Sociology Index

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Chester Irving Barnard

Chester Irving Barnard (November 7, 1886 – June 7, 1961) was an American business executive, public administrator, and the author of pioneering work in management theory and organizational studies. His landmark 1938 book, The Functions of the Executive, sets out a theory of organization and of the functions of executives in organizations. The book has been widely assigned in university courses in management theory and organizational sociology. Barnard viewed organizations as systems of cooperation of human activity, and noted that they are typically short-lived. He defined efficiency of an organization as the degree to which that organization is able to satisfy the motives of the individuals.

According to Barnard, organizations are generally not long-lived because they do not meet the two criteria necessary for survival: effectiveness and efficiency. Barnard was a great admirer of Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) and he and Parsons corresponded persistently. Chester Irving Barnard figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

Chester Irving Barnard viewed organizations as systems of cooperation of human activity, and noted that they are typically short-lived. According to Barnard, organizations are not long-lived because they do not meet the two criteria necessary for survival: effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness, is defined the usual way: as being able to accomplish stated goals. What makes a communication authoritative, rests with the subordinate, rather than with his superior. Barnard's perspective had affinities to that of Mary Parker Follett and was very unusual for his time, and that has remained the case down to the present day. He seemed to argue that managers should obtain authority by treating subordinates with respect and competence.

Chester Irving Barnard's meaning of organizational efficiency differed substantially from the conventional use of the word. If an organization satisfies the motives of its members while attaining its explicit goals, cooperation among its members will last. Barnard's classic 1938 book, The Functions of the Executive discusses the functions of the executive, but not from a merely intuitive point of view, but instead deriving them from his conception of cooperative systems.