Articles

Barnard, Chester

Background

Born in New England, Barnard spent 40 years with the Bell Telephone Company and served as president of New Jersey Bell.

Thinking

Barnard was one of the first people to make a study of the process of decision-making in organisations, the relationships between formal and informal organizations, and the role and function of the executive.  He published 'The Functions of the Executive' in 1938 and this was very influential at the time.  He coined the term 'Organization Man', saying that "the most important single contribution required of the executive, certainly the most universal qualification, is loyalty, domination by the organisation personality".

Barnard viewed organisations as more effective instruments of social progress than either church or state, partly because they were driven by the cooperation of individuals working to a common purpose rather than by authority.

Barnard's work included pioneering evaluation on the essence of leadership and on corporate culture and value-shaping.  The real role of the chief executive, he postulated, was to manage the values of the organisation and to retain employee commitment.  Peters and Waterman complimented the work of Barnard as "probably the first balanced treatment of the management process".

In the 1930s, the work of Chester Barnard and Elton Mayo challenged the established theories of Max Weber, who defined bureaucracy, and F W Taylor, who thought management was an exact science that was governed by rules.  Barnard's contribution was to recognise that organisations are comprised of individuals who their own motivation and social networks.  Barnard saw the role of management as bridging the potential void between the needs of the individual and the need of the organisation. 

Barnard distinguished between management effectiveness and management efficiency, and argued that organisational effectiveness could only be delivered if all employees accepted and contributed to the mission of the organisation. 

In the same way that police forces exercise control by consent, Barnard saw that organisations only have as much authority as the people who work inside it are willing to give it.  To reinforce the involvement of staff, he encouraged communication and defined his three basic principles for ensuring its effectiveness:

  • Everyone should know what the channels of communication are.
  • Everyone should have access to a formal channel of communication.
  • Lines of communication should be as short and direct as possible.

He viewed the functions of managers as being:

  • The establishment and maintenance of the system of communications.
  • The motivation of employees towards the organisation's mission.
  • The communication of the organisation's mission goals as clearly as possible.

Barnard was one of the first to recognise the concept of corporate culture and the and the role of the executive within it.  Peters and Waterman said "Barnard was ... the first (we know of) to talk about the primary role of the chief executive as the shaper and manager of shared values in an organisation". 

Barnard's emphasis on managing the organisation as a whole was new for its time. 

Barnard's contribution to leadership theory is connected with the idea that a good manager is a shaper of values.  In a similar way to McGregor, Barnard drew comparison with the dictatorial manager with very short term horizons.  However, his ideas were not picked up at the time. 

Instead, management thought focused on structure.

Pascale suggests that Barnard advocates "coherence among such elements as values, informal social networks, formal systems and purposes. The better they are orchestrated, the better the organisation performs".  In this the ideas of Barnard are as relevant in the 21st Century as they ever have been. 

Further research

Barnard, C (1938) The Functions of the Executive, Cambridge, USA
Barnard, C (1948) Organization and Management, Cambridge, USA

Additional information