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Human Relations Theory vs. Human Resource Development

Human Relations Theory vs. Human Resource Development

Underlying the organizational leadership model is a set of assumptions about basic human needs or giving the spotlight to the people side of organization. The people side of organizations came into its own in the 1930s, predominately as a result of the Hawthorne studies. These studies led to a new emphasis on the human factor in organizations and increased paternalism by management. In the late 1950s, managers’ attention was caught by the ideas of people like Abraham Maslow and Douglas McGregor, who proposed that organization structures and management practices had to be altered so as to bring out the full productive potential of the employees (Goleman, 2001).

Abraham Maslow’s framework for studying human needs is especially prototypical to human resources writers that are aware of its implications in organizations since fulfillment of basic needs is fundamental to the motivation of human beings. Maslow believes that basic needs are arranged in a hierarchy according to their strength (Goleman, 2001).

The physiological needs are at the top of the hierarchy because they tend to have the highest strength until satisfied. These are the needs that must be met to sustain human life, for food and water, clothing, and

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shelter (Rue, et al., 2004).

As soon as the physiological needs are satisfied, which varies from person to person, the next level of needs, security, becomes predominant. This need represents man’s desire to be free from danger in the present and in the future, or the need for self-preservation (Rue, et al., 2004).

As these two groups of needs become satisfied, affiliation or acceptance becomes the dominant need in the hierarchy. This need represents the need of human beings to belong, to be accepted, to be liked, and to be respected by their friends (Rue, et al., 2004).

Perhaps the next level of needs, esteem or recognition, explains why some Hawthorne studies became rate busters. It may be that after individuals achieve acceptance from their peers they feel the need to excel in the group to gain the esteem of their fellows (Rue, et al., 2004).

Self-actualization, the last need in Maslow’s hierarchy, is the most difficult need to satisfy. Self-actualized personas have achieved their potential; that is, they have realized their full capability. Managers who enjoy managing satisfy this need by managing (Rue, et al., 2004).

With the most difficult need in mind, the attitudes of managers, as organizational leaders, toward their people are of primary importance (Goleman, 2001). The studies carried out by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, the Michigan academics, and Dorwin Cartwright and Alvin Zander point out that leadership is not just to have a powerful set of management skills but to be able to work well with the subordinates too at the outset.

Robert Blake and Jane Mouton of Scientific Methods, Inc. developed a two-dimensional grid analysis of leadership practices that managers can use. The theory for this model, generally called the managerial grid, is based on the research at Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, and the Group Dynamics Center (Goleman, 2001).

In 1945, the Bureau of Business Research at Ohio State University developed a Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire that identified the dimensions of leadership in operation. Two dimensions of leadership emerged as predominant: initiating structure and consideration. Initiating structure refers to the leaders’ behavior in delineating the relationship between themselves and members of the work group as they endeavored to establish well-defined patterns of organization, channels of communication, and methods of procedure (Goleman, 2001).

Consideration refers to behavior indicative of friendship, mutual trust, respect, and warmth in the relationship between the leaders and their staff members. Initiating structure is task-oriented and relates more to the needs of the organization. Consideration is people-oriented and relates more to the needs of the individuals within the organization (Goleman, 2001).

At about the same time the Ohio State team was studying leadership, the Michigan team concluded that two factors account for most of the variance when leadership is measured and identified: employee orientation and production orientation. Employee orientation is directly related to what the Ohio State studies called consideration, and production orientation is similar to initiating structure (Goleman, 2001).

A third group, under the direction of Dorwin Cartwright and Alvin Zander, concluded that all group objectives fall into one of two categories: achievement of a group goal and maintenance of the group. Achievement of the group goal coincides with the task-oriented concepts (production orientation; initiating structure) and maintenance of the group relates to people and their concerns (employee orientation; consideration) (Goleman, 2001).

Motivation and leadership theories offered by David McClelland, Fred Fiedler, Frederick Herzberg and other behavioral scientists during the 1960s and 1970s provided organizational leaders with still greater insights into employee behavior (Blauner, 1999).

Blauner says that a look at today’s organizations indicates a number of ways in which human relations principles are highly influential. Notably, the influence of employee empowerment can be clearly seen in the general attitude of management toward employees. It would be difficult indeed to find a manager today who would characterize his or her subordinates as interchangeable cogs. Rather, managers today do not question the fact that the employees in their organization have needs and desires that must be considered in organizational functioning. This is not to suggest that these human needs always take precedence in decision-making (Blauner, 1999).

Added David Levine in his book Reinventing the Workplace: How Business and Employees Can Both Win, market forces sometimes lead organizational leaders to put human needs second, but these human needs tend to be an integral part of decision-making in today’s organizations (Levine, 2003).

Aptly titled Work Motivation, Uwe Kleinbeck and his colleagues elaborated in that book another way in which employees can be seen in today’s organizations is in the area of job design. In a mechanistic organization, the principle of division of labor often leads to jobs that are highly specialized, highly routinized, and often highly boring, as well (Kleinbeck, et al., 2000).

In many of today’s workplaces, an effort is made to enrich jobs. The goal of job enrichment is to design tasks that will help satisfy some of the higher-order needs of workers (that is, needs for self-esteem and self-actualization) through the provision of motivational job factors. According to Frederick Herzberg, included in the category of motivators are responsibility, achievement, recognition, challenging work, and advancement in the organization (Kleinbeck, et al., 2000).

Placing premium on the contribution of the workforce in a company, Jerry Gilley and Ann Maycunich made a distinction between the part a human relations leader plays and the role a human resources leader adopts. According to them, a human relations leader would institute participation to satisfy employee needs for affiliation and esteem and hope that this need satisfaction would lead to higher levels of morale and eventually, productivity.

In contrast, human resources leader would institute participation to take advantage of the innovative ideas held by subordinates. This manager, in other words, sees employees as human resources that can be accessed to enhance the functioning of the organization and satisfy the needs of the individuals (Gilley and Maycunich, 2000).

In recent years, a number of organizational programs have been developed that attempt to enhance organizational productivity and worker satisfaction through the use of human resources principles (Gilley and Maycunich, 2000). For example, the Honda plant in Maryville, Ohio, has often been touted as one of the most successful implementations of Japanese management principles in the United States. In this plant, the value of the collective is emphasized through the flattening of the organizational hierarchy. Instead of there being managers and workers, everyone at the plant is an associate. The input of all employees is valued through the use of quality control circles, groups of workers who generate innovative ideas for improving the quality of the production process. Emphasis is placed in worker education, with the goal of helping associates to work smarter.

In short, this plant and others that have instituted the organizational values of Japanese management are working to solve organizational problems and increase effectiveness by drawing on the skills and ideas of the workforce (Gilley and Maycunich, 2000).

Indeed, the principles of followership and democratic leadership are certainly intuitively appealing. Gilley and Maycunich believe that by assuming good things about employees, by treating them well with enriched and challenging jobs, and by fulfilling their needs for esteem and self-actualization, managers could generate a climate in which worker satisfaction and productivity will flourish. When the attitudes, assumptions, and subtle behaviors are perceived by some members of the organization as threatening and potentially punishing, especially to an individual member’s sense of self-respect, then the climate will be defensive (Gruenberg, 2000).

Typically, and that is as simple as looking at a local company in any country, Human Resource (HR) managers are the people who oversee the activities of others and who are responsible for attaining goals in organizations. HR managers get things done through other people. They make decisions, collect information from organizations and institutions outside their own, allocate resources, and hiring, training, motivating and disciplining employees. Essentially, they plan, organize, command, coordinate, and control (Gilley and Eggland 1998).

But the corporate trend today points to developing more critical skills than such basic managerial functions. Technical, interpersonal, and conceptual skills are still sought for but when looking for competent international HR managers, the broadened forms of such skills are important to have (Young and Nie 1996). Managerial and decision-making abilities are highly required, particularly when a manager is operating under conditions of isolation or physical distances from the center of decision making in the home office. A global manager must have the ability to appreciate and respect beliefs, values, behaviors, and business practices of individuals and groups from other cultures. In fact, even a home-based national HR manager must be culturally sensitive. Early anthropologists thought of societies and their cultures as fully independent systems. But today, many nations are multicultural societies, composed of numerous smaller subcultures (Libicki 2000).

Indeed, the intensity of today’s global economy challenges corporate executives to compete successfully with anybody, anywhere, and at any time. More companies are looking to overseas markets for growth, and there’s a high demand for people with international expertise. Indeed, human resource management has been elevated to a more ambitious level, to a global scale (Mourdoukoutas 1999). To assure industry leadership at the domestic or global level, organizations are making headway to analyze the business, consumers, the trade and competition.

            One of the most important and broad-based challenges currently facing organizations is adapting to people who are different. The term used to describe this challenge is workforce diversity (Peterson 1993). Whereas globalization focuses on differences between people from different countries, workforce diversity encompasses anyone who varies from the so-called norm. In addition to the more obvious groups, like women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, it also includes the physically disabled, gays and lesbians, and the elderly. Moreover, it is an issue in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Japan, and Europe as well as the United States (Peterson 1993). Managers in Canada and Australia, for instance, are having to adjust to large influxes of Asian workers. The new South Africa will increasingly be characterized by blacks’ holding important technical and managerial jobs. Women, long confined to low-paying temporary jobs in Japan, are moving into managerial positions. And the creation of the European Union cooperative trade arrangement, which opened up borders throughout much of western Europe, has increased workforce diversity in organizations that operate in countries such as Germany, Portugal, Italy, and France (Peterson 1993).

            Demographic trends indicate that most organizations will have no choice but to become more diverse in the future, and many organizations are already working on ways to increase and capitalize on the benefits that come from a diverse workforce (Mourdoukoutas 1999). Managers will need to shift their philosophy from treating everyone alike to recognizing differences and responding to those differences in ways that will ensure employee retention and greater productivity while, at the same time, not discriminating. This shift includes, for instance, providing diversity training and revamping benefit programs to make them more family-friendly (Mckern 2003). Diversity, if positively managed, can increase creativity and innovation in organizations as well as improve decision-making by providing different perspectives on problems. When diversity is not managed properly, there is potential for higher turnover, more difficult communication, and more interpersonal conflicts (Libicki 2000). Thus, the contemporary organizations’ workforce diversity has more important implications for human resource management practice than for human relations theorists.

            In the United States, the human resources potential in organizations are seldom fully recognized. Human resources training and development are not carefully planned but they are intermittent with high levels of functional and technological orientation to improve individual performance. High career or specialization is also encouraged. Japanese companies see human resources as invaluable lifetime investment. There is continuous in-house training and development, which is the key to both organization loyalty and technical development. There is less job specialization but team members are encouraged to develop broader skills and management development. Technical adaptation and traditional development are thus very well developed (Keeley 2001).


Blauner, Robert. (1999). “Worker Satisfaction and Industrial Trends.” A Sociological Reader on Complex Organizations. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Cameron, Judy, and David Pierce. (2002). Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation: Resolving the Controversy. Bergin & Garvey.

Gilley, Jerry W., and Ann Maycunich. (2000). Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change: An Introduction to Strategic Human Resource Development. Perseus Books

Gilley, Jerry W., and Steven A. Eggland (1998). Principles of Human Resource Development. Addison-Wesley Publishing.

Goleman, Daniel. (2001). Business: The Ultimate Resource. Maine: Perseus Publishing.

Gruenberg, Barry. (2000). “The Happy Worker: An Analysis of Educational and Occupational Differences in Determining Job Satisfaction.” American Journal of Sociology.

Keeley, Timothy Dean. (2001). International Human Resource Management in Japanese Firms: Their Greatest Challenge. Palgrave.

Kleinbeck, Uwe,  Hans-Henning Quast, Henk Thierry, and Hartmut Häcker. (2000). Work Motivation. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Levine, David I. (2003). Reinventing the Workplace: How Business and Employees Can Both Win. Brookings Institution.

Libicki, Martin. (2000). “Who Runs What in the Global Information Grid? An Essay on Criteria for Determining Global and Local Responsibilities.” Rand.

Mckern, Bruce. (2003). Managing the Global Network Corporation. Routledge.

Mourdoukoutas, Panos. (1999). The Global Corporation: The Decolonization of International Business. Quorum Books.

Peterson, Richard B. (1993). Managers and National Culture: A Global Perspective. Quorum Books.

Rue, Leslie W., Lloyd L. Byars, and John R. Brooks. (2004). Management: Skills and Application. McGraw-Hill College.

Young, Scott T., and Nie, Winter. (1996). Managing Global Operations: Cultural and Technical Success Factors. Quorum Books.

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