Jeffrey Pfeffer in the Lion’s Den

31 March 2008 at 2:02 pm 4 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

Management theory heavy-weight and über-econ-basher Jeffrey Pfeffer (cf. these posts) makes an appeareance in the Fall 2007 issue of . . . the Journal of Economic Perspectives — admittedly a rather “open” journal, but still one of the house journals of the American Economic Association. 

Pfeffer’s paper, “Human Resources From an Organizational Behavior Perspective: Some Paradoxes Explained,” appears in the context of a symposium on human resource management. Pfeffer provocatively (surprise!!) argues that 1) workplaces in the US are roughly speaking terrible, 2) they are becoming increasingly terrible, 3) bad human resource management in US firms significantly harm firm-level performance, and 4) “in spite of the fact that much of what is required to build engaged and successful organizations is at once well known and not always costly to implement, many, maybe most, organizations have failed to take appropriate actions, thereby, in some sense, ‘leaving money on the table'” (p. 115).

Persistent irrationality in the form of failing to implement the HRM policies favored by Pfeffer is explained by “the fundamental insights that both employees and organizations are embedded in a social context that provides taken-for-granted ways of thinking and doing things; social influence matters so that companies imitate others even if such imitation is maladaptive” (pp. 115-16). In other words, classical hardcore sociology meets econ. May be great as an exam question or essay assignment.

Here is the abstract:

Workplaces in America and elsewhere show pervasive job dissatisfaction, distrust, and disengagement, with the evidence suggesting that these problems are getting worse and have a number of negative consequences for employers as well as employees. What follows is a necessarily selective exploration of human resource management in organizations, covering why it is often done so badly, what theory suggests about how to do it better, and why so little of what is known is actually implemented.

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Management Theory.

Newspapers as Coasian Firms Hubbard on Firm Boundaries

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Steve Phelan  |  31 March 2008 at 3:43 pm

    So what is your position, Nicolai? Is there money on the table or not? :-)

  • 2. David Hoopes  |  31 March 2008 at 11:37 pm

    The funny thing about Pfeffer is that I bet he never had a real job. Granted, I’ve taken a highly unorthodox path from undergrad to my Ph.D.. But, I get tired of people fitting reality to their notions of how things should be. My point being, Pfeffer likes to complain and criticize others. Thus, he comes up with stuff to criticize and complain about. Even though he knows nothing about the world he discusses. I suppose if it came out that he was a great guy to have in the building. A warm and understanding mentor to junior faculty. If I knew that Jeff was respectful and courteous to the staff a Stanford Business School I would be willing to listen to him preach about how he cares more about American “workers” than the people that work with them do.

    As bad as business people can be at managing people, my experiences at UCLA, Purdue, Wharton, SMU, Kansas, and Cal State Dominguez Hills indicates that academics are terrible managers. Bad at planning. Bad at supervising. Bad at practicing what they preach.

  • 3. stevphel  |  2 April 2008 at 10:21 am


  • 4. David Hoopes  |  2 April 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I was hoping Nicolai had played an April Fools joke on me. “Ha Ha Dave. As if JEP would ask Pfeffer to do this!” Blush joke’s on me.

    But, no it’s all true.

    Honestly, I resent the idea that academicians care more about people than business people do. I just don’t see us as being paragons of virtue. And there are so many people that work in businesses generalizing seems pretty risky.

    Oh well.

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
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Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
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