Human Resource Frame – “Family”

“When the fit is right, both benefit.”  Gallos, J.V.

This post, third in a series on Psycholawlogy, discusses the basic assumptions of the Human Resource Frame of the Four Frame Model of Bolman and Deal (2008).  The human resource frame, with its image of the organization as “family”, focuses on the relationship between the organization and its members.

Organizations have needs.  Individuals have needs. The human resource frame describes a way to emphasize the human side of organizations and the importance of the interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics involved in organizing and need fulfillment.  Theories about motivation, human development, personality, and the employment contract provide the backdrop for the emphasis of this frame – “fit” between the individual and the organization. Stated another way, the “human resource frame centers on what organizations and people do to and for another.”

Organizations face increased competition on a global scale and turbulence due to the tensions created by issues or “downsizing” and cost reduction versus invest in people.  The human resource frame provides their managers, advisers, and counselors a systematic approach to considering and addressing their organizations’ issues related to this dilemma.  Organizations have the overall goal of hosting a highly motivated and skilled workforce whose members provide a powerful competitive advantage.  The human resource frame provides a lens in which advisors, counselors, or diagnosticians can examine the strengths and weaknesses of an organization’s current approach to humanize the workplace. “The frame’s influence has grown with the realization that misuse of human resources depresses profits as well as people.”

Core Assumptions of Human Resource Frame: People, Organizations, & Needs

According to Bolman and Deal (2008), research dating from the early 20th century provides the core assumptions about the human side of the relationship, i.e. “fit”, between the worker and the workplace.  The core assumptions about that linkage appear below:

  • Organizations exist to serve human needs
  • Organizations and people need each other
  • People need careers, salaries, and opportunities
  • Organizations need ideas, energy, and talent
  • Suffering results from a bad fit between the organization and its people:  people or the organization may become a victim as one exploits the other
  •  Benefits result from a good fit between the organization and its people:  people find meaning and work which satisfies and organizations get the talent and energy which they need to succeed

Three Things to Know About “Fit”

Organizations want workers who will supply energy, talent, and do the work.  Workers want a job, fair pay for their effort, and a chance to advance.  These “wants” and “needs” describe the linkage, or “fit”, between people and organizations.  According to Bolman and Deal recent research (Cable and DeRue, 2002), describes the all important “fit” in terms of a three factor model.  “Fit” occurs as a function of three things:

  1. how well does the organization respond to the person’s desires for useful work (person-organization fit);
  2. how well does a job enable a worker to express his or her skills and sense of self (person-job fit); and
  3. how well does a job meet a worker’s financial and life-style needs (needs-supplies fit)

 Maslow’s Human Needs, Motivation, and Organizational/Individual Effectiveness

“We set our goal to be the very best at serving the needs of our customers. Every action we take should be made with this in mind. We also believe that we can achieve our goal only if we fulfill the needs of our own people.”

Influential psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has a prominent place in the Human Resource Frame as defined and described by Bolman and Deal.  Organizations, according to the authors, widely accept the view that human needs which exist in five (5) basic categories, motivate workers.  They define a “need” as “a genetic disposition to prefer some experiences over others.”  Arranged from lowest to highest, although not in ironclad order, the needs range as follows:  physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization.

According to Maslow’s theory, certain needs, for well-being and safety, play a more fundamental role in driving behavior than others.  Those must get satisfied “first”.  Once the lower level needs get satisfied, higher social needs motivate workers.  At the highest level of need fulfillment, a worker’s ultimate potential develops and actualizes.  The ideas expressed in Maslow’s theory carry powerful messages for organizational and individual effectiveness.

Also, according to Boman and Deal, a management philosophy which successfully addresses and satisfies these needs, will get the most energy and talent that people can offer.  The authors quote from a management guide of one of the largest package delivery services about the influence of Maslow’s hierarchy:  “. . . virtually every person has a hierarchy of emotional needs, from basic safety, shelter, and sustenance to the desire for respect, satisfaction, and sense of accomplishment. Slowly these values have appeared as the centerpiece of progressive company policies, always with remarkable results.”

Wegmans and “Wegmaniacs” . . . . Taking Care of Business in the Human Resource Frame!

The quote at the beginning of section above, noted by the authors, states the philosophy of Wegmans, a grocery store chain in the Northeast.  Wegmans (see has been on the Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list every year since 1998, the inception of the list.  Why?  Spend some time in the “Careers” section of that company’s webpage.  You will see. Wegmans takes care of its employees’ needs. In return, the company has satisfied countless return customers – “Wegmaniacs”. Some wear white T-shorts with that phrase printed across the front.  The Wegmans workforce does its work with all the talent, energy, and care that they can muster.  The “fit” gets great results on all fronts – organization, worker, and customer.

In terms of the ideas and concepts of the Four Frame Model of Bolman and Deal, Wegmans really takes care of business in terms of the Human Resource Frame.  From its consistent ranking in the top 10 of the Best Places To Work Fortune 100 list since 1998, 16 years in a row, Wegmans shows clearly that taking care of employees’ “needs” as discussed in the Human Resource Frame pays immense dividends to both the worker and the organization.  Take more than a passing look at the Careers section of its company webpage, including the videos.  Clearly, Wegmans gets it.  Wegmans shows the power of the Human Resource Frame.  This company knows that when the “fit” is right, both the worker and the organization benefit.  A highly motivated, energized workforce provides a competitive advantage.

Management’s Assumptions & Ways of Thinking About People to Harness Energy

theory x and theory y of motivation - Google SearchBolman and Deal also used the work of Douglas McGregor (1960) to build their theory of the Human Resource Frame.  McGregor focused on the assumptions that managers have about their subordinates.  He translated these into “Theory X” and “Theory Y”.  These different theories show different ways of thinking about workers, their relationship with the organizations, and how that relationship gets the organization’s work accomplished.

Theory X.  Getting things done through harnessing people up to company objectives states the “essence” of Theory X.  This gets expressed through three explicit, enmeshed concepts: (1) management organizes equipment, materials, money, and people to get work done; (2) management must motivate, control people, and modify their behavior to get the work done; (3) without management intervention, people will not get the work done.  Several other concepts, less explicit, also figure into “Theory X” according to McGregor.

The behind the scenes, background operator beliefs, characterized by McGregor as”implicit” and “widespread”, relate to themes of laziness and desiring to work as little as possible; lack of ambition, dislike of responsibility, and preference for following, not leading; natural self-centeredness and indifference to organizational needs; resistant to change by nature; and being gullible and not very bright.  Together, these explicit and implicit beliefs “fashion” the human side of economic enterprise.  Theory X, in which managers treat workers as if they are lazy, results in a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts – the workers conform to management’s expectations.  Theory X places exclusive reliance upon the external control of human behavior.

Theory Y.  McGregor believed that management needed a different way to think about workers in organizations.  He called this “Theory Y”.  Borrowing from Maslow, the hierarchy of needs provided more adequate assumptions about human nature and human motivation. Instead of the external control, “carrot and stick” type approaches, i.e. hard versions vs. soft versions, of Theory X, Theory Y focuses on self-direction by the worker.  It puts the external control of Theory X on the back burner as a last resort.  McGregor characterizes Theory Y as a “different theory of the task of managing people based on more adequate assumptions about human nature and human motivation.”

The broad dimensions of Theory Y – more adequate assumptions about human nature and human motivation – cover these things:  (1) to serve the interests of economic ends, management must organize the elements of the enterprise, i.e. money, materials, equipment, and people; (2) the experience of people in organizations, not their “nature”, makes them passive or resistant; (3) people possess the potential for development, capacity for responsibility, and readiness to work towards organizational goals, and management’s responsibility aligns with making it possible for people to recognize and develop themselves; and (4) “The essential task of management is to arrange organizational conditions and methods of operation so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts toward organizational objectives.”

According to Bolman and Deal, the “key proposition” of Theory Y lies in number (4).  If workers do not get their heeds satisfied, Theory X type work results.  External controls of Theory X must come into play.  But, according to Bolman and Deal, “the more managers align organizational requirements with employee self-interest, the more they can rely on Theory Y’s principle of self-direction.”

The Human Resource Frame involves human personality and how it relates to management practice and the employment contract. Our next consideration looks at personality.

Personality and Organization – Parameters of Vexing Problems & Unmet Aspirations

This image shows a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times. This film, according to Bolman and Deal, captures the “personality” aspect of the Human Resource Frame.  The authors suggest that this image depicts what organizational personality theorist Chris Argyris (1957, 1964) argued as the “basic conflict between human personality and prevailing management practice.”  The over-bearing manager constantly scolds Chaplin the worker. Chaplin cannot get the work done because he has no control over the pace of his work.

According to Bolman and Deal, “The film’s message is clear:  industrial organizations abuse workers and treat them like infants.”   Frustrations build.  Workers, according to the authors’ rendition of Argyris to this frame, devise and implement ways to “stay sane” and escape such frustrations.  Workers will:

  • Withdraw – chronic absenteeism; quit
  • Withdraw – stay on job, but become indifferent, passive, apathetic
  • Resist the work – resist output, deception, featherbedding, sab0toge
  •  Try to climb upward
  • Join unions – redress power imbalances
  • Teach kids about “no future” at this workplace

modern times - Google SearchArgyris examined the issues of personality and powerlessness and frustration in the 1950s and 1960s.  Although that work focused on the “assembly line”, the authors argue that many organizations today manage in ways similar to those depicted in Modern Times.  Organizations humiliate, bore, anger, and exhaust their employees. Just think about Dilbert or The Office.  This ranges from the mailroom to the C-suite.  The other Chaplin image depicts a scene in which the “boss” tries out a machine which enables Chaplin to eat while he continues to tighten bolts on the continuously running assembly line.

Citing contemporary scholar and author David Batstone, Bolman and Deal loft this challenge:  “Corporate workers from the mailroom to the highest executive office express dissatisfaction with their work. The feel crushed by widespread greed, selfishness, and quest for profit at any cost. Apart their homes, people spend more time on the job than anywhere else. With that kind of personal stake, they want to be part of something that matters and contribute to the greater good.  Sadly, those aspirations often go unmet.”

The “assembly line” mentality persists.  Early managers and scholars “ignored” human resource frame type issues.  Now, however, Bolman and Deal assert “The frame’s influence has grown with the realization that misuse of human resources depletes profits as well as people.”

Global Trends and the Employment “Contract” – “Dumbsizing” vs. Training & Development

dumbsizing - Google SearchThe final aspect of the Human Resources Frame as articulated by Bolman and Deal breaks down to this issue:  “lean and mean” vs. invest in people.  Do organizations meet their goals by reducing “numbers”?  Or, does training and developing the workforce into the “best and brightest” maximize strategic advantage and profit?

Global competition has created more tension in the person-organization relationship.  Companies must act quickly to changes in the corporate environment. They must produce things or provide services more economically.  One way to become more nimble involves minimizing fixed human assets.  The need for “increased” flexibility that associates with downsizing, outsourcing, and temporary staffing has drawbacks in today’s world.

The forces of global competition which exist now in the world’s information-intensive economy require a different kind of worker.  Consequently, organizations have a growing dependence on a more well-trained and loyal workforce.  Even though organizations get pressure to minimize their human asset numbers, Bolman and Deal suggest that the competitive environment’s greater complexity and turbulence cause them to “depend on a higher level of skill, intelligence, and commitment across a broader spectrum of employees.”  This reduction in workforce works, according to Bolman and Deal, when “new technology and smart management combine to enable fewer people to do more.”  But, this can turn into “risky business”.  Downsizing organizations can trade short-term gains for “long-term decay”.

Several research studies, cited by Bolman and Deal, report or discuss how downsizing, for its sake, in effect turns into “dumbsizing”. The decision to cut human capital hurts organizations more often than it helps performance according to several research studies. Shedding staff all too frequently comes back to haunt organizations in terms of the bottom line, public relationships, strained relationships with customers, and employees.  The “lean and mean” organization frequently suffers “costs” – “sacrificed knowledge, skill, innovation, and loyalty.”  How about investing in people as a business strategy?

southwest airlines people management strategy - Google SearchA number of other studies, cited in the authors’ work, make the case that training and developing the workforce – investing in people – does not “cost”, but instead creates a “skilled and motivated workforce”.   This type of worker confers on the organization a “powerful source of strategic advantage”.  About this point, the authors cite the example of Southwest Airlines.  Due to its “highly committed workforce”, Southwest became known as a “most successful company in the U.S. airline industry in recent decades”.  Why?  The answer, according to Bolman and Deal, relates to the “effort Southwest gets out of its people”.  Under the Human Resource Frame, the authors suggest that “high-performing companies do a better job of understanding and responding to the needs of both employees and customers.  As a result, they attract better people who are motivated to do a better job.”  The cost and other advantages of a “highly committed workforce” are very hard to duplicate.

Human Resource Frame [Lawyer’s] Checklist:  Central Tensions and Issues to Investigate

 To answer the question “What is happening from a human resource perspective?”, whether in the context of organizational consulting, client counseling, or planning for litigation, consider the discussion above and the following checklist of central tensions and potential issues to investigate and focus data gathering:

  •  Central Tensions
    • Autonomy and interdependence
    • Employee participation in decision making
    • Self-regulation and external controls
    • Meeting individual needs and meeting organizational needs
  •  Potential Issues to Investigate
    • Attitudes of workers
    • Formal and informal leadership
    • Global competition pressures
    • Informal organization
    • Interpersonal and group dynamics
    • Job satisfaction
    • Morale
    • Motivation
    • Needs
    • Norms
    • Participation and involvement
    • Perceptions
    • Relationships
    • Respect for diversity
    • Reduction in force
    • Skills
    • Supervision
    • Support
    • Teams
    • Training and development

Any doubts about the power of Human Resource Frame?  Check out the court order in the largest payout [160 Million Dollars] ever in a discrimination lawsuit against an American employer:

Check out:

The order shows that the settling parties agreed that organizational experts will review policies and procedures related to issues and concerns which relate in large part to the central tensions and issues described in the Human Resource Frame.

When the fit is “right”, both organization and worker benefit.

Source:  Bolman, L, & Deal, T.(2008). Reframing organizations:  Artistry, choice, and leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass [Chapter 3.].  Access co- author Lee Bolman’s webpage here.  See also.  Gallos, J. V. “Reframing Complexity: A Four-Dimensional Approach to Organizational Diagnosis, Development and Change.” In Gallos, J. V. (Ed.). Organization Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Services:  Dan DeFoe, JD, MS, owner, editor, and lead blogger at Psycholawlogy, and owner and lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions, an organization development consultancy, is a lawyer with over 20 years experience. Dan also has a MS degree in organizational development psychology, and is educationally qualified and/or certified to purchase, administer, interpret, and provide confidential feedback to clients about the results from leading scientifically validated emotional intelligence assessments, including the EQ-i 2.0 and the MSCEIT, and the Hogan Assessments personality assessment inventories, Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), Hogan Development Survey (HDS) and the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI).  Adlitem Solutions utilizes these and other empirically validated tools and research methods and specializes in designing and providing custom normal personality and emotional intelligence-based interventions and solutions strategies for law students, lawyers, judges, other professional service providers and their member organizations and leaders.

Thank you.  Please visit again soon. Dan DeFoe JD, MS – Adlitem Solutions | Organization Development for Professional Services Firms and the Legal Profession: People. Projects. Practices | | | Blog  See you next time.

Dan DeFoe

Owner and Lead consultant at Adlitem Solutions
I'm an attorney with 20+ years of experience and have an MS degree in organizational development psychology. I provide normal personality and emotional intelligence assessments, assessment interpretation and feedback, and professional development planning and training activities for lawyers, judges, other legal services providers, and their organizations.

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