • Human behavior is purposeful and is motivated by the need for satisfaction.
  • Needs can be classified according to a hierarchical structure of importance, from the lowest to highest.
Maslow broke down the needs hierarchy into five specific areas:

  • Physiological needs. Maslow grouped all physical needs necessary for maintaining basic human well‐being, such as food and drink, into this category. After the need is satisfied, however, it is no longer is a motivator.
  • Safety needs. These needs include the need for basic security, stability, protection, and freedom from fear. A normal state exists for an individual to have all these needs generally satisfied. Otherwise, they become primary motivators.
  • Belonging and love needs. After the physical and safety needs are satisfied and are no longer motivators, the need for belonging and love emerges as a primary motivator. The individual strives to establish meaningful relationships with significant others.
  • Esteem needs. An individual must develop self‐confidence and wants to achieve status, reputation, fame, and glory.
  • Self‐actualization needs. Assuming that all the previous needs in the hierarchy are satisfied, an individual feels a need to find himself.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory helped managers visualize employee motivation.

Douglas McGregor was heavily influenced by both the Hawthorne studies and Maslow. He believed that two basic kinds of managers exist. One type, the Theory X manager, has a negative view of employees and assumes that they are lazy, untrustworthy, and incapable of assuming responsibility. On the other hand, the Theory Y manager assumes that employees are not only trustworthy and capable of assuming responsibility, but also have high levels of motivation.

An important aspect of McGregor's idea was his belief that managers who hold either set of assumptions can create self‐fulfilling prophecies — that through their behavior, these managers create situations where subordinates act in ways that confirm the manager's original expectations.

As a group, these theorists discovered that people worked for inner satisfaction and not materialistic rewards, shifting the focus to the role of individuals in an organization's performance.