This article identifies similarities between rational theories of organization and theories of Behaviorism from Psychology. This integration of theories from the two disciplines perhaps helps us in broadening our understanding about the functioning of organizations. Some of the similarities are given below:

  1. The research shows that both thoughts have developed almost in the same era when positivism was dominating social sciences. Auguste Comte, founder of the movement of Positivism, emphasized on posi­tive knowledge, which means facts or truths which are not debateable (Schulz 1981). The fundamental principal of posi­tivism is that scientific laws are statements that hold for all times and all places (Bailey 1987).
  2. In Psychology, behaviorists view human behavior as machine (Schulz 1981). Similarly, rational organizational theorists also view organizations as machines which work properly if all parts are working adequately. Taylor visualized the role of people within the organization in precisely the same manner as he visualized the component of a machine, therefore efficient organizations came to be described as smoothly running machines.
  3. The behavioral psychologists see human beings’ overt behavior as a result of the conscious mind and try to understand human personalities within this framework. The classical rational theorists also consider the structure (very close to the concept of overt behavior) of the organization as the sole element which shapes and provides the means to understand the organizational personality.
  4. Both schools of thought stress the importance of DELIBERATE PLANNING. Both views have a rational concept of development in their respective fields. The behaviorists assert that we can develop human beings’ personalities as we desire if our feedback system is proper. They see reinforcement as an instrument in the development of human structure. Similarly, the rationalists also believe that we can devise such a structure of the organization which leads surely to success. Thus, planning is considered as a means to condition the structure.
  5. There is a consensus among behavioral theorists that our responses are conditioned through reinforcement. In other words, we can say that our personality structure is constructed on the reward/punishment system. For example they see mal-adjust­ment of human beings as the result of mal-reinforcement. Likewise, there is a consensus among rational theorists that structure plays an important role in the growth of the organization. Scott (1987) argues that rational theorists believe in the rationality of structure which leads to predetermined goals with maximum efficiency.
  6. The rationalists see structure as an instrument which works as a reinforcer for the organization which conditions the working of the organization if it is followed by the planning. This belief we can easily see in Taylorism. Taylor believes that procedures can be outlined in such a way that produces maximum output with the minimum input of energies and resources (Scott 1987). This thought is very similar to a famous behaviourist Watson’s statement: “given a free hand in control­ling the environ­ment, he could train an infant to become any type of specialist he might select——–doctor, lawyer, beggar-man, or thief. If behaviorists rely on overt behavior of people, we can say that rational theorists rely on the overt structure of organization”.
  7. The organizations try to have standardization in the organization. This standardization is attained through rules & regulationspavlov organizations conditioning. There is also consensus among behavioural psychologists on Pavlov’s thought that by providing the right kind of reinforce­ment we can condition a GENERALIZED RESPONSE and by changing the pattern of reinforcement we can extinguish an established response. The classical rational theorists also believe that we can have STANDARDIZATION if an organization is applying the rational characteristics of organizing.
    If we see the concept of standardization similar to generalization; the development of both means `the same response’ to similar but different stimuli. The organiza­tion desires to have standardiz­ation so that it can elicit specific response accord­ing to the reinforced rules and regulations. Thus, it is pre­ferred to have single-loop learn­ing which means to see things in a particular way.
  8. The rational the­orists believe that we can introduce a change in an organization, or eliminate the specific response, by bringing change to the structure. This is similar to the behavioral concept of EXTINCTION. The argument is also supported by other researchers when they contend that the rationalists see the organizational structure as an instrument which can be modified when necessary to improve the performance.
    We also find a meeting point between Weber and Hull: Weber says that each element operates not in isolation but as a part of aweber and organizations system of elements which provides more effective and efficient administration. If we analyze the statement “each element operates not in isolation”, then, it is quite close to Hullian’s theory of HABIT which means that we do not act in isolation rather we are composition of habits which are conditioned through S-R bond. So the concept of habits and the concept of permanent patterns of behaviour (e.g. S.O.Ps) have a close rela­tionship.
  9. The behaviourists say that it is the environment which determines the type of growth of individuals. In the same way, the rational theorists assert that it is the structure which leads to the development or decline of the organization. It is the power structure which creates the internal environment for the organization. Behavioural psychologists emphasize the importance of the ENVIRONMENT for the growth of human beings. In fact, the word environment includes a large number of elements. It is not possible to pin point all the important elements in the environment which affect the individual personality, but there is an agreement among psychologists that parents provide the primary and very important environment to the child which has lasting effects on personality formation. In the same way, the structure of the organization offers many internal and external environmental elements where strategic apex plays a vital role for the organization, like parents to a child. So, if parents are the primary environment for the child then we can also say that leaders create the primary environment for the organization.
  10. The behaviorists believe that a human being’s overt behavior is the result of conscious mind, therefore, they do not adhere to the concept of unconscious mind. According to them, we can assess human personality by the OVERT BEHAVIOR of human beings. The rational theorists also believe in the OVERT STRUCTURE of the organization in order to assess its working style. For example, suprem­acy of rules (here, it includes all other characteristics like hierarchy, division of labour, specialization etc.) and remuneration are the most import­ant elements of organizational structure. If we study these two elements then we can say that rules are stimuli and monetary benefits are reinforcers for the participants which means, “follow the rules in order to get monetary benefits”. Organizational structure tries to condition the response of participants by allocating monetary benefits if they elicit the right response according to the rules.
  11. Pervin says that we can sum up the behaviorist’s point of view with three broad assumptions: (1) behavior is learned by the building up of associations; (2) people basically seek to obtain pleasure and avoid pain; (3) and, behavior is basically environmentally determined. These three broad assumptions have close relationship what the rational theorists teach us: (1) organizational behavior is learned through structural networks i.e., rules, regulations, S.O.Ps etc.; (2) the paradigm behind the establishment of the organization is result orientation (get success, avoid failure); (3) and, behavior of the organization is basically determined by internal environment, which mean organizational structure.

Combining the thoughts,we can argue that all organizations have  a conscious mind of organization and it consists of the following  visible components. Rationalists and behaviorists argue that changing process of concious mind of organization or overt behavior can bring the required change.

  • Visible Power Structure
  • Visible modes of Planning
  • Visible Communication Patterns
  • Visible Reinforcement to Participants

Nadeem Yousaf

Uploaded on: 24 April 2011

Organizational Rationalists Vs. Behaviorists