What Is Behavioral Management Theory?

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Behavioral management theory studies how productivity in business or similar applications can be managed by concentrating on the motivations of the workforce. This includes analyzing employees’ expectations, group dynamics and teamwork, conflict resolution and personal interests. Behavioral management contrasts with classical management, which ignores workers and focuses on productivity outcomes.

Among the early behavioral management theorists was Elton Mayo. Mayo studied several teams of workers and conducted experiments to observe how they responded and how productivity was affected. These experiments were based on the Hawthorne Effect, a behavioral change that takes place when a person knows he is being observed.

Mayo found that a group of 14 telephone wire workers increased productivity when they were given special privileges, such as free lunches and increased independence. Though bonuses in pay actually decreased productivity by a small amount, the group outperformed a control group. Mayo attributed the pay bonuses and productivity decrease to paranoia among the worker that base pay would be lowered or the company was preparing to lay off employees. Mayo also observed how cliques and leadership within the group affected productivity.

Behavioral management was a distant departure from classical management, the preferred model of the Industrial Age. The classical perspective views workers as cogs in a machine and concentrates on how to maximize overall productivity through pure workforce efficiency. Instead, the behavioral perspective views workers as individuals who are motivated differently from one another.