Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The historical evolution of organizational behavior

Why study history? Oliver Wendell Holmes answered that question succinctly when he said ? when I want to understand what is happening today or try to decide what will happen tomorrow, I look back? By looking back at the history of organizational behavior, you gain a great deal of insight into how the field got to where it is today .It’ll help you understand, for instance, how management came to impose rules and regulations on employees, why many workers in organizations do standardized and repetitive tasks on assembly lines, and why a number of organizations in recent years have replaced their assembly lines with team-based work units.

In promoting ideas that would eventually have a major influence in shaping the direction and boundaries of OB: Adam Smith, Charles, and Robert Owen.

What are their contributions?


Adam Smith is more typically cited by economists for his contributions to classical economic doctrine, but his discussion in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, included a brilliant argument on the economic advantages that organizations and society would reap from the division of labor (also called work specialization) .Smith used the pin-manufacturing industry for his examples. He noted that 10 individuals, each doing specialized task, could produce about 48,000 pins a day among them. He proposed, however, that if each were working separately and independently, the 10 workers together would be lucky to make 10 pins in one day .If each had to draw the wire, straighten it, cut it, pound heads for each pin, sharpen the point, and solder the head and pin shaft, it would be quite a feat to produce 10 pins a day!

Smith concluded that division of labor raised productivity by increasing each worker’s skill and dexterity, by saving time that is commonly lost in changing tasks, and by encouraging the creation of labor-saving inventions and machinery .The extensive development of assembly-line production processes during the twentieth century was undoubtedly stimulated by the economic advantages of work specialization cited over two centuries ago by Adam Smith.


Charles Babbage was a British mathematics professor who expanded on the virtues of division of labor first articulated by Adam Smith .In his book On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, published in 1832; Babbage added the following to Smith’s list of the advantages that accrue from division of labor.

1.It reduces the time needed for learning a job.
2.It reduces the waste of material during the learning stage.
3.It allows for the attainment of high skill levels.
4.It allows a more careful matching of people’s skills and physical abilities with specific tasks.

Moreover, Babbage proposed that the economies from specialization should be as relevant to doing, mental work as physical labor. Today, for example, we take specialization for granted among professionals. When we have a skin rash, we go to a dermatologist .When we buy a home, we consult a lawyer who specializes in real estates tax accounting, entrepreneurship, marketing research, and organization behavior .These applications of division of labor were unheard of in eighteenth century England .But contemporary organizations around the World—in both manufacturing and service industries –make wide use of division of labor


Robert Owen was a Welsh entrepreneur who bought his first factory in 1789, at the age of 18. He is important in the history of OB because he was one of the first industrialists to recognize how that growing factory system was demeaning to workers.

Repulsed by the harsh practices he saw in factories—such as the employment of young children (many under the age of 10 with 13- hour workdays, and miserable working conditions—Owen became a reformer. He chided factory owners for treating their equipment better than their employees He criticized them for buying the best machines but then employing the cheapest labor to run them. Owen argued that money spent on improving labor was one of the best investments that business executives could make .He claimed that showing concern for employees both was profitable for management and would relieve human misery.

For his time, Owen was an idealist. What he proposed was a utopian workplace that would reduce the sufferings of the working class. He was more than a hundred years ahead of his time when he argued, in 1852, for regulated hours of work for all, child labor laws, public education, company-furnished meals at work, and business involvement in community projects.

The history which has become a past now shows how each management wizard contributed towards welfare of employees, their working conditions and hence eventually increasing the productivity.



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