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About 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.
In his youth, Barnard worked on a farm, then studied economics at Harvard University, earning money selling pianos and operating a dance band. He did not obtain his Harvard BA because he did his four-year work in three years and could not complete a science course, but a number of universities later granted him honorary doctorates.
Barnard joined the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (now AT&T) in 1909. In 1927, he became president of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company. During the Great Depression, he directed the New Jersey state relief system.
He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1939. He was president of the United Service Organizations (USO), 1942-45. Upon retiring from business, he served as president of the Rockefeller Foundation, 1948–52, and as chairman of the National Science Foundation, 1952-54. End 1950s he was among the first members of the Society for General Systems Research.
Barnard looked at organizations as systems of cooperation of human activity, and noted that they are typically short-lived. It is rare for a firm to last more than a century. Similarly most nations last for less than a century. The only organization that can claim a substantial age is the Roman Catholic Church.
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. In contrast, Barnard's meaning of organizational efficiency differed substantially from the conventional use of the word. He defined efficiency of an organization as the degree to which that organization is able to satisfy the motives of the individuals. If an organization satisfies the motives of its members while attaining its explicit goals, cooperation among its members will last.
Barnard was a great admirer of Talcott Parsons (1902–1979) and he and Parsons corresponded persistently. The two scholars would send manuscripts for commentary to each other and they would write long letters where they engage in a common theoretical discussion. The first correspondence between Barnard and Parsons began in the end of the 1930s and it persisted essentially to Barnard’s death in 1961.
The Functions of the Executive
Barnard's classic 1938 book The Functions of the Executive discusses, as the title suggests, the functions of the executive, but not from a merely intuitive point of view, but instead deriving them from his conception of cooperative systems.
Barnard summarized the functions of the executive as follows:
Establishing and maintaining a system of communication;
Securing essential services from other members;
Formulating organizational purposes and objectives.
Authority and incentives