Sunday, November 7, 2010

Principles of Management: An Anthropological Perspective

A short lecture Note


In today’s world at any business school, the principles of management, or management principles is one of the most common and popular courses to be offered.  At my current college the principles of management course is taught by Dr. Michael Lillis and Professor Ken Kedge as a full semester three credit hour course.  The course is designed as a survey of the history of management and review of significant management literature. It covers a variety of topics and contents, such as the applications of management theories to practical problems in planning, organizing, and controlling business activities. It presents a thorough and systematic coverage of management theory and practice by focusing on the basic roles, skills and functions of management, with special attention to managerial responsibility for effective and efficient achievement of goals. Special attention is given to social responsibility, managerial ethics, and the importance of multi-national organizations.

As a field of research and study, the principles of management is development by management scholars through borrowing and applying basic concepts, theories, and methodologies from economics, sociology, anthropology, politic science, statistics, philosophy, and so on.  Accordingly, different approaches and perspectives have been formatted towards the principles of management, such as economics perspective on principles of management, sociology perspective on principles of management, or anthropological perspective on principles of management.  In today’s lecture I will focus on anthropological perspective on principles of management by presenting and discussing the relationships between principles of management and anthropology, as well as the implications of anthropology in management.  As such the learning objectives for today’s short class are: 1) Learning what are principles of management and what is anthropology, 2) Understanding the relationships between principles of management and anthropology, 3) Comprehending the implications of anthropology in management practice.

What are the principles of management?

A principle is often referring to a fundamental truth. It establishes cause and effect relationship between two or more variables under given situation. They serve as a guide to thought and actions. Therefore, the principles of management are the statements of fundamental truth based on logic which provides guidelines for managerial decision making and actions. These principles can be derived on the basis of observation and analysis (such as the practical experience of managers, or by conducting experimental studies with the control of certain conditions (such as study employees’ productivity by putting them into different situations in which managers are instructed to approach their subordinates to assign the same type of task). 

In the words of Herbert G. Hicks, "Principles of management are the guiding rules of laws for managerial action." In the words of Kantooz and O' Donnell, "Management principles are fundamental truth of general validity." These truths are the guiding pillars in the managerial execution of functions and solution to problems. Every social science has developed its own principles. Management is also a social science and thus it has developed a number of management principles from time to time.
Henry Foyol, a French industrialist, offered fourteen principles of management for the first time in 1916. During the period of 1920-40s in the USA many authors did hard work in developing and testing various principles of management. Today, there is a very lengthy list of management principles and it is not possible to give an exhaustive list of them.

There are many different major points we need to discuss about management principles, but in accordance with the main ideas of lecture today, please allowing me focus on one point alone. The principles of management are concerned mostly with human behavior which cannot be tested under controlled conditions such as in a laboratory. Human behavior in most situations is unpredictable. Therefore management principles are not as exact as the principles of physical science. In this way, the management principles are merely statements.

Management principles influence human behavior Human element is an essential factor of production. It activities and extracts work form other factor also. Every worker is individually different from the other workers as regards his ability, knowledge, skill, socio-economic status, attitudes and ideologies. Management is concerned with the integration of individual efforts and how to decentralize them towards achieving the desired results. As such, management principles is said to be a work and group activity, which aims at influencing individual efforts and directing them to the minimization of profit with the minimum wattage and the best possible utilization of available resources.

At this point, we can simply but safely say that the principles of management are a scientific field of study about humans’ behaviors.  Now let us examine what is anthropology.

What is anthropology?  

Anthropology is a social science that studies the social environment in which people live and the impact of this social environment upon feelings, attitudes, behaviour, etc. Although often dismissed as an “ivory tower” discipline, anthropology has much to contribute to the study of management problems, such as organization culture studies, organization behavior studies. Although it may appear to be a discipline and methodology only recently employed by management researches, in reality anthropology has a long history within the evolution of management principles.  The classic anthropological methods of research such as ethnography, observation, interviewing, etc., furthermore, have proved to be appropriate for management research.

The “naturalistic method” that has risen to prominence in consumer relationship management research in recent years is clearly indebted to anthropological methods.  The basic strategies of this approach are to engage in participant observation and to observe and interpret what people actually do in a real-life environment. This naturalistic method demands that researchers interpret behaviour from the informant’s perspective, not with reference to the feelings or opinions of the investigator.  As a result of this informant-centred focus, researchers are able to more effectively perceive what motivates consumers and impacts their responses.  While the results of the qualitative, naturalistic methods have been widely applauded, the naturalistic techniques employed by Belk, Sherry, and Wallendorf are reflective of the ethnographic method of anthropology.

Related to this is the work in what Hirschman has called “Humanistic” marketing management research that, like anthropological methods, is based upon qualitative methods of research and analysis, such as participate observation.  Thus, the current trend of anthropology in marketing and consumer management research can be viewed a part of a larger qualitative and humanistic research agenda for the field.  In this context, Ethnography is a process of describing a culture in subjective ways that stem from the feelings of informants who are functioning members of the group being investigated. 

Anthropology also provides useful methods for analyzing particular cultures. Harris and Moran focus on the fact that culture provides people with a sense of who they are, gives them a feeling of belonging, establishes rules of how to behave, and offers rankings of what goals are important, etc.  Culture provides a learned, shared, and interrelated set of symbols, codes, values, knowledge, etc. that justify and motivate human behavior.  In recent years, those with international experience have written any number of guides of foreign countries that help those in international business to understand diverse cultures in order to be more effective within that context.

Anthropology uses the concept of culture to describe and analyze human behavior, values, choices, preferences, practices, beliefs, attitudes, and so on. In classical anthropological theory, culture is an underlying dimension of all societies and all social life.  All human behavior takes place within a cultural context.  Indeed, it is culture that makes social life and economic cooperation possible and meaningful.  The concept of culture, therefore, is invaluable for those who seek to understand consumption.  At this point we can conclude that anthropology is behavior science that emphasizes the importance of culture on humans’ behaviors. 

The relationship between the principles of management and anthropology

As indicated earlier, the principles of management is a cross-discipline field of study, which borrowed concepts, theories, and methods from different disciplines. When we examine the evolution process of the management principles we can easily identify the influence of anthropology to the development of management principle theories, from the classic schools of management to more recently quality school of management.  Below I will focus on examining behavioral management theory as it was developed directly by the anthropologists.

As management research continued in the 20th century, questions began to come up regarding the interactions and motivations of the individual within organizations. Management principles developed during the classical period were simply not useful in dealing with many management situations and could not explain the behavior of individual employees. In short, classical theory ignored employee motivation and behavior. As a result, the behavioral school was a natural outgrowth of this revolutionary management experiment.

The behavioral management theory is often called the human relations movement because it addresses the human dimension of work. Behavioral theorists believed that a better understanding of human behavior at work, such as motivation, conflict, expectations, and group dynamics, improved productivity. The theorists who contributed to this school viewed employees as individuals, resources, and assets to be developed and worked with — not as machines, as in the past.

One of the seminal contributions to organizational behavioral stems from the Hawthorne Project conducted between 1927 and 1932 at the Hawthorne Works in Chicago, a factory that served as the manufacturing arm of Bell Systems (American Telephone & Telegraph). This work set the stage for decades of research to follow and also gave birth to the human relations school of management theory. Initially, the project did not involve anthropologists and simply sought to measure the impacts of changes in working conditions.  Unexpectedly, productivity was found to increase both when lighting was improved, and when it was dimmed substantially. These results could not be explained using the theories of the day. Other experiments yielded similar results.  Ultimately this response has come to be known as the Hawthorne Effect (coined in 1955, reflecting back on the Hawthorne experiments) to indicate that workers tend to improve their performance if they know they are being watched.

The Hawthorne Project was directed by Elton Mayo, a scholar emigrated from Australia with anthropological background. He invited Harvard anthropologist W. Lloyd Warner to join the project. The group of anthropologists at Harvard during the time of the Hawthorne project was clearly influenced by Warner and numerous studies were conducted during the 1940s through the 1950s.  With the involvement of anthropologists by focusing on social relationships, the Hawthorne studies formed the basis of the human relations school. The emphasis came to focus upon feelings and sentiments, not just the physical conditions of the workplace.  Loyalties and identities, not merely self-interest, were documented. Informal social systems and their impact were investigated. In short, anthropological methods of studying human interaction established the human relations school as the dominant model of management science for about a quarter century.

Apparently, there is a close connection between principles of management and anthropology.  When talk about principles of management we cannot avoid discussing the contribution from anthropology, while when talk about anthropology we cannot forget the fact that management is one of the major study filed for anthropologists.  There is a large literature body on anthropology of management, and the implications of anthropology in management are very open without a limitation.  

The implications of anthropology in management practice

There are different approaches to implicate anthropology in management practice, and the implications of anthropology can be developed in all the areas of management.  The mostly discussed areas are anthropology and cross-cultural management, anthropology and human resources management, anthropology and organization behavior, anthropology and competitive intelligence and knowledge management, and so on.  Below I will concentrate on discussion the implication of anthropology in competitive intelligence and knowledge management. 

Competitive intelligence in today’s highly competitive business environment becomes one of the hottest topics in management; it has to do with looking inward to optimize internal intelligence. It starts with managing and deploying knowledge systematically within one’s own organization. Increasingly, knowledge is recognized as a key organizational asset, to be leveraged and exploited for competitive purposes.  A KM system organizes the intellectual assets of a corporation.  This includes recorded information, corporate experience, third-party information, and tacit knowledge of employees. 

In practice, KM encompasses both technological tools and organizational routines in overlapping parts.  It efforts typically focus on organizational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, the sharing of lessons learned, and continuous improvement of the organization.   KM efforts overlap with competitive intelligence, and may be distinguished from that by a greater focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and a focus on encouraging the sharing of knowledge. KM efforts can help individuals and groups to share valuable organizational insights, to reduce redundant work, to avoid reinventing the wheel per se, to reduce training time for new employees, to retain intellectual capital as employees’ turnover in an organization, and to adapt to changing environments and markets. These efforts can be better operated with the help of anthropologists. 

What does anthropology have to do that is of value to Knowledge Management? The applied anthropologist and the founding director of Workspace International Patricia Burke developed an anthropological model to knowledge management through her longitude practice. Burke indicates that anthropologists are interested in how knowledge is constituted by different people and how knowledge is managed in terms of how it is secured and deployed. Understanding KM in an organizational context brings anthropology together with a number of other disciplines such as psychology, business theory and information modeling. This can enhance our understanding while simultaneously creating new forms of organizational knowledge. The relevance of an anthropological approach to KM touches on a number of issues, including the popularity of the culture concept and its related elements, ethnicity, issues of globalization and rapid change, issues of difference and sameness, and the deconstruction of how an organization organizes.

As we discussed, anthropology’s main distinguishing method is participant observation. This involves the anthropologist spending a prolonged period doing fieldwork in an effort to gain an in-depth understanding of the organization under study. By virtue of its eclecticism and experience of facilitating understanding of the processes of change across institutions and other social phenomena, anthropology can make a significant contribution to the implementation of KM. According to Burke, observing employees doing about their day-to-day tasks is an important way of externalizing tacit knowledge is just one of the ways in which anthropology can make a significant contribution to the implementation of KM.

Participate observation.  One of the main dilemmas of KM is that much of the knowledge within organizations is personal or individual. In other words, the application and daily operation of business rules, procedures, decisions and communications depend on the availability of personal knowledge that is a combination of information stored in employee’s heads, experiences, behaviors, attitudes and abilities or competencies. This personal knowledge is not stored in any data or knowledge base or in any other form of corporate asset. If key individuals leave the organization, their personal knowledge leaves with them.

How can organizations access this knowledge, assess its value and use it productively? How can individuals be motivated to part with this knowledge? Is it possible to translate this tacit knowledge into an explicit form? Even if individuals are prepared to transcribe their knowledge into a tangible format, what criteria should they use to identify the forms of knowledge of interest to the organization, and how should such knowledge be presented? These are clearly issues of judgment and interpretation that require some thought. Participant observation provides a head start here.

Burke argues that at its most simple, people are observed going about their daily tasks, routines and decision-making processes. The observer is required to note everything, with the aim ultimately of reconstructing the categories and operating frameworks of those being observed. This tends to throw up a host of ethical and practical issues, not least how to observe without getting in the way or unduly influencing behaviors. The end result is a creative reconstruction that is validated by use of other research methods in the fieldwork situation and by checking premises and explanations with informants. By so doing the anthropologists will be able to help the business organizations to build an effective system of knowledge management.   


The principles of management are comprehensive with many features; the core point for principles of management is to study, to understand, to predict, and to influence humans’ behavior.  Anthropology is a social science that studies human’s behaviors and cultures.  There is a close connection between principles of management and anthropology: anthropology is one of the major sources and methods for management principles, while principles of management provide a large unlimited study subject for anthropologists.  The implications of anthropology in management can be expended to all the fields of management, which are still under the development by management scholars and business anthropologists.

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