Working like clockwork

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For decades analysts have been trying to find the perfect formula for workplace satisfaction. Dr R K Powar explains how organisational behaviour can bring together essential cogs in the workplace to improve levels of productivity.

All businesses from the smallest enterprise to the largest of corporations consist of people designed to fulfil human objectives, and organisational behaviour seeks to understand how best to do this. Therefore, organisational behaviour can be described as the study of how individuals, groups and structure affect and are affected by behaviour within organisations, for the purpose of applying such knowledge towards improving an organisation’s effectiveness.

Management as a discipline, along with other disciplines, has been around for centuries. However, serious interest in the study of management did not emerge until the turn of the twentieth century, making organisational behaviour a relatively new subject. Also, the initial players interested in studying organisations were economists, who generally looked at management practices as efficient and effective, focusing on economic policies and industrial structures, rather than the internal structure of organisations.

A brief history

The Scientific Management Approach: this was developed by F W Taylor, who worked on the assumption that human beings are largely motivated by money. Taylor advised that managers pay monetary incentives to efficient workers, making employees work harder and faster, reducing them to machines. As this approach did not take account of the human facet of labour, it was heavily criticised and today is considered inadequate.

The Bureaucratic Approach: while the scientific approach worked on the interaction between workers and the task, this theory focused on devising the best organisational structure for workers and managers. Max Weber, the theory’s most prominent advocate, proposed a ‘bureaucratic form’ of structure which he thought would work for all organisations.

The Hawthorne Studies: The above two approaches were heavily criticised as they failed to take into consideration that the human aspect was important in the workplace. Whilst the Hawthorne Studies have had their share of criticism, they had a dramatic input in the field of organisational behaviour, highlighting that workers are influenced by social factors and the behaviour of the individual is influenced by the group.

Over the years, the study and practice of behaviour in the workplace has developed from initial human resource theory to the system approach and on to organisational behaviour, which has grown through creating alliances with disciplines such as leadership and anthropology. Today organisational behaviour is highly influential in the business world with practitioners like Peter Drucker and Peter Senge, who turned academic research into business principles – please refer to the article on the concept of the Learning Organisation in the April 2010 edition of Pharmaceutical Field.

The importance to pharma

Organisational behaviour is important to help us learn about ourselves and how to deal with others. It needs to be noted that people are complex and, whilst they have a need to acquire, individuals are multi-faceted and work for several reasons, such as the need to grow and develop and bond with others.

The pharmaceutical industry, like all industries, is in a constant state of flux faced with business competiveness and the need for increased networking and globalisation – where there is a greater need for individuals to work with people from diverse backgrounds and cultural values. Consequently, the pharmaceutical industry needs to be increasingly concerned with organisational behaviour, as it needs all employees to perform well to sustain success and in a nutshell become more productive.

At a practical level, these are some of the advantages offered by organisational behaviour:

Having more self-insight and perceptual skills to bring about the desired outcomes: The various facets of organisational behaviour can be used by all of us to understand our own feelings and behaviours. Starting from the premise of understanding ourselves is important in helping us understand others. The concepts of organisational behaviour can be used to bring about the desired outcome behaviour in others by sometimes modifying our feelings and behaviours towards others.

The ability to do this would be beneficial in all walks of life, and especially in the pharmaceutical industry. For example:

  • Manager to employee: Having a greater awareness/understanding and appreciation will help bosses modify their management style to lead their staff appropriately to attain goals and hence become more productive.
  • Motivate self and others: Organisations that perform well have a culture that promotes ongoing growth, learning and development. At the core of organisational behaviour paradigms rests the notion of how to bring out the best in others, so developing a good understanding of the principles of organisational behaviour and putting them into practice can help with motivation.
  • Managers and employees’ interaction with external customers and stakeholders: Having a good understanding of organisational behaviour can help managers develop a better understanding of processes. This in turn can help managers interact with the various individuals outside the organisation, such as suppliers, competitors and customers. Managers can gain a better understanding of the environment in which they are working by using organisational behaviour to help them appreciate how and why things happen, giving them the advantage of being ahead in today’s competitive environment.

The ability to analyse situations correctly: A good understanding of the concepts of organisational behaviour can help staff and managers analyse situations correctly. All too often misunderstandings arise when situations haven’t been correctly understood. This can prove useful in the following ways:

  • Avoid/manage conflict: A small amount of conflict can prove useful sometimes. However, where possible, if it’s likely to be destructive it needs to be avoided in the first instance, or be managed appropriately. With the sheer size of most pharmaceutical companies, the number of employees and the numerous relationships with the various stakeholders the probability of conflict arising can be quite high. Therefore, being able to curb this is of significant importance for the human relations and media departments.
  • Better observational skills: This can be extremely useful for sales teams that need to be able to pick up on the buying signals, deal with obstructions and work with the complex set of interrelationships and dynamics that exist within the NHS.
  • Recruitment and retention of skilled staff: A great deal of time and expenditure is involved in recruiting the right staff and the majority of the techniques and methods to do this employ organisational behaviour concepts in the form of questionnaires, psychological profiling and role-playing exercises at interviews. People work for several reasons and a better grasp of organisational behaviour concepts could be applied to retain staff, instead of developing them and then allowing them to leave and take the skills and knowledge they have gained elsewhere.

Limitations of organisational behaviour

  • Having an understanding of organisational behaviour can help in situations of conflict but not eradicate them completely.
  • Organisational behaviour is resistant to change due to human cognitive processes and defensive routines which can lead to ‘behavioural biases’, where the focus is on satisfying employees but overlooking the objectives of an organisation.
  • The law of diminishing returns also applies to organisational behaviour: as this needs to be practised to an optimum point, when that point is exceeded there is a decline in returns. This highlights that organisational effectiveness is achieved when all variables work together.
  • In some cases the knowledge and techniques of organisational behaviour could be used in a manipulative manner.

The future of organisational behaviour

Organisational behaviour has evolved over the years: initially from the need to create productive organisations, followed by a philosophical desire by many people to create more humanistic workplaces. Although organisational behaviour has certain limitations, hopefully by building a better working climate for people there are many advantages which should have longterm effects, not only in the quality of an individual’s life, but in improved harmony among people and among organisations.

The future success of organisational behaviour revolves around the related processes of theory development, research and managerial practice in areas such as communication between and among foreign business operations, cultural differences and motivation techniques in different countries, career development in the global economy, and the differences in leadership and decisionmaking practices in various countries.

The challenge faced by the pharmaceutical industry is to employ organisational behaviour to bring the various stakeholders and actors involved with different values together to create processes by which it can be efficient and effective in exceeding goals and objectives.

Dr R K Powar is the founder of R11OSY CONSULTANTS.