Understanding and Managing Human Behavior in Organizations

On August 29th I will back at Manhattan College teaching ‘Human Behavior in the Organization’.

The business world and the modern workplace are often rigged with surprises nobody told us about during our business courses in college and graduate school. Examples of this are everywhere, but here’s one of my favorite: in a typical workplace, many of the people in charge never actually took those courses in college and graduate school. This comes with a corollary: many of us find ourselves in charge of people and operations as a result of the serendipitous twists and turns of our careers, not because of the courses we took in school.

human behavior in organizations, understanding human behavior, managing human behaviorHow does this happen? We don’t always know. But it does. At the beginning of our careers, we aren’t sent off with glossy brochures, clear road maps, and ironclad promises. And “working your way up” through the ranks of any career often means finding yourself in a leadership position with no formal training in psychology or human resource management.

As if this isn’t complex enough, picture yourself in an HR position in which you DO have years of formal training, but many of the managers who control the company don’t. Here you are, charged with everything that falls under your purview, including career development and workforce shaping for dozens or hundreds of people. But to hold the line between order and chaos, you have to coach and counsel leaders who have no leadership training of any kind. Who manages the managers?

Managing Human Behavior in a Large Organization: Considerations

If you find yourself in this position, keep a few considerations in mind. First, recognize when formal training programs are warranted and be ready to measure the value of a given program against its cost in expense and lost productivity. Some training sessions (EEO, basic safety, etc)are legal obligations, but others are provided at the discretion of the company and you may be in a position to choose an outside provider or conduct the session yourself. If you aren’t sure a specific training session will add value, do the necessary research and find the answers you need.

Second, remember that new policies don’t implement themselves. If your workplace could benefit from a widespread behavioral change, consider drafting a new workplace policy. But don’t take this step without an excellent reason and a clear plan. And have the resources to follow through. If every negative incident in your workplace is met with a new policy, and none of the new policies are enforced or maintained, both morale and respect for workplace rules may weaken.

Know how to exercise diplomacy, apply discretion, and recognize natural leadership where it exists. If some of your managers have more natural leadership skill than others, rely on the better leaders in a management pinch. Also, try to pair weaker leaders with stronger ones in a formal or informal mentoring capacity. When younger managers make mistakes, point them toward valuable role models as part of an overall plan of correction and guidance.

If in doubt, reach out for help. And of course, encourage your managers and your employees to do the same. Open communication and a culture that supports growth, change, and learning are valuable assets in any organization.

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