Behaviorism as Useful Framework For Managing People

Subject: Management Theories
Pages: 13
Words: 3582
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: PhD


Behaviorism is not entirely a new concept in management. Managers in many organizations employ certain aspects of behaviorism on daily basis. Organizational policies, operation plans, and analyses of their activities contain aspects of behaviorism. Nonetheless, it is hard to ascertain whether the concept is used appropriately. Behaviorism can be very efficient in managing the way people behave when faced with certain situations in an organization or working environment. Sometimes the concept cannot be effective under the overall process of training employees. This paper assesses the way Watson’s theory can be used in managing people in knowledge-based organizations. This is because many researchers assert that behaviorism can determine the way people learn.

Behaviorism Concept

Behaviorism refers to a mode of learning whereby humans or animals concentrate on objectively observable character and overlook the mental process (Thompson, 1994, p. 257). Behavior theorists hence perceive the learning process as a way of acquiring new behavior. This means that behaviorism only focuses on measurable behaviors. However, in most cases, it is not concerned with how the brain works to get that type of behavior. The behaviorist theories have undergone various development s for a long time with the contributions of several researchers (Bouton, 2009, p. 181). Conventional psychologists believe the theory first emerged during the time of Aristotle. From early 1600 to 1800, many people contributed to the theory like Hume, Baine, and Brown. Nonetheless, the fathers of behaviorism are Watson, Skinner, and Pavlov since their efforts to elaborate the concept were so distinct and understandable. Pavlov Ivan described a model called conditioning. In this model, he demonstrated that conditioned stimulation like the use of a bell would lead to the development of conditioned response. This relates to dogs salivating at the ringing of a bell as it signaled to them, their feeding time (Bouton, 2009, p. 181). Here the stimulus is food.

Watson John improved the ideas of Pavlov. He added that behavior was initiated by a specific stimulus. Thus concluding that the process of subconscious intentions or the hidden cognitive reactions are not important in achieving the way humans react. Skinner B.F again improved the ideas of Watson and concentrated on operant conditioning. This also highlighted mainly the rewarding aspect whenever the desired outcome is to be achieved (Bouton, 2009, p. 184). Skinner worked mostly with animals, he was able to conclude, and the outcome was regarded as operant like a situation where a mouse would be pressing a bar and there would be a reinforcer of the behavior. Food would be an appropriate reinforcer in this situation (food pellets). As long as the food is given, the mouse would give out the desired behavior (Horowit, 1992, p. 360). Besides, Skinner introduced punishment by shocking the mice with some electric charge. This punishment hindered the continuation of the behavior.

Concept of Management

Managing people as a duty of human resources in any organization can be a very difficult task if not properly understood. As far as behavior is concerned, individuals and the organization have characteristics that describe their interaction (Bouton, 2009, p. 181). The behavior of an organization is the interaction of persons with the organization with colleagues. It may also cover the interaction of the organization either the environments (the general public, government, other organizations, etc (Horowit, 1992, p. 360).) the critical aspect of this is the adaptation to the changing conditions in the global economy, technology, and social structure as well as the adoption of new exercises that may involve downsizing, local-based advantage, etc.

The Management: The management of an organization is the topmost organ and it is involved in the activities such as resource allocations, making decisions, directing, and controlling the performance of the other personnel and staff to achieve the organizational goals. This is because an organization is a deliberately coordinated collective component composed of two or more people that work on an unremitting basis to accomplish a common objective or set of objectives (Horowit, 1992, p. 360). The management needs to understand behaviorism theory to be able to carry out its functions, which include:

  1. planning – a process that comprises the definition of goals, formulating strategies, and development of the plans to implement the strategies and coordinate performance to achieve the organizational goals
  2. Organizing – it involves deciding on the activities to be accomplished, by whom, how to be done, the flow of information, and when decisions are to be made.
  3. Controlling – this is the process of continuous evaluation of the activities of the organization to ensure that they are accomplished as per the plan while correcting any mistakes or indiscretions (Horowit, 1992, p. 360).
  4. leading – this is the aspect of giving motivation to employees, directing their performance, and designing the communication links as well as resolving conflicts(Horowit, 1992, p. 360).

Being able to influence the employee, results in effective management since the management can always find means of realizing their desired goals. This way, the above functions are easily carried out.

Influence of Watson Ideas on Learning

Currently, two perspectives concern the nature by which people learn. This is important to managers because they can be able to manage the people in an organization. How Watson described behaviorism that refers to character and excludes mental events is unique (Buckley, 1989, para. 3). The behavior is stimulated by external stimuli and not by internal thoughts. The behaviorist views the process of learning as being able to acquire or adopt new characters. The original concepts postulated by Watson probably tend to be inclined on the fact that behavior is just physical like the case of muscle twitches. The concept applies only to certain types of stereotypes. Surprisingly, the 1920 paper by Watson indicates that the ideas of behaviorism were even more sophisticated than what people superficially perceived.

Learning is more of a process of trial and error. In the process of learning, the individual encounters walls, cul-de-sac and retraces as they venture for new knowledge. the objective achieved leads to, a kind of behavioral quiescence that takes place (Watson, 1913, para 2). An explanation of several activities in the same way (Buckley, 1989, para. 3). Watson suggests that this is behavior and reaction to certain things in an abstract way. However, the abstraction of stimulus is mostly challenged due to the emergence of the taste aversion procedure. This has been evident in rat taste where they can learn to associate a particular taste with some kind of illness. The rats could not just associate the taste with an electric shock.

Based on the above concepts, it is possible that managers can assist in shaping the behavior of the workers so that only the desired results are achieved. Managers can be able to do this by applying a reinforcer. This can be a positive one or a negative reinforcer (Buckley, 1989, para. 3). These reign forcers bring out reward or punishment as the overall consequences.

Knowledge-Based Organization

Several approaches are applied by managers to survive the economic hard times that have constantly characterized business in the new millennium. Change and innovation equated to survival through turbulent times. When businesses attain a very strong economic advantage it means that they are uniquely placed ahead of their competitors and can survive the economic recession. Currently, managers have come to realize and appreciate that change of strategy and innovation is critical in an enduring downturn and perhaps the only tactic to maintain the business growth trajectory (Buckley, 1989, para. 3). The only way a business can stay ahead of competitors an economic crisis. Recession is a very big problem that has seen businesses close down.

This also requires companies and organizations to keep on improving their knowledge and tactics constantly to succeed. The economy is now knowledge-based and as a result, many organizations are setting out to be knowledge-based. Closing down is the worst nightmare for managers of any organization. However, there are still companies that have been able to come up with the very new idea that is so controlling, so fascinating that they pick up with very little outlay (Wilder, et al 2009, p. 203).

The learning concepts in behaviorism are critical to management and they imply that behavior is manipulated to bring out the desired outcome. This is where the operant principles come into play. This idea started with the workers from the beginning rather it came about in the 1960s when Fredrick Taylor thought that there needed to be a scientific or quantifiable way of assessing the performance of employees (Wilder, et al 2009, p. 203).

It is important to remember that continuous education and training are critical for an organization considering that the world is under constant change. This then brings out the big questions as to what exactly managers can use to motivate employees to learn. The influence of Watson’s theory is important to managers in their attempt to continuously for the success of their organizations (Wilder, et al 2009, p. 203). Only new skills and knowledge can help in dealing with the changing business environment. There are many sources of pressure to seek more knowledge.

The following steps summarize learning in an organization

  1. To identify important or desired behavior in an organization
  2. Developing a baseline formation that helps to initiate learning in an organization
  3. Identifying the possible penalty or reward for attaining or failing to attain the targeted behavior
  4. Develop and administer intervention- training and on-job learning
  5. Analyze and evaluate the performance to see any improvements

Managing People

For an organization to be able to grow in scope and productivity, the management should ensure that they can develop the required skills and knowledge to survive through the next generation. Managers in a knowledge-based organization then have twofold responsibilities (Wilder, et al 2009, p. 203).

First, the leaders have to orchestrate the program opportunities to be able to engage in development. Second, the managers have to be the role modes in the organization. Several characteristics describe learning programs at workplaces.

Feedback – the program is based on feedback response. This means that the learning program needs to take care of the response that it gets from the employees. Managers need to be aware of the organizational weaknesses and strengths. This type of arrangement helps in collecting information from multiple sources and by use of a variety of methodologies to provide a comprehensive e picture of the organization (Wilder, et al 2009, p. 203). Having a program that ensures continued feedback will result in inefficient services. When leaders employ such characters, then the entire organization is engendered to act the same way

Development Relationship – manager can offer services that develop the society like adopting mentorship programs or coaching arrangements. When such behavior is embedded in an organization, then the outcomes of such organizations are likely to improve. This is because a feeling of satisfaction enhances the process of learning.

Training and learning are very essential for management. Training the organization personnel can have a great deal of improvement on the performance or production of the same organization (Watson, 1924, para. 2). The functions of the HR that are critical to this include recruitment and training. This is so because the process helps to capture the required resources are brought in either by training the current employees or seeking new one and collecting experts in the field that has efficient skills in that area. The importance of need analysis is observed at this stage. It is through the need analysis that the HR manager can identify the type of skills they need to obtain for the organization if they want a particular job. For instance, the introduction of electronic documentation and information systems in the healthcare sector requires that many Information Technology experts be employed to work besides the medical practitioners. The practitioners are also being educated on the use of the latest technology hence they acquire IT qualifications besides the medical experience. The type of analysis done depends on the objectives of the organization. However one should consider other aspects like resource availability, time, etc (Horowit, 1992, p. 360), despite the complicatedness of the analysis, some important steps are common to everyone needs analysis for the training requirement.

Applying Behaviorism

The big question is to find out how behaviorism fits into organization management. Regarding the definition by behaviorists, the concept allows managers to assist in shaping employees’ characters and performance. This way, only the desired outcomes are attained. A manager can be able to achieve this by applying a reinforcing factor- a stimulus. As identified earlier, there are two types of reinforcement. The negative and the positive reinforcements- Positive reinforcement is achieved if the manager describes the character of an employee as being desirable. The manager in this case applies positive stimulus like an appraisal, certification promotion, and other work-related benefits (Hall, 2009, p. 186). Such reinforcement is usually meant to motivate workers. This is the zeal to exert high levels of performance towards achieving organizational objectives. It starts with the way managers treat their employees and the subsequently activated character that works towards the targeted objective. Primary motivators are hunger, pain, maternal concerns, etc. they are usually involuntary while the secondary motives are voluntary and play a significant role in the worker motivation and they include hunger for power, need for connection, status quo, need to excel and the need for safety (Hall, 2009, p. 186). In this regard, better working conditions, good remuneration, and promotion stimulate better performance. Psychologists assert that human beings can do things they deem undesirable for them to enjoy things that are more desirable later on. For instance, workers can work long hours for better pay or do the extra job to earn a promotion.

Behaviorism can help control behavior and instigate learning among workers (Watson, 1913, para 2). Managers control, maintain and provoke the type of behavior they want. This can come in all forms ranging from praises, disci0line, and parties as well as salary increments.

Also important to note in knowledge-based organizations the need to have negative reinforcement. This way, the managers can be able to achieve their best-desired outcomes by removing adverse conditions. For instance, the reporting time is set very early, where lateness is discouraged (Hall, 2009, p. 186). There can also be a minimum target for the sales and marketing personnel, where poor achievers face the risk of demotion. This type of reinforcement is usually considered a less effective one since it at times takes away the motivation of the employees. Workers usually work under tension or with fear of facing adverse consequences should they fail to achieve the desired behavior set by the management. Negative reinforcement is associated with the problems of attitude. Individual behavior can also influence negatively the overall performance of the organization (Hall, 2009, p. 186). This is the reason why managers tend to reward or punish an individual even when a team did an effort.

Behavior at times is rated in terms of ability and intelligence. Ability is described as the individual’s capability to execute the task allocated to him on the job. Intelligence is having the aptitude and the competence to execute mental or more logical tasks. There are individuals with greater understanding and exercise multiple intelligence. It is perceived to be the combination of the following elements, cultural, social, and emotional, and cognition (Watson, 1924, para. 2). All the above aspects are very important for the growth of an organization as they play a crucial role in learning and reinforcement of ideas to individuals in the organizational setup. The attitude of the employees can greatly affect their performance and hence the organization can run into losses. Lack of job satisfaction can provoke a bad attitude while job satisfaction builds a positive perception. Employees need to be aware that better job performance and achieving the objectives of the organization is the main activity for the success of the organization. A negative attitude could be because the workers are not adequately rewarded or stringently controlled by the management (Hall, 2009, p. 188). As part of the duties of the management, particularly the Human resource, training is very essential for the workers even when they are highly qualified. Its been proven that workers can lose skills if they do not exercise then often, on the other hand, those who are not properly trained for the job or lack relevant skills strain a lot at work, and as a result, they tend to dislike the job. They associate it with negative outcomes. Training analysis is used to establish the deficient skill in such cases and intervention to be proposed (Wilder, et al 2009, p. 203).

The effects of attitude on job performance are explained by the use of cognitive dissonance theory and the self-perception theory. Managers can assist workers to achieve better results by applauding the following; job involvement- this is job identification, participation, and considering the performance as significant to oneself (Hall, 2009, p. 186). Organizational commitment – identifying oneself with a specific organization and its objectives and wishing to maintain membership to the organization; Employee engagement- this is individual’s connection with, contentment with, and ardor for the organization (Todd, 2005, p. 56). Perceived organizational support- is the extent to which employees perceive that the organization is concerned about their welfare.

The consequence is what the employees face when they act out their character. For better performance, they are praised and rewarded while failing to achieve the goals fails. It is important to note that punishment is applied when a manager needs to exterminate bad behavior the strongest stimulus that helps to reduce or get rid of bad characters (Thompson, 1994, p. 257). For instance, if workers fight on duty they are suspended and face the board of directors for an explanation.

Since the business world is continuously changing, to be able to keep up with the pace, the organization has to improve performance. When there is a change in the market, the survival of businesses relies on very calculated company strengths. The strengths are more vested in employees who are the main assets of the organization. This is why employees have managed efficiently by the business. When employees are given the best working environment, they tend to be hardworking and innovative (Thompson, 1994, p. 257). With a reporting system in place, employees can communicate back to management about how they feel about their needs and how to better the situation. Managers should understand that employee satisfaction would keep them on the market. When employees are satisfied with working conditions and work-related services, they tend to work harder.

Behaviorism is Effective in Management

There is a need for managers to understand that behavioral instruction limits the opportunity or the context in which individuals can expand their independent thinking and reasoning skills. So far, behaviorist researchers have not proven that conditioning and response skills also work for other situations besides learning (Rilling, 2000, p. 302). The theory can then be of very little help when addressing authentic learning. In other words, the concept is only of help in an organizational setting and not essential how the knowledge is instilled into employees’ minds Todd, J. T. (2005).

Behaviorism theory functions as an agent of controlling people and pays no attention to the fact that human beings think independently. This concept asphyxiates a person by indicating that external factors can influence their behavior (Rilling, 2000, p. 302; Thompson, 1994, p. 257). This translates to mean that people are denied the free will or the self-determination of making an independent decision. In reality, human beings should enjoy the free will to think and express themselves. Behaviorism can apply only when reinforcing the way people act in various situations and does not change the way they learn and retrieve the learned skills.

Behaviorism is only applicable for handling the duties that are task-related (Rilling, 2000, p. 302). For instance learning how to work on a computer when required to, staying at one’s workstation, and finishing assignments in a relevant way. The employees are aware that the tasks are accomplished, though they may not understand that learning is taking place. The major reason here is that there is a very distinct difference between physical behavior and conceptualization of ideas (Rilling, 2000, p. 302).

Furthermore, the context in which this type of learning is based is on traditional behaviorist ideas that assume that knowledge is a commodity that changes hands inertly (Rilling, 2000, p. 302). The art of acquiring knowledge varies among individuals and hence behaviorism cannot assist the actual learning process. Behaviorism can only work when setting behavior standards.

Behaviorism, therefore, implies that people are not responsible for their deeds. They act like machines only reacting to stimuli from the external environment. The concept is manipulative and does not seek to understand human behavior but rather to forecast and control it. Skinner contributed to the concept by introducing rewards and penalties.


Behaviorism is effective in the organizational setting as long as the managers make use of the concept appropriately. A successful model in any organization would entail using positive reinforcement and punishment. Managers employing this concept in management can attain the desired outcomes. Most workers are likely to respond appropriately to the stimuli. This is likely to translate into organizational harmony – Managers applying this concept in knowledge-based organizations may be losing the actual meaning of it. Behaviorism should not work as a tool for assessing the amount of knowledge acquired or determining what to learn as it restricts the free will to think.

Reference List

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