Human relations movement

Another within the human resources approach is important to management history for its unflinching commitment to making management practices more humane. Members of the human relations movement uniformly believed in the importance of employee satisfaction – a satisfied worker was believed to be a productive worker. For the most part, the people associated with this movement – Dale Carnegie, Abraham Maslow, and Douglas McGregor were individuals whose views were shaped more by their personal philosophies than by substantive research evidence.

Dale Carnegie is often overlooked by management scholars, but his ideas and teachings have had an enormous effect on management practice. His book How to Win Friends and Influence People was read by millions in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. In addition, during this same period, thousands of managers and aspiring managers attended his management speeches and seminars. What was the theme of Carnegie’s book and lectures? Essentially, he said that the way to succeed was to (1) make others feel, important through a sincere appreciation of their efforts; (2) make a good first impression; (3) win people over to your way of thinking by letting others do the talking, being sympathetic and never telling a man he is wrong and (4) change people by praising good traits and giving the offender the opportunity to save face.

Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, proposed a hierarchy of five needs: physiological, safety, social esteem and self actualization. In terms of motivation, Maslow argued that each step in the hierarchy must be satisfied before the next level can be activated and that once a need was substantially satisfied, it no longer motivated behavior.

Douglas McGregor is best known for his formulation of two sets of assumptions —Theory X and Theory Y – about human nature. Theory X presents an essentially negative view of people. It assumes that they have little ambition, dislike work, want to avoid responsibility and need to be closely supervised to work effectively. On the other hand, Theory Y offers a positive view assuming that people can exercise self direction accept responsibility and consider work to be as natural as rest or play. McGregor believed that Theory Y assumptions best captured the true nature of workers and should guide management practice.

A story about McGregor effectively captures the essence of the human perspective. McGregor had taught for a dozen years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) before he became president of Antioch College. After six years at Antioch, he seemed to recognize that his philosophy had failed to cope with the realities of organizational life.

He believed for example, that a leader could operate successfully as a kind of advisor to his organization though without being a boss. Unconsciously he hoped to duck the unpleasant necessity of making difficult decisions, of taking the responsibility for in course of action, among many uncertain alternatives, of making mistakes and taking the consequences. Good human relations would eliminate all discord and disagreement. He couldn’t have been more wrong. It took a couple of years for him to realize that a leader cannot avoid the exercise of authority any more than he can avoid responsibility for, what happens to his organizations.

The irony in McGregor’s case was that he went back to MIT and began preaching his humanistic doctrine again. And he continued to do so until his death. Like Maslow’s McGregor’s beliefs about human nature have had a strong following among management academics and practitioners.

What common thread linked the advocates of the human relations movement? The thing that United human relations supporters, including Carnegie, Maslow, and McGregor, was an unshakable optimism about people’s capabilities. They believed strongly in their cause and were inflexible in their beliefs, even when faced with contradictory evidence. No amount of contrary experience or research evidence would alter their views. Despite this lack of objectivity, advocates of the human relations movement had a definite influence on management theory and practice.