The Human Relations Approach has to have an element of soft systems thinking embedded within it because it involves human activity.

What is the Human Relations Approach to Management?

The Human Relations Approach to management which developed from the famous Hawthorne experiments follows that people within organisations are not purely financially motivated, and that there are other social and environmental factors that influence an individual’s performance. Management style, the level of involvement and participation of the employee within an organisation, and their level of participation within it, are also intrinsic concepts within this approach. Organisation goals need to linked to individual goals.

Human Relations Approach PyramidHuman Relations Approach to management may prompt the analyst to resort to soft systems methodology, developed by Checkland and Scholes(1990).

This method recognises that people are included in organisations. The method examines problems within the organisation that are not as easily identified.

They suggest in using both hard and soft systems approaches to analysing and developing a particular system. Because human activity plays a large role in organisational systems the outcome is not always as predictable and as clear cut as the analyst and developer may think, and there is always an element of human error and performance variables where human activity is concerned.

It is therefore impractical for systems analysts and developers to take a technically hard systems approach to an organisation with this school of thought, or in the full context of any organisation.

The Effect of Human Behaviour

Analysts and developers should be aware of the effect of human behaviour within an organisation, as well as outside of it and how it relates to the problem-solution. They need to avoid the assuming of objectives of a particular organisation in order to fast forward to a technical engineered mode of analysis. The analysts and developers will want to talk to the users and the managers to find out exactly what the problem is.

Considering the Human Relations Approach school of thought, the analyst and developer must appreciate that in most cases it involves the never ending evaluation of the problem within an organisation. They will need to adopt, in part, a soft systems process in order to propose solutions to it. The problem will always be of a complex nature where human activity is involved. The system will need to be continually developed in order to satisfy the organisations and the users within it.

Analysis and Systems Development Techniques

A Human Relations Approach will infringe on formal analysis and systems development techniques. The analyst and developer may use interviews, questionnaires, and observation of tasks to yield qualitative data, and a rich picture of the problem they are faced with. However, they need to be aware of the limitations of using such techniques. It is not easy to quantify and can be open to misinterpretation. Users of the system may not complete questionnaires, or they provide incomplete answers. This could be due to low morale within the organisation, lack of knowledge or misinterpretation to the questions being asked. It could be that the users of the system are restricted to answers that are not relevant to their job.

The analysts and developers may have also used terminology the user cannot understand. As for on-site observation, we already know that if people are being watched they can behave in a different manner e.g. The Hawthorne effect. Observation is not enough to tell the analyst and developer the nature of the system they are dealing with.

Use of structured analysis does not take into account any intangible benefits. Changing the work routine of an employee to increase morale is difficult to measure in quantifiable terms.

Analysts and developers may have to consider an organisation by looking at the whole picture. For example, by examining the leadership of management style. This is because the main thesis of systems analysis focuses on the objective rather than the subjective real-word problems like that of staff morale which do not/cannot form part of the formal analysis process. The analyst here will need to draw on experience and judgement values of the managers themselves as managers select the strategy to pursue and play a large role in systems development, which can conflict with employees’ needs.

Management will want a system that will improve the efficiency of their business. They will look for systems that will increase the speed their employees are able to output a given product or service. A slow system will affect staff morale because the employee is unable to meet the productivity quota set by the management team.

A study conducted by OASIG Survey, a DTI support special interest group concerned with the organisational aspects of information technology, used interviews on a sample of consultants and system developers. They discovered that many organisations are not successful at utilising non-technical i.e. human and organisational aspects in information technology, and often failed to site how work could be organised to make the information system more effective.

Amongst their findings was the continuing practice of adopting structured system tools resulting in end-users not being considered in the development, and thus the implementation and design of new technology systems. When interviewed, the majority of end-users complained that although the analysts and developers would approach them for input regarding the current system, the design was left for management and the implemented system failed to meet their needs or expectations.

Analysts and developers, when looking at a current system, will ask why it is not working. They need to look at the communication and information flows between management: if the user understands why they are doing something, if there is a lack of information due to training or limitation of information flowing between systems.

The analyst and developer will see how this could be incorporated into the current system. They will want to look at what errors are occurring in the system and how these can be prevented. If there is a lack of control in an organisations analyst, they need to know whether it is the people within the organisation who are the problem, or whether it is the system itself. They need to actively correlate technical hard properties and behavioural soft properties.

The Human Relations Approach maintains that performance or users within the organisation may be connected to the tasks involved. They may want greater autonomy and there may be a lack of variety in the current system that does not afford them this degree of responsibility. Analysts and developers will also need to ask if the system can be simplified, if users performance is directly related to the complexity of the system, and if the problem itself could be broken down into a simple set of interrelated tasks that are accessible to all within the organisation.

There are always conflicts of interest within an organisation. Analysts and developers need to be aware that where a common ground regarding changes to be made within the organisation cannot be reached, it is likely to infringe upon the validation of research into it. If individuals within the organisation have no common goal or objective, then finding a solution to a problem is very difficult.

In conclusion…

Human behaviour is unpredictable. Their problems are complex ones. Simple problems yield simple solutions because there is a clear cut objective, which is not influenced by well-defined behaviour. There is also an existence of subsystems where there is a general consensus of goals.  This brings us to the topic of Total Quality Management Theory (TQM).

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