James D. Mooney

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James David Mooney (18 February 1884 – 21 September 1957) was an American engineer and corporate executive at General Motors who played a role in international affairs in the 1930s and early 1940s. His career was disrupted when he was accused of Nazi sympathies in 1940. He is noted for his seminal contributions to the field of organizational theory.


  • Failure to delegate causes managers to be crushed and fail under the weight of accumulated duties that they do not know and have not learned to delegate.
    • James D. Mooney (1931), cited in: Guy Kimberley Hutt (1990), Organizational decentralization and delegation in large New York. p. 1
  • Management Mind in the Automobile Industry has always had a great contempt for politics. The point has been missed that although we, in the Automobile Industry have continually dismissed politics and government as quite unworthy of the attention of serious-minded men like ourselves, politics and government have been continually increasing their interest in the Automobile.
    • James D. Mooney (1933), cited in: Glenn Yago (1980), ;;The Decline of Public Transit in the United States and Germany. p. 39

Onward Industry!, 1931[edit]

James D. Mooney and A.C. Reilley, Onward Industry!, New York: Harper and Bros, 1931.

  • Organization is as old as human society itself.
    • p. xiii. Cited in: Morgen Witzel (2003) Fifty Key Figures in Management. p. 196
  • The reason for the phenomenon we call organization is as fundamental as human life itself. It has its roots in the fact that man, in every fibre of his being, with the full force of every motive he has brought with him through the ages, is stamped indelibly as a social creature.
Our primitive ancestors, before history began to be written, felt both the urge and the necessity to band together. By day, this awkward creature, with his new-found weapons in his clumsy hands, could stand alone and hold his enemy at bay by the power of his growing cunning. But when night fell, his helplessness weighed upon him and he fled in terror to the retreats where others of his kind were congregated, and sought with them a mutual solace of the fears that beset them all
  • p. 1; Lead paragraphs
  • Organization is the form of every human association for the attainment of a common purpose.
    • p. 10
  • The technique of management, in its human relationships, can be best described as the technique of handling or managing people, which should be based on a deep and enlightened human understanding. The technique of organization may be described as that of relating specific duties or functions in a completely coordinated scheme. This statement of the difference between managing and organizing clearly shows their intimate relationship. It also shows, which is our present purpose, that the technique of organizing is inferior, in logical order, to that of management. It is true that a sound organizer may, because of temperamental failings, be a poor manager, but on the other hand it is inconceivable that a poor organizer may ever make a good manager... The prime necessity in all organization is harmonious relationships based on integrated interests, and, to this end, the first essential is an integrated and harmonious relationship in the duties, considered in themselves.
    • p. 14-15; As cited in: Morgen Witzel (2003) Fifty Key Figures in Management. p. 197-8
  • In the practical sense the word principle may be applied to any underlying cause of more or less correlated facts in any particular field of investigation. The word principles, as applied to organization, is used by us strictly in the latter meaning.
    • p. 17
  • Organization begins when people, even if they be only two or more, combine their efforts for a given purpose. We have shown this by the simple illustration of two people uniting their efforts to lift and move some weighty object. This combination, however, is not the first principle of organization. It is only an illustration of organization itself. To find the first principle, let us carry the illustration a step further. The efforts of these two lifters must be coordinated, which means that they must act together. If first one lifted, and then the other, there would be no unity of action, and hence no true organization of effort. Here then we find the first principles of organization.
The next thing to do in order to explain is what we mean when we call coordination the first principle. We mean that this term expresses the principles of organization in toto; nothing less. This does not mean that there are no subordinated principles; it simply means that all the others are contained in this one of co-ordination. The others are simply the principles through which co-ordination operates, and thus becomes effective.
  • p. 19
  • The supreme coordinating authority must rest somewhere and in some form in every organization, else there could be no such thing as organized.
    • p. 20
  • As coordination contains all the principles of organization, it likewise expresses all the purposes of organization, in so far as these purposes relate to its internal structure. To avoid confusion we must keep in mind that there are always two objectives of organization, the internal and the external. The latter may be anything, according to the purpose or interest that calls the group together, but the internal objective is coordinative always.
    • p. 20
  • As coordination is the all-inclusive principle of organization, it must have its own principle and foundation in Authority, or the supreme coordinating power. Always, in every form of organization, this supreme coordinating authority must rest somewhere, else there would be no directive for any truly coordinated effort. The term authority as here used need imply nothing of autocracy.
    • p. 20
  • It is sufficient here to observe that the supreme coordinating authority must be anterior to leadership in logical order, for it is this coordinating force which makes the organization. Leadership, on the other hand, always presupposes the organization. There can be no leader without something to lead.
    • p. 21
  • It is essentially to the very idea and concept of organization that we there must be a process, formal in character, through which the supreme co-ordinating authority operates throughout the whole structure of the organized body. This process is not an abstraction; it is a tangible reality observable in every organization. It appears in a form so distinct and characteristic that it practically names itself, — hence the term Scalar Process.
    • p. 31
  • The scalar process is the same form in organization which is sometimes called hierarchical. But in order to avoid all definitional ambiguities the term scalar is much to be preferred. A scale means a series of steps; hence, something graduated.
    • p. 31
  • In organization it means the graduation of duties, not according to differentiated functions, for this involves another and distinct principle of organization, but simply according to degrees of authority and corresponding responsibility.
    • p. 31
  • Leadership is the form that authority assumes when it enters into process. As such it constitutes the determining principle of the entire scalar process, existing not only at the source, but projecting itself through its own action throughout the entire chain, until, through functional definition, it effectuates the formal coordination of the entire structure.
    • p. 33
  • The third and effectuating principle of the entire scalar process is Functional Definition.
    • p. 43
  • By the term functionalism, considered as a principle of organization, we mean the differentiation or distinction between kind of duties. Thus it is clearly distinguished from the scalar principle, in which there is also differentiation, but of quite another kind. The scalar differentiation refers simply to degrees or gradations of authority.
    • p. 45
  • Although a separate function of some kind is implicit in the very existence of a separate department, there may be, especially in manufacturing procedure, certain general functions, appearing in some form of departments, which in turn may require organized supervision and correlation. Thus we have cross-functionalism.
    • p. 46-47
  • Cross-functionalism, however, cannot eliminate departmental organization; on the contrary the organized supervision of any function of this character becomes itself departmental. Thus out of cross-functionalism must grow cross-departmentalism. Cross-departmentalism is an extended application of the principle of horizontal correlation.
    • p. 47
  • In every organization there must be some function that decides or determines the objective and the procedure necessary to its attainment... may be called the determinative... in secular government always known as the legislative.
  • The fact that functions may not be separated in organization does not in any way way destroy their identity as functions... The ideal of organized efficiency is not the complete segregation but the integrated correlation |of the three primary functions... The organizer must identify these functional principles, as they appear in every job, and make them the basis of his correlation... his duty is to correlate functions as such... The duty of the manager is to correlate who performs these functions... Management however represents the scalar principle... perpendicular correlations... true horizontal correlation requires other contact... The dissemination of understanding... of common purpose, of the relation of individuals to that purpose & to each other.
  • The staff function in organization means the service of advice or counsel, as distinguished from the function of authority or command. This service has three phases, which appear in a clearly integrated relationship. These phases ^ are the informative, the advisory, and the supervisory.
    • p. 60
  • The informative phase refers to those things which authority should know in framing its decisions; the advisory, to the actual counsel based on such information; the supervisory, to both preceding phases as applied to all the details of execution. The point is that the line represents the authority of man; the staff, the authority of ideas. The staff is purely an auxiliary service. Its function is to be informative and advisory with respect to both plans and their execution. This is implicit in the word "staff" which is something to support or lean upon but without authority to decide or initiate.
    • p. 60
  • No advance in human knowledge will ever exclude the leader's need for the counsel of elemental human wisdom, and especially of collective wisdom, in the making of all important decisions.
    • p. 66
  • There are two prime requisites in efficient staff service, coordination and infiltration. The tertn "co-ordination" describes the necessary method of sound staff procedure, but "infiltration of knowledge" is the ultimate purpose of all staff activities. Staff service is not alone for the top leader. It comes to him first, for he needs it in the making of his initial decisions, but the subordinates in the scalar chain, down to the very rank and file, likewise need it in the intelligent execution of all plans.
    • p. 73

"The principles of organization", 1937[edit]

James D. Mooney, "The principles of organization," in: Gulick, Luther Halsey. Papers on the science of administration. New York,: Institute of Public Administration, Columbia University, 1937.

  • The term organization, and the principles that govern it, are inherent in every form of concerted human effort, even where there are no more than two people involved. For example take two men who combine their efforts to lift and move a stone that is too heavy to be moved by one. In the fact of this combination of effort we have the reality of human organization for a given purpose. Likewise in the procedure necessary to this end we find the fundamental principles of organization. To begin with, the two lifters must lift in unison. Without this combination of effort the result would be futile. Here we have co-ordination, the first principle of organization. Likewise one of these two must give the signal "heave ho !" or its equivalent, to the other, thus illustrating the principle of leadership or command. Again the other may have a suggestion to make to the leader in the matter of procedure, which involves the vital staff principle of advice or counsel. And so on. Thus in every form of concerted effort principles of organization are as essential and inevitable as organization itself.
    • p. 90
  • My own principal interest lies in the sphere of industrial organization, which of all major forms of human organization is, in its present magnitude, the most modern. For this the reason is evident. The vast present-day units of industrial organization are products mainly of one creating factor, namely the technology of mass production, and this technology, born of the industrial revolution, has been almost exclusively an evolution of the last century. In contrast other major forms of human organization — the state, the church, the army — are as old as human history itself. Yet if we examine the structure of these forms of organization we shall find that, however diverse their purposes, the underlying principles of organization are ever the same.
    • p. 90
  • Worthiness in the industrial sphere can have reference to one thing only, namely the contribution of industry to the sum total of human welfare. On this basis only must industry and all its works finally be judged… The lessons of history teach us that no efficiency of procedure will save from ultimate extinction those organizations that pursue a false objective; on the other hand, without such efficient procedure, all human group effort becomes relatively futile.
    • p. 97-98. Cited in: Morgen Witzel (2003) Fifty Key Figures in Management. p. 196

The Principles of Organization, 1947[edit]

James D. Mooney, The Principles of Organization, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947,

  • Organization is the form of every human association for the attainment of a common purpose.
    • p. 5
  • Coordination, therefore, is the orderly arrangement of group efforts, to provide unity of action in the pursuit of a common purpose. As coordination is the all inclusive principle of organization it must have its own principle and foundation in authority, or the supreme coordination power. Always, in every form of organization, this supreme authority must rest somewhere, else there would be no directive for any coordinated effort.
    • p. 6
  • The common impression regards this scale or chain merely as a "type" of organization, characteristic only of the vaster institutions of government, army, church and industry. This impression is erroneous. It is likewise misleading, for it seems to imply that the scalar chain in organization lacks universality. These great organizations differ from others only in that the chain is longer. The truth is that wherever we find an organization even of two people, related as superior and subordinate, we have the scalar principled.
    • p. 14-15
  • While many brilliant writers and speech makers have been battling passionately about communism, fascism, socialism, and democracy, our studies of how governmental organizations actually function have forced us to the conclusion that there is little significance to these terms. Indeed, it has been our general observation that not only in different countries, but from generation to generation men go on organizing their governments and earning their living in much the same manner. Notable changes and improvements can be credited from time to time to the scientists and engineers, and in general to improved technology, but throughout history economic laws and the processes of production and distribution display an utter contempt for changes in the political complexion of government. In appraising the many experiments in governmental organization that are being tried currently throughout the world, it is important that we should not be thrown off the track by the circumstance that the various revolutionary movements or changes in government have adopted different symbols around which to rally supporters. The vital point is the plain fact that, once the controlling group gets into power, the practical circumstances of the situation force the new leaders to organize the government according to principles of organization that are as old as the hills.
    • p. 14-15; as cited in: Albert Lepawsky (1949), Administration, p. 251-252 ; Parts published earlier in: News and Views. General Motors Acceptance Corporation, General Exchange Insurance Corporation, Motors Insurance Corporation, 1938. p. 8
  • [Functionalism is] a distinction between kinds of duties.
    • p. 15
  • Delegation means the conferring of a specified authority by a higher authority. In its essence it involves a dual responsibility. The one to vhom responsibility is delegated becomes responsible to the superior for doing the job. but the superior remains responsible for getting the Job done. This principle of delegation is the center of all processes in formal organization. Delegation is inherent in the very nature of the relation between superior and subordinate. The moment the objective calls for the organized effort of more than one person, there is always leadership with its delegation of duties.
    • p. 17
  • When a member of an organization is placed in a position with duties ill defined in their relation to other duties what happens? Naturally he attempts to make his own interpretation of those duties and, where he can, to impose this view on those about him. In this process he encounters others in similar cases, with friction and lack of coordination as the inevitable result.
    • p. 29-30
  • The scalar principle is the same form in organization that is sometimes called hierarchical. But, to avoid all definitional variants, scalar is here preferred. A scale means a series of steps, something graded. In organization it means the grading of duties, not according to different functions, for this involves another principle of organization, but according to degrees of authority and corresponding responsibility. For convenience we shall call this phenomenon of organization the scalar chain. The common impression regards this scale or chain merely as a "type" of organization, characteristic only of the vaster institutions of government, army, church, and industry. This impression is erroneous. It is likewise misleading, for it seems to imply that the scalar chain in organization lacks universality. These great organizations differ from others only in that the chain is longer. The truth is that wherever we find an organization even of two people, related as superior and subordinate, we have the scalar principle. This chain constitutes the universal process of coordination, through which the supreme coordinating authority becomes effective throughout the entire structure.
    • p. 94-95; as cited in: Albert Lepawsky (1949), Administration, p. 251-252

Quotes about James D. Mooney[edit]

  • In 1931, under the title "Onward Industry," Messrs. James D. Mooney and Alan C. Reiley published a full-length book examining the comparative principles of organization as displayed historically in governmental, ecclesiastical, military and business structures... Their book constitutes the first serious attempt to deal with the subject comparatively and synoptically.
  • Mooney has made an exhaustive study of governmental, military, ecclesiastical and industrial organization in an effort to find underlying principles or precepts applicable to all forms of organization. He lists three basic principles: (l) the coordinative (2) the scalar) and (3) the functional. Each of these basic principles is further subdivided into subordinate principles for a total of nine identifiable principles.
  • Among organization theorists general, if not universal agreement obtains that it is proper to view the development of organization theory as divided into three periods. Conventionally, this "history" is regarded as beginning early in this century; and the three periods are customarily are designed by the terms classic, neo-classic and modern... The classical period has its beginning, in the conventional view, with Frederick W. Taylor and Henri Fayol... [and] reaches its high point in the thirties with the work of James Mooney and of the editors and authors of the Paper in the Science of Administration.
    • Dwight Waldo (1978), "Organization Theory: Revisiting the Elephant," Public Administration Review, 38 (November/December): p. 589
  • Von Hitler wurde der Präsident von GM, James D. Mooney, 1938 für seine Verdienste um die Aufrüstung mit dem Orden des Deutschen Adlers (Erste Klasse) ausgezeichnet.
    • Philipp Gassert (1997). Amerika Im Dritten Reich: Ideologie, Propaganda und Volksmeinung, p. 156
  • In retrospect, Mooney’s mission looks incredibly naive. It is astonishing that he could have been so close to affairs in Germany and yet not have realised the true nature of the Nazi regime; but it seems this was so. His efforts, though made in good faith, were kept secret at first, but eventually news leaked out and in the summer of 1940 PM magazine in the USA ran a series of articles accusing Mooney of Nazi sympathies and linking his meeting with Hitler to his earlier receipt of the German Order of Merit for services to industry in 1938.
  • Mooney's unpublished paper “The Science of Industrial Organization” (1929) portrays GM's multidivisional organization's use of the line-staff concept in organizing overseas assembly plants. Here I compare General Motors with Ford Motor Company, which had first-mover advantages overseas, and examine how each company organized and managed their international operations. “Linking pins,” a social-science concept, illustrates how GM's organizational hierarchy achieved vertical coordination of effort.
    • Daniel A. Wren, "James D. Mooney and General Motors' Multinational Operations, 1922–1940." Business History Review 87.03 (2013): 515-543.
  • Mooney and Reiley were concerned with certain universal principles and contributed four principles of organization, namely, the coordinative principle, the scalar principle, the functional principle, and staff-line principle.
    • S. P. Naidu (2005) Public Administration: Concepts And Theories, p. 70

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