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Organizational Behavior essay

According to Stephen P. Robbins, “Organizational Behavior is a field of study that investigates the impact that individuals, groups, and structure have on behavior within organizations for the purpose of applying such knowledge toward improving an organization’s effectiveness”.

Having no previous exposure to the term, this paper will be my attempt to articulate my understanding of the discipline based upon my reading of Robbins’ book. In practical terms, Organizational Behavior (OB) is a field of study that tries to understand the complex interactions of people within the context of the workplace with the hope that this understanding will lead to tangible ways to improve organizations and make them more profitable.

Organizational Behavior is based on disciplined research of behavior. The field has accepted types of research methods and standards to try to ensure that research findings are valid and not swayed by the bias of the researcher. Further care is taken to assure that the outcomes observed are not the results of contrived circumstances that force a particular type of behavior or out come, but are not realistic or practically applicable to a reasonable workplace. The theories, or methods, that emerge from research must be practical and of a nature that they can be generalized to many organizational structures in order to be useful. If the theories from OB do not, in fact, lead to tangible improvements to the effectiveness and profitability of organizations, then the field is interesting, but of little value. Therefore, professionals within OB carefully guard the standards to which research and development of theory must add here.

OB starts with the study of individual behavior. The study of the individual is not motivated like the field of psychology, which also studies the behavior of the individual. Psychology has the end goal of being able to help and improve the individual. OB is concerned with the study of individuals as they react within the context of an organization and is motivated by the concern of the impact of the individual on the organization. The focus of OB is improvement of the organization, not the individual. Happily, much of the last 200 years of research implies that reasonable care and focus on the individual ultimately leads to an improved organization.

The next level of study in OB is the study of groups. It studies how the behavior of the individual influences a group (with the individual as determinant) and how individual’s behavior is influenced by a group (a dependent variable). Much of the work in organizations must be done by groups. If the behavior of one individual will negatively impact the group, this must be understood. For instance, an individual may be extremely capable, but if they are arrogant and divisive within the group, they harm the organization. Similarly, if the dynamics of a group stifle creative thought and ideas of the individual, this, too, can be harmful to the organization. At an important practical level, OB seeks to understand interactions of individuals within groups to understand what types of behaviors are most likely to lead to successful completion of goals and which behaviors must be stopped.

The third level of study is the organization itself, what structure and processes are most effective in increasing overall productivity – getting more done with less. OB seeks to learn the structures, policies, reward systems, and cultures that generally and predictably enhance productivity.
Study at each level is critical and has different challenges. Although what matters to OB is the behavior of individuals as it impacts the organization, the individual must be respected as an individual. Each comes to the organization with a personality, talents, and a past history that will influence how that individual learns and how they are motivated. Sensitivity to understanding individuals will help establish behaviors in groups that will ultimately be able to contribute something greater than the sum of all the individuals, acting alone and in their own way, can contribute. (Robbins 53). Likewise, the policies, the leadership style, the culture, and the structure of a company influence the ability of groups to meet goals and to be successful.

OB has core topics of study that seem to help reasonably predict behavior. It studies independent (causal) and dependent variables on behavior at all three levels. It tracts important measures, such as ROI, absenteeism, and turnover to try to assess which models will be most effective in helping organizations. The study of each level is done with the knowledge that each level is interconnected and impacts the others.

The most fascinating thing about OB is how complex the field really is. There are so many variables, some of which are independent in one situation and dependent in another. There are many theories that have proven effective in one organization and yet are useless in another. Respected theories in scientific management that were developed in the 18th century work even today for companies like UPS, and yet, these same theories have been severely undermined by subsequent research that focuses more on individuals and how to motivate them. It is difficult to determine what is important in being able to predict behaviors that will help a particular organization.

It is interesting that most of OB theory was developed over the last 200 years and that study today primarily refines and clarifies various models. Human nature, it seems, has not evolved like the technology around it. Much of the observation and theory from long ago is completely applicable today. As OB itself evolves, it seems to find that a combination of models is often effective. It is clear that there is no single model that is right for all companies or even for all tasks or situations within a company. OB is a complex field, but careful research, done with integrity, can yield helpful models. Those models, when thoughtfully applied within an organization, can improve the organization and create an environment where the individuals within it feel motivated satisfied.

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