What’s the Matter with Organizational Behavior?
Dr. Timothy Judge, the Franklin D. Schurz Chair of Management, Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame
Professor Judge’s talk was entitled “What’s the Matter with Organizational Behavior?” In his presentation to the multi-disciplinary audience at the well-attended event within the Robinson College of Business, Judge suggested that researchers and practitioners may emphasize the situation, environment and context too much in attempting to understand behavior. He stated that in studying human resource policies, socialization practices, and management applications, much of the focus is on the situation and, according to research he reviewed for the audience, this is problematic. Based upon extensive research on behavioral genetics there are reasons to question to what degree the situation, as construed in social science, matters. Judge acknowledged that obviously this is a controversial assertion and he went on to provide a provocative and interesting analysis of the existing research literature, which seemed to fully engage the audience, many of whom asked questions and offered comments.
He went on to review various streams of research suggesting that the environment may have more limited effects on attitudes, cognitions, or behaviors than we may think. Relative to differences in genes, differences in environment, he suggested, appear to play a minor role in variability in such things as socially desirable (weight, exercise, altruism, etc.) and undesirable (drug use, criminality, infidelity) behaviors. He also discussed a second aspect of the situation, interventions, which he suggested may not be well understood in some research because of limitations in research design. He offered reasons for skepticism regarding the degree to which the situation or context explains attitudes and behaviors as extensively as we may sometimes think. Some research on behavioral genetics has suggested that shared genes may be 5-10 times more important than shared environments.
Bringing all of this literature back to the issue of “Nature or nurture at work,” Judge asked to what degree are the effects of presumed work contextual variables on behavioral work outcomes genetic? Research would suggest that much variability in personality traits, intellectual and physical abilities, and a variety of work behaviors and outcomes may have very strong genetic origins. These genetic differences and predispositions can lead to some interesting and controversial implications for management and human resources. For example, he asserted perhaps this means organizations should not apply rules, structures, cultures, systems, or interventions that apply uniformly across people because not all people may be predisposed to respond to them constructively. Much of this research might imply that HR should invest more heavily in employee selection and that we should forego attempts to adapt or socialize a person to a job—rather we should perhaps fit/adapt the job to the person and HR should capitalize on strengths. Acknowledging the controversial nature of the issue, and not necessarily advocating their use, Judge raised the idea of genetic testing and the ways it could be used someday to help people and organizations make decisions.
All in all, Professor Judge’s presentation seemed to be motivated by a desire to explore the scientific evidence and its implications to help create a more complete understanding, to pose questions and to offer challenges to researchers and practitioners. He suggested that there could be value in considering this line of research and its implications for future research and practice in the disciplines interested in “people at work.”