The Politics of Management Thought: a Case Study of Harvard Business School and Human Relations School

Summary of ‘The Politics of Management Thought: A Case Study of the Harvard Business School and the Human Relations School’ HBR and HRS achieved an early success under leadership of Mayo and Donham, where HRS positioned HBS as solution to pressing social, economic and political issues. Historical context in article is about contemporary events to business leaders reacted. Alongside postwar, physical and philosophical reconstruction and labor concessions came. After few days armistice was signed, presidents announced end of labor concessions.

Dewey et al advocated application of civic democracy principles to workplace, called idealists, where idealists advocate role of labor and realist advocate greater control by administrators. These debates played role in construction of HBS and HRS. Wallace Donham, was appointed as dean of HBS in 1919. At that time HBS was suffering from severe financial problems and was under attack from academicians and businessmen. The scholars criticized academic men valuing their work just to earn money to counter this problem he hired faculty from well-known disciplines such as history and philosophy.

Businessmen criticized business schools, giving nothing but useless knowledge. Donham successfully brought HBS out of financial crises building relationships with CEO’s of big corporations. In 1926, Donham purposed hiring of Elton Mayo, who enjoyed a strong support in corporate circle. Beardsley Ruml, Director of LSRM felt that Mayo’s can fill the space left in the area of industrial psychiatry. Thus addressing psychopathic factor involved in industrial discontent at that time and bringing stability in industrial relation to overcome dissatisfaction and strikes.

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In one of his articles mayo criticized classical economics, he was of the view that economics ignore human factor. In his second article he identified uncontrolled mind as the most dangerous thing, leading to crime war and social revolution. His third article was about mind of agitator, in his view agitator is the person who blame society for the troubles he face, and as a result his mind becomes obsessed with rage. In the fourth article Mayo elaborated on the dangers of democracy that it leads to social disintegration.

In the final article Mayo linked democracy with psychopathological tendencies. Mayo cited industry as having a social function and identified labor unrest a result of individual’s fundamental disorientation to life and disintegration of personality leading to disordering of values and maladaptaion to the industrial environment. Mayo argued that labor is incapable of understanding his own problems and these cannot be solved through his participation in management, opposing the stance of industrial democrats.

Mayo through his research demonstrated that fatigue causes reveries producing psychological agitation leading to social unrest. This conclusion led him using psychological theories to work place. Through Hawthorne studies Mayo persuaded that clinical interview was a treatment allowing interviewee to exactly know his real problem. Mayo was influenced by psychology to view workplace problems as symptoms of underlying unconscious disorientation. On this premise he developed agenda of research for industry and convinced leaders that it will solve their worries about labor strife.

We find this article very interesting, as we got to know, how Mayo and Donham fulfilled their own needs ( i. e. Mayo was dropped out of the Medical school and was virtually broke, he struggled to gain foothold in academic community whereas Donham struggled to build HBS’s financial security, as well as academic and corporate prestige, and he countered the criticism of academics and corporate) by proposing solutions for contemporary social political and economic issues.

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