Michael Beer is Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard University Graduate School of Business. Bert Spector is Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Northeastern University. Both were integral in the development of the Harvard Business School's required course in Human Resource Management.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Endless Wave
David C. Ewing
Never in American history has there been so much confusion over the prerogatives of managers to manage and the rights of their subordinates to be managed within limits. On this point, if nothing else, there is complete agreement among executives, lawyers, consultants, and academics. Some of the confusion arises from laws about collective bargaining, civil rights, sexism, and safety. But these encroachments on traditional management prerogatives are only part of the problem. The most important changes have to do with a whole new way of regarding the manager-subordinate relationship. These changes have altered the organizational climate gradually and ubiquitously; they are more like what sailors call a "sea change" than a thunderhead or line squall. What they have produced is a new way of thinking about human dignity in the workplace -- among managers as well as among nonmanagers. For the time being, the new way coexists with the old; this is what causes so much confusion. To illustrate, here are two brief samples from the sea of current experience.
A woman in a mid-western company adopted a child and got into an argument with her superior about the amount of leave she was entitled to. The superior thought she was entitled to the equivalent of sick leave, whereas she insisted she was entitled to maternity leave, which was considerably longer. When, unable to accept the superior's answer, she complained to managers higher up in the company, she was dismissed. She had become, I was told by a company executive, "a pain in the neck." The outcome of an almost identical case in a West Coast company was very different. When the superior tried to penalize the complaining employee, she appealed to a special group established for hearing such cases and was granted leave without prejudice to her position in the organization. Her superior was the one who was reprimanded and instructed to change his ways.
An officer of a bank in West Virginia learned of some illegal overcharges that were being made on customers' accounts. When he brought the matter tactfully to the attention of his superiors, he was told to forget it; "we know what we're doing," they said. Dissatisfied with this answer, he went to a top executive in the organization. When his boss learned about this, the boss fired him. Yet in an organization in New England, where a similar story was unfolding, the complainant went up the line when the angry boss tried to fire him. Not only was the situation corrected but he was thanked for his effort and enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing the perpetrators discharged.
Such contrasting pairs of stories are not unusual. They are taking place all over the country and in ever-increasing abundance. They illustrate a significant shift in the balance between management prerogatives and employee rights in corporate, government, educational, and other types of organizations. (Strictly speaking, managers are employees, too, but the term employee rights has become so firmly associated with the rights of subordinates and nonmanagers that the usage will be continued in this book.) Whether this shift is good or bad, whether it is due to excessive permissiveness or to the democratic spirit, whether it will lead to more capitalism or more socialism -- these are questions that need not concern us for the time being. The fact is that the shift is going on, it proceeds independently of political fortunes in Washington, D.C., it is changing the life of every manager and subordinate, and it is affecting the fortunes of almost every corporate and public organization, large or small. The questions that should concern us first are these: What is going on? Why is it happening?
From many thousands of careful studies of the U.S. work force, several significant and durable features emerge. It is larger than ever, more volatile than ever, and more knowledgeable. So much attention has been given to these features individually, and to their economic significance in terms of productivity and quality of goods and services, that an important cumulative effect of the features has received little attention. This effect is dissidence. If there has been any lingering doubt about the importance of professional management, that doubt should now be erased forever. Employee dissidence makes the task of the manager not only more difficult and challenging than ever before, but also more indispensable.
According to business historian Alfred D. Chandler, modern management was born in the second half of the nineteenth century when technology and organization size made it essential to safe and efficient business operations. The phenomenon of dissidence escalates the need for modern management, and to a new level of sophistication. Administrators now find themselves in roles comparable to the atomic "glue" that holds the forces of the nucleus together. Without good administration, the "nuclei" of the corporation and government agency -- individuals, groups, departments -- fly apart. The effect on the economy, when this happens, is disastrous.
More than a century ago, according to Chandler, railroads led the way to modern management, developing organization and control systems to take the place of arbitrary leadership by executive pooh-bahs. In the Western Railroad (western Massachusetts and eastern New York), a series of accidents, including a head-on collision, made the owners realize that business was getting too complicated for the traditional boss system. Today, new concepts for the management of dissidence have been pioneered by a great variety of companies -- banks, airlines, chemical producers, automotive parts manufacturers, insurance firms, and many others. This fact reflects the universality of the pressures for change. They come from the chemistry of the work force everywhere, whether in a plywood company in Seattle or a camera-manufacturing firm in Boston.
As for the changing nature of the American work force, five features stand out. First is its enormousness -- 106 million employees altogether, including 11 million in government and 95 million in private industry, education, and public agencies. About 70 million of the latter work in about 80,000 businesses employing 100 or more people (the largest is AT&T, employing more than 1 million people). Second is the rise of technically trained "knowledge workers" and professionals. The late Nelson A. Rockefeller once noted that both of his famous grandfathers who founded Standard Oil Company, John D. Rockefeller and Winthrop Aldrich, were high-school dropouts. But today in Exxon, the corporate descendant of Standard Oil, highly educated employees hold the top 45,000 posts in the company -- about 30% of the jobs. Thousands of other organizations also depend heavily on highly trained people.
Third is the astonishing variety of employees. The majority are white but substantial minorities are composed of blacks, Mexican Americans, and Orientals. The majority are Protestants but many millions are Catholics, Jews, Mormons, agnostics, and atheists. Close to 80% are nonunionized but three trade unions alone (Teamsters, United Auto Workers, and United Steelworkers) boast a membership of 4.5 million working at critical points in the economy. The majority are on the payrolls of corporations but impressive minorities are paid by universities, health management organizations, consulting firms, churches, the military, and civic organizations, as well as federal, state, and municipal governments.
A fourth feature is the mobility of American employees. The woman who was a secretary five years ago is on a corporate legal staff today. The man who worked in a university lab in San Diego last year now works in a scientific company in Georgia. There is great mobility between levels of jobs, types of responsibility, areas of work, and even between the work force and the at-home population, for growing numbers of people are trading back and forth between jobs and leisure.
Fifth, and in some ways most important of all, is the influence on employees of the variegated American culture. Some employees are materialistic, others are aesthetic; some are conservatives, others are heretics; some worship authority, others only tolerate it; some revel in teamwork and group membership, others prefer to go it alone in field selling or research; some "think like farmers" whereas others "think like Madison Avenue."
These features combine to produce the phenomenon of dissidence, which so many thousands of American organizations are experiencing. Dissidence could not happen in many other countries where there is more uniformity and less variety, nor could it have happened in the United States a few generations ago when there were fewer knowledge workers, less employee mobility, and a weaker union tradition. Sometimes critics blame dissidence on structures that various organizations have developed to accommodate it -- employee assistance departments, civil-service-type regulations governing dismissal, labor-management problemsolving committees, and so on. This interpretation misses the point. Dissidence is in the wind, and as W. MacNeile Dixon once observed, "It is not the lofty sails but the unseen wind that moves the ship."
Why do the five characteristics mentioned produce dissidence? They do that because they produce interaction and interchange. They are like ingredients in a recipe that combine to produce a new flavor or dish, or chemicals interacting in a test tube to produce a new material. The enormousness of the American work force increases the mathematical possibilities for change and conflict; the rise of technically trained people gives more employees a basis for challenging the judgments of superiors; the mix of employee types brings people with divergent backgrounds into contact with one another; mobility exposes employees to a broader range of possible conflicts; and our heterogeneous culture multiplies the variety of values, norms, customs, and expectations that meet, not always harmoniously, in plants and office buildings.
How does dissidence manifest itself? In its most obvious form, it shows up in employee actions, not only strikes and slowdowns, the most dramatic form, but also arguments with superiors, letters to the organization president, suggestions to management, demands for a voice in job planning and work control systems, protests against a company decision to sell to, let us say, the Arabs or the Pentagon, outspoken criticism in the media of company policies, blasts at management in stockholder meetings, and other ways. Anthony Athos, an astute observer of the business scene, once predicted that employees some day would surround the chief executive's office and hold him hostage, in order to gain compliance with a demand. That event has not yet happened, but almost every possible action short of such a mutiny has taken place.
Dissidence also manifests itself in attitude surveys and other studies of employee thinking. Daniel Yankelovich reports a marked shift in attitude surveys toward what he calls a "psychology of entitlement" among employees. Instead of saying that they would prefer to have more influence on how things are run, the growing tendency now is to insist that they have a right to take part in decisions affecting their jobs. And whereas management, only a few generations ago, could get away with water pollution or poor working conditions by threatening layoffs, today a substantial minority tell Yankelovich surveyors that they are prepared to risk their economic security, if necessary, in order to improve and preserve the quality of life. Opinion Reseach Corporation, the Conference Board, and other such organizations also have reported pronounced shifts in employee attitudes -- more discontent, more willingness to challenge management, more questioning of superiors' decisions.
Ask almost any veteran supervisor about changes in attitude observed and he or she will support what the pollsters report. When they began their careers, they were taught to fear authority ("respect for authority" was the accepted phrase). What the boss said was right because he was the boss, and whatever club he used to enforce compliance was his prerogative. These once-automatic, knee-jerk beliefs still exist, still are strong here and there, but no longer prevail. Nor does loyalty to the company prevail. Over the Chicago Tribune there used to fly a banner reading, "My country right or wrong -- but my country." Corporate managements often succeeded in inculcating a similar loyalty to the company -- whatever it decided to do, it deserved all-out employee support. Not any more. Most managements think very hard about how a proposed action or policy may affect employment, work conditions, or employee relations, often altering or eliminating the proposal rather than taking the chance of alienating many employees. Several years ago a company in the Southwest conducted a formal vote of employees concerning a proposed move to another location. And the head of Monsanto, John Hanley, told me that much as he wanted to prohibit cigarette smoking during working hours, he had decided not to do so after listening to the counsel of his public relations advisers.
Increasingly, employees think of "self" in terms quite different from management's usual definition. Employees insist that they want to reserve something of themselves from the clutch of the institutions that employ them, to keep a distance between themselves and their superiors, psychologically as well as cognitively. Like the radicals of the 1960s who had something to do with the chain reaction leading to the contemporary state of mind, they are keenly sensitive to the importance of form and procedure. They understand how a corporation's or agency's rules of order, propriety, civility, and appropriateness can demean the spirit, policing it as effectively as armed guards could. They resist the brittleness of corporate oligarchy, they protest the presumption that policies and directives should flow down and reports flow up. "In this grand tree, from root to crown," an anonymous employee wrote under a copy of the organization chart posted on one company's bulletin board, "ideas flow up and vetoes down."
A well-known New York public relations firm started its periodic report to employees and clients with these paragraphs:
Remember those good old pre-whistle-blowing days when company loyalty was considered a virtue? The ideal employee was one who spent 50 years with the same employer without once uttering a word of complaint. At least not loud enough to be heard. For such durability, he received a gold watch upon retirement to mark time till the end of his days.
The trouble with that image is not that it never existed, but that it runs counter to the nature of our society, which is based upon the right to air grievances, express opinions and voice disapproval -- in short: to be heard. Our government rules by consent of the governed. Those in authority may not quell the voice that cries out in protest -- no matter how discomfiting.
In the past many corporations believed they were exempt from this political ideal. They abided, so they thought, in another realm. But gradually, enlightened companies have come to realize that they are social organisms, too, and they cannot function in a manner that goes against the grain of the broader society. To be sure, their adaptation has been slow, and the reasons are not hard to find. By definitio...
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Book Description Free Press, 1985. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX002902370X
Book Description Free Press, 1985. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 002902370X
Book Description Free Press, 1985. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P11002902370X
Book Description Book Condition: Brand New. Book Condition: Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 97800290237091.0