Communication and Human Development

Behavioral Science Foundations of Organization Development: A Critique from the Islamic Perspective

This article seeks to advance an Islamic perspective on Organization Development. Arguing that OD interventions not only seek to institute planned change within organizations, but also change individuals, cultures and societies, the authors suggest that OD interventions can become useful tools for bringing about comprehensive development in society. The authors advance an Islamic perspective on OD in the hope of transforming Muslim organizations and precipitate comprehensive development of Muslim societies. 

This article addresses one of the most compelling questions facing organizations in Muslim countries: how to improve effectiveness without violating Shari'ah guidelines in rapidly changing contemporary environments. In particular, it examines whether the behavioral science foundations of organization development (OD) are relevant in the Islamic context. The study is organized as follows: the first section briefly reviews Western literature on OD. This section presents the contributions of various behavioral sciences to the development of a coherent body of knowledge in the area of OD and provides a framework that can be used to critique it against the backdrop of the Islamic worldview. 

The second section, "OD and Comprehensive Development of Society," highlights the significance of OD in bringing about comprehensive social development. Two main approaches are reviewed in this context. First, based on a system approach, we argue that OD interventions seek to transform individuals, organizations, and indeed the entire society. The second - and in our view the most fruitful - approach to making use of OD for comprehensive development is to focus on all organizational factors that link social structure, economic ideology, political attitudes, and behavior. The third section, “OD: A Critique from the Islamic Perspective,” attempts a critique of ODs foundations in behavioral science from the Islamic perspective. It also describes the state of affairs in Muslim societies and highlights Islamic teachings that are most relevant for OD. In the final section, “Islam and OD,” we suggest a strategy to transform the present organizational structures so as to make them conducive to bringing about a comprehensive development of Muslim societies.

Behavioral Science Foundations of OD: A Review

A remarkable transformation in prevailing views about how organizations can improve their effectiveness has occurred in recent decades. Organization development is defined as a top management-supported, long-range effort to improve an organization’s problem-solving renewal processes, particularly through more effective and collaborative diagnosis and management of organization culture, with special emphasis on formal work team, temporary work team, and intergroup culture - using the assistance of a consultant facilitator and the theory and technology of applied behavioral science, including action research. 

Unlike many of the approaches of planned change for solving immediate and specific problems, OD is a longer term, more encompassing and complex approach to moving the organization to a higher level of functioning while greatly improving its members’ performance and well being given changing problems and opportunities. Although OD frequently includes structural and technological changes, its primary focus is on changing people and the nature and quality of their working relationships. OD ought to be a top management-supported effort. Therefore, leaders’ awareness of change and renewal is necessary for its success. Subsequent to this felt need comes effective and collaborative diagnosis of management culture. Greater subordinate involvement in decision-making toward effective teamwork is acknowledged as an important ingredient of modern participatory management. 

OD has come to occupy commanding heights in behavioral science literature as theorists and practitioners appear to be unfailing in their zest to design strategies to improve organizational effectiveness in various parts of the world. Interestingly, OD now represents the finer points of applied behavioral sciences. In fact, the foundations of OD are an amalgam of interpretative contributions made by some of the best-known behavioral scientists in areas like psychology, social anthropology, sociology, psychiatry, economics, and political science. 

What makes OD distinct from other treatments of organizations is an interdisciplinary view of what transforms the organization in question. Three different approaches to the question of bringing about change in an organization are presented in this section, along with their respective contributions to OD: (1) the individual approach to change; (2) the T-Group, or laboratory training; and (3) the Survey Research and Feedback system. The approaches eventually get integrated into the OD techniques.

The Individual Approach to Change 

At the individual level, OD change actions assume that individuals have a natural desire for personal development and growth and are able and willing to put in greater efforts for the organization’s improvement. Therefore, OD practitioners attempt to overcome organizational factors that retard or prevent personal growth. 

Economists were the first professional group to propound a specific theory of human behavior in economic organizations. The theory holds that individuals make “rational” decisions based on available information. They prefer choices that are likely to improve their well being. This approach is widely known as self-interest maximization. 

This view stems from the works of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham. Smith articulated with great emphasis that man is motivated by self-interest in all of his actions. Bentham extended this theory and saw economic man as intelligently calculating and weighing the expected costs and benefits of every action. 

The writings of Smith, Bentham, and Mills paved the way for Jevons and Marshall in England, Menge in Austria, and Walras in Switzerland to almost simultaneously formulate the theory of marginal utility of value. It was Marshall, however, who elegantly consolidated the classical and neoclassical traditions in economics with the tendency to conclude that anything other than maximizing self-interest must be irrational. With the “measuring rod of money’’ being considered as an index of the intensity of human psychological drives and desires in modern economics, it is not surprising that monetary factors have been given the role of supreme motivator of individual decision-making behavior. In reality, it is quite well known that monetary factors alone cannot explain the entire dynamics of human behavior. In fact, at managerial positions of high responsibility, economic factors (also known as hygiene factors) are not sufficient to motivate efforts toward excellence. According to Sen, “universal selfishness as actuality may be false, but universal selfishness as a requirement of rationality is patently absurd.” 

While most economists have tended to interpret human behavior in utilitarian terms, psychologists have theorized in somewhat different directions. Pavlov, a famous Russian psychologist, constructed a behavioral model based on his observation of the behavior of his dog. He rang a bell each time he offered food to his dog. He found that the behavior of his dog was rhythmic. He thus concluded that learning was an associative process and that human behavior was largely conditioned in this manner. The Pavlovian learning model has been refined to emphasize the desirability of repetitive stimuli to influence human behavior. Today, a large number of advertising campaigns are based on the Pavlovian model. 

The Freudian psychoanalytic model of man, though invalidated by current studies, has had a profound impact on Western thought and analysis in the twentieth century. Freud developed his model on the basis of instinctive seeds that a child cannot gratify by himself. As he grows, his psyche also grows in complexity. The id, however, remains the basis of his strong drives and urges. The ego helps him plan outlets for his drives. The super ego defines his socially approved outlets to avoid the unpleasant feelings of guilt or shame. 

While Freud was mainly concerned with instinctive needs, Thorstein Veblen tried to analyze human behavior under the influence of social anthropology. The Veblenian social psychological model suggested that man was a “social animal” conforming to the norms of his larger culture and more specific norms of the subcultures to which his life is bound. Thus, his needs and wants are conditioned, to a great extent, by his social environment. There has been virtual unanimity among behavioral scientists about the complexity of individual’s behavior. Surely, his motivational factors are not obvious to a casual observer. Nevertheless, psychologists have been unfailing in their efforts to unfold the entire truth about human motivation. The works of Maslow, Herzberg, Lauler, and Vroom are particularly interesting and oft quoted. 

Maslow constructed a five-level need model in a hierarchical manner as follows: physiological needs, safety and security needs, belongingness needs, esteem needs, and need for self-actualization. Herzberg carefully studied the hierarchy of the needs model and argued that Maslow’s ego-related needs provide motivation on the job and that the lower order needs in the hierarchy reduce dissatisfaction among individuals. Interestingly, according to Herzberg, people’s needs are associated with what he calls an escalation phenomenon: the more people get, the more they want. 

The expectancy theory of Lauler and Vroom also helps one gain deep insights into human motivation. The theory is based on the following assumptions:

  1. There is a direct correlation between people’s behavior and the perceived outcomes of this behavior.
  2. Outcomes have different values for different people.
  3. People have a tendency to relate their behavior to the probability of success.

Thus, people are likely to perform at a level that will lead to the attainment of perceived rewards.

Hackman and Oldham synthesized the above-mentioned theories and produced a working model based on both need and expectancy theories. According to this model, meaningfulness of work, responsibility for the work and its outcomes, and knowledge of results are all likely to enhance job satisfaction. Thus, in order to bring about change in individual behavior, motivational factors must be carefully identified. 

Since OD includes within its orbit management development programs, it is important to also focus on leadership. In fact, a formidable body of literature exists, explaining the mechanics and dynamics of leadership. The managerial grid suggested by Blake and Mouton emphasizes the theory of effectiveness with the help of leadership styles. Blake and Mouton chose a nine-point scale to rank a leader’s degree of concern for production and people. Out of the eighty-one possible combinations, Blake and Mouton found 5.5 to be the predominant style of leadership in American organizations. OD consultants make use of the grid in their interventionist programs. In fact, thousands of organizations in various countries, including Malaysia have tried to improve organizational effectiveness by bringing about suitable changes in leadership styles. A very interesting grid has been developed by Holistic Organization Transformation (M) Sdn. Bhd., a Malaysian organization offering OD programs to large companies, some of which operate on the basis of Islamic norms. 

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