Drive in to shop for the X factor

Organizational Behavior - Organization Theory

February 23, 2007

Michael Hitt et al's is a capital letter TEXT book, US in origin with colourful banner headlines, subheadlines and snappy definitions in boxes, which suggests the easy isolation of issues and what managers could or should do about them. Not for nothing is a "strategic approach" to "organisational behaviour" (OB) emphasised.

Take motivation: personnel ("associates") have the X factor: "human spirit and inspiration". Their motivation: a "force coming from within", multiplied by ability, constitutes the main factor to generate "stronger performance" and "competitive advantage". A blurriness concerning the primary unit of analysis is apparent: "organisational behaviour" or how managers can manipulate it? Why, it's the latter of course, stupid!

The section on motivation is indicative of the book's approach. Powering through Abraham Maslow, Clayton Alderfer, et al - covered arguably well enough but at pace - it ends up at "motivating associates". No surprises, no mystery tour, no problem? Motivation starts from within the associate, and ends up without, not in debates about the good life, or good work-life balance even, but in the hands of savvy managers. This book is a regular drive-in, one-stop-shopping experience, yet potentially a (closet) close friend for those who prefer to dip in for a few references to the theoretical bones of organisational behaviour.

Leadership is brought bang up to date: "great man" theories become "great person" theories. Communication, groups, decision-making, conflict, organisational structure, culture and change are also covered. The cost? "Conflict", for example, is reduced to case studies of fights over blue pens. That such phenomena are scaled down to infinitesimally petty matters is symptomatic of the shallow perspective adopted, yet ironically illustrative of the widespread preference for techniques over analysis.

Given the book's benefits of a sort for students of all aspects of management and managers themselves, it can be recommended only accompanied by the health warning: do not use in isolation.

Mary Jo Hatch and Ann Cunliffe offer a more traditional (deeper, not stuffy) text on organisation theory. Underestimation of inevitable organisational conflict was a criticism accepted here regarding the first edition, a point now remedied with an entirely new chapter, "Organisational power, conflict and control". This addresses organisation structure (bureaucratic-hierarchical, contingent, ad hoc and reflective of institutionalised practices and logics, to name a few), technology and organisation, and the physical structure of organisations. The latter chapter is a welcome inclusion that unites earlier concerns expressed by Lefevre and others, with recent resurgence of interest in organisations managing us through their very architecture.

Chapter nine, "Theory in practice", is a missed opportunity. Designed to answer students' common refrain regarding "real world" relevance, it disappoints in its restriction to the rather prescriptive literature on "organisational design" change, diversity and organisational learning.

The final chapter brings us up to date with useful discussions of critical realism, network theories and organisation aesthetics. It is a useful adjunct to Michael Reed's The Sociology of Organizations .

Neil Terence Clarke is research fellow/project manager, St Martin's College, Lancaster.

Organizational Behavior: A Strategic Approach. First Edition

Author - Michael A. Hitt, C. Chet Millar and Adrienne Colella
Publisher - John Wiley & Sons
Pages - 590
Price - £34.95
ISBN - 0 471 35176 8

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