Serried in uneven ranks

Impression Management in Organizations - The Healthy Organization - Business Leadership
November 24, 1995

These are the first three books published by Routledge in the Essential Business Psychology series. The series editor, Clive Fletcher from Goldsmiths, says the aim of the series "is to interpret and explain peoples' work behaviour in the context of a continually evolving pattern of change." He also notes the books in the series "have not been forced into a rigid, stylistic format" and that "authors have had a good deal of autonomy in deciding how to organise and present their work".

It is a frequent complaint, but none the less true, that edited books, and series, are curate's eggs. What prevents them being so, and imposes a more uniform standard structure and level, is the difficult diplomatic work of the editor who has to coerce and cajole the lazy, the prima donna, and the egocentric contributor. These three books, though packaged similarly, are rather different, which may not be such a bad thing, but may deter a potential buyer from "collecting" them as a set.

Business Leadership addresses an issue probably more debated in the boardroom than in the lecture theatre. The list of chapter titles is part-academic (the trait approach, contingency approaches, attribution theory of leadership) and part popular (leaders who derail, empowerment). The book has a number of things going for it. It is up to date and well written, with 14 figures, 15 boxes and 14 tables. But it is somewhat, perhaps inevitably, uneven. Thus some early chapters are packed with references (three to five per page) while the chapter on empowerment has four references (in 14 pages). Each chapter has useful summaries, but the book has no concluding chapter. There is an interesting chapter called "Do leaders make a difference?", which may have been better either at the beginning of the book or at the end, rather than in the middle.

I am not sure if this is the book for an undergraduate organisational psychologist, but it may be more suited to a short course for MBA students or personnel officers. It introduces some central leadership ideas in an easily digestible way.

Impression Management in Organizations is also up to date and well written. But it is much narrower in scope and as American orientated as the previous book was British. This includes the spelling, so the series is not uniform in that respect either. Impression management - the process whereby people or organisations seek to control the image others have of them - is in lay terms, PR. So we have chapters on ingratiation: "using excuses", "justification to repair spoiled identities", and "disclaimers' self-handicapping, apologies and indirect tactics".

I rather enjoyed the early chapters, particularly the chapter on the measurement of impression management, but believe the MBA graduate, the personnel manager, or even the organisational psychology student, might find some of them rather esoteric or too full of psychobabble. However, there is a long (133 pages) and excellent chapter on impression management and human resource management. It focuses on impression management in the selection interview (where it seems a quarter of interviewees admit to lying), exit interviews, labour arbitration and career management. It considers how impression management impacts on such things as performance appraisal, letters of recommendation, CVs etc.

I believe those in PR should read the book. The authors know the literature, and although the jargon may be offputting, the book is filled with interesting ideas and concepts that may be of use to consultants and organisations eager to improve their public image.

The Healthy Organization, subtitled "Fairness, Ethics and Effective Management", is not about physical health but about how organisations tap potential rather than waste talent. The "blurb" on the cover says the book "offers solutions to the dilemmas managers face when they attempt to improve their organisation's health, including: how to promote equal opportunities, how to cope with stress, how to make the most of their employees' skills, and how to make the workforce feel more valued".

But it lacks the feel of a "how to" book. It is not very skilfully integrated and deals with a very wide range of often diverse topics like stress at work, business ethics and managing diversity. Any one of these three topics might merit a book in this series in its own right, and a more satisfactory review of the literature along with recommendations for organisations. I thought the two chapters on business ethics rather dated: of the references, only two were from 1990 or more recent, which is odd for a field which has really only taken off in the last decade and which now can support at least two journals.

And what do organisations have to have done to be "healthy"? The author lets us in on the answer in the concluding chapter: "1: given a contract which emphasises security, as with the Rover New Deal.

2: recruited on the basis of potential competence, not a narrow range of skills.

3: offered continuous learning opportunities throughout their career.

4: given challenging jobs which stimulate the development of skills.

5: given responsibility and autonomy in the job so that they have opportunities for real empowerment.

6. provided a high level of flexible benefits which can be modified to suit their changed circumstances as they grow older.

7. encouraged development of networks with suppliers, professional bodies, customers etc, so that they have a full understanding of developments in the environment from which they are encouraged to develop innovations.

8. provided opportunities to engage in career planning so that they become self-guided professionals."

But I hear the hardbitten middle manager saying: "That's all very well, but. . ." The sceptical academic might conclude: "But where's the proof?" The next attraction in the series is The Psychology of Personnel Selection, which has many competitors in the crowded marketplace. This series looks as if it will generate a number of nicely produced, attractive, relatively reasonable and easily digested books for the short course or human resources manager eager to understand the issues more clearly. But they differ so widely in style, scope and comprehensiveness that I imagine few wanting to or managing to read the whole series.

Adrian Furnham is professor of psychology, University College, London.

Impression Management in Organizations: Theory, Measurement, Practice

Author - Paul Rosenfeld, Robert Giacalone and Catherine Riordan
ISBN - 0 415 12679 7 and 10332 0
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £25.00 and £10.99
Pages - 219

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