The Development of Men
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 31 Mar 1960, p. 271-284
Wright, Moorhead, Speaker
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The secondary title for this address is "How Do People Grow In A Business Organization? Ten Principles Which Emerged From a Research Study." The preoccupation of business enterprises, since World War II, with the development of people; taking the form of "executive development" or "management development" plans installed in a company in an effort to "develop good managers to meet the company's future needs." An acknowledgement that management today and in the future is different from what it used to be. The new position occupied by business managers in the American scene. A description of the research study and how it was carried out. The ten principles which emerged from the results of the study, each with a short discussion. Continuing research.
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31 Mar 1960
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Full Text
How Do People Grow In A Business Organization? Ten Principles Which Emerged From A Research Study
An Address by MOORHEAD WRIGHT Manager--Operations
General Electric Management Research and Development Institute Ossining, N.Y.
Thursday, March 31st, 1960
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Harold R. Lawson.

MR. LAWSON: In spite of everything we hear about unemployment, in spite of all warnings about the exploding population, the greatest shortage in the free world today is men. Every business leader knows how desperately his organization needs men--men of ability, men of character and industry, men with ambition and initiative, men with a talent for leadership. The most important assets in our companies are the human ones, but we don't have enough of them and often we do not make the best use of those we have. To some extent the arts of leadership are transferable, and men may be motivated by the inspiration of others.

Our guest of honour today is a molder of men. He has been with the General Electric Company ever since he obtained his degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University in 1927. His experience includes both engineering and sales activities at headquarters and in the field. At one point he was Assistant to the President of Hotpoint, Incorporated, in which position he developed a comprehensive programme of organization and management development.

Starting early in 1952 he conducted a three-year research study into the factors affecting the development of people in the business, which resulted in the plan now in general use in the General Electric Company. After several years as a lecturer and leader in the Advanced Management Course, he was appointed to his present position as Manager--Operations of the Company's Management Research and Development Institute at Crotonville, Ossining, New York.

What interested me most in the biographical sketch of our guest is the fact that he has been a visiting lecturer at both the Harvard Divinity School and the Harvard Business School. This is not as paradoxical as it might first appear. I have long believed that the Bible is the best source of inspiration for any young business man, and that it is our best textbook on business ethics.

Our subject today is "The Development of Men". It is a pleasure to present Mr. Moorhead Wright.

MR. MOORHEAD WRIGHT: In the years since World War II, most business enterprises--particularly the larger ones--have been much preoccupied with the development of people. This has taken the form of "executive development" or "management development" plans which are installed in a company in an effort to "develop good managers to meet the company's future needs". This preoccupation on the part of American business is evidence of a recognition that managing today and in the future is different from what it used to be even twenty years ago, and that business managers occupy a new position in the American scene.

In the first place managing today is a much more complex task than it used to be. The drastic social revolution, taken together with the technological revolution of recent years, has made the task of managing a business much more difficult due to the enormous number of variables which must be taken into account in planning and decision-making. Additionally, the responsibilities of the business manager have been multiplied. Whereas in the early days of the century his responsibilities were largely economic, there have been added both social and moral aspects to his responsibility. Finally, the decentralization and the growth in size of businesses call for a larger number of competent managers, and particularly managers who are capable of making their own decisions instead of "doing what they are told".

Much of this work in management development--in our Company as well as in others--has been a sort of procedural approach based on printed forms and systems and, it must be admitted, based on information which is not too deep or thought-through.

In October of 1951, as a part of his programme for the decentralization of the General Electric Company, Mr. Ralph J. Cordiner, President of the Company, established a research project with an assignment to "study the basic factors involved in the development of people and recommend a course of action for the Company." The initial research was carried out by a team consisting of nine experienced General Electric men, three consulting psychologists, three business school professors, and two top level management consultants. The research was reported out in 1953, and the implementation of its findings has been going on since that time.

From the research came a mass of data, some of it very sound, strong, and relevant, much of it unimportant. From the good data we have derived ten generalizations which appear to be useful guides in approaching the development process. They can in no sense be viewed as "eternal verities", because they have not been adequately proven in use. There is, however, enough evidence, both from research and practise, to establish these principles as useful guides. They are presented here primarily to encourage other companies to embark on research in this area, about which so little is known, in order to add to the field of hard knowledge available to everyone in industry faced with the necessity of doing this critical work of helping people develop.

The principles are simple and even obvious. In reading them one may be inclined to say, "Of course, of course--everybody knows that." However, study and observation indicate that these "obvious" principles are more often violated and ignored, than observed and honoured.


The development process is a highly individual matter.

No person is just like any other person. The individual is unique. (This is one of the few things that Albert Einstein, just before he died, said he felt sure of.) The individual is an individual, and he changes with time. No man today is the same man he was last year. It follows that we cannot successfully develop people by means of canned, cut-and-dried, over-standardized methods. Human development can never be an assembly line or stamping-machine process. There is no "average man" to whom you can apply uniformly the same method. What is good for one may not be good for another. It cannot be said, therefore, that all men shall be developed by some one method, such as by rotation, by Junior Boards of Directors, or by formalized training courses. Not one but many manager-development plans are needed, each tailor-made to fit the strengths and needs of a particular person, and aimed at helping him develop in the direction that is best for him.


Every man's development in business is SELF-development. The company naturally has an interest in his development, and the company can and will help, but it has no obligation, moral or otherwise, to "develop" the man. The motivation, the desire, the effort, the obligation, and the responsibility for development lie with the man himself.

Development is not something you do "to" a man. If the approach is manipulative, it is very apt to fail or fall short. This is particularly true of the young men entering the business scene. All over the country young men are now coming to business concerns with the attitude: "Here I am. Develop me." This is wrong--for them and for the company. It just does not square with the facts of life, in or out of business.

And so the young men come to us with a wrong feeling about the basis upon which they are coming in. They feel that the Company is lucky to get them, and that they are here not so much to earn their pay as to be developed. It is really not their fault, but it is way off the beam. What we ought to say is something like this: "We'll give you a real opportunity to grow and plenty of orientation and educational activities. But please do not come in here unless you want to work hard and earn your pay and develop yourself. Don't come to us unless you recognize that the responsibility for your development is primarily yours."

The obligations and responsibilities for development rest with the individual. However much and however often it may be obscured, this principle is finally unavoidable.


The development of people cannot be based upon any set of ideal or specified "personality characteristics or traits". I know that many of us have been trying to do it that way for the past twenty years, but it doesn't work very well. Why not? The following bit of personal experience gives us an indication. When I came in from Operations to work on the research team, they asked me some pretty sharp questions. They said, "You are going to develop managers for the General Electric Company?" I said, "I am going to try to help managers to develop themselves." They said, "The main thing is to have a good manager, isn't it?" I agreed. They said, "What is a good manager? What are the personality characteristics a man should have in order to be a good manager?" Well, I went off and did some thinking about that one. And the more you think about it the tougher it gets. Suppose you could arrive at the personality characteristics of the ideal manager. Would you then set up a prototype ideal manager who had only these ideal personality characteristics and no others? Would you proceed to try to raise a race of supermen who had these ideal characteristics? Before you got half-started, of course, you would be heading toward forced conformity and uniformity. But suppose you actually could somehow produce a breed that were all alike, and suppose you had this uniform crowd managing the Company; it would be a sour omen for the future, because this Company's strength always has been in the individuality of the people who compose it.

Another serious difficulty arises if you are going to work toward any sort of ideal "personality pattern": What, in the face of such a pattern are you going to say to the managers now in place? Shall we say that they must conform to this ideal pattern or be fired? How do we account for the fact that we now have some managers--good managers, who are tough and rugged "personalities", others who are quiet and thoughtful men, others who are aggressive-salesmen type, and others just as widely assorted, all good managers? The truth is that there just isn't any standard pattern of personality traits that make a good manager.

In my judgment, and I have tried it many times, "rating sheets" based upon "personality traits" have generally failed in actual application. Time and again men who rate poorly turn out to be good managers, and vice versa. We have to take men as they are, with the "traits" that they have, and try to bring about their development from that basis. So the focus is upon the work rather than the individual "personality". Work can be seen, identified, analyzed, measured. Work is specific, tangible, "get-at-able". And work is basic: This whole Company is a group of people who are banded together to do work. That is what we are all here for: to do work in return for money and personal fulfillment.

In the field of management particularly, there is an important checkpoint in evaluating a man's work, because there is a single common denominator among all managerial jobs. Whether he is in charge of a research laboratory, a dress shop, a cafeteria, or whatever, the manager must get results through the efforts of other people. This is the common element. The manager's assignment is always too big for one man to do by himself, so he has other people working with him to get it done.

There are three things that a manager must know: (1) the product or service, (2) the specialized work of the operation he is managing, and (3) the common denominator of getting results through other people. The third factor is the particular work of the manager. With a reasonable amount of breaking-in, he can often learn the first two. But his ability in the common denominator is what really qualifies him. Therefore, in one's search for managerial talent, one should seek not men with certain "personality traits", but men who indicate or demonstrate an ability to do this kind of work.

This viewpoint, this emphasis, puts things on firmer ground than in much previous planning. It provides a more logical, reasonable, and therefore reasonably secure framework upon which to base action, instead of 99 different ideas that somebody might have about what is important in managing, what other courses and procedures have been like, and what kinds of thinking the man ought to be trained in.


A man's development is 90 % the result of his experience is his day-today work.

Researching this subject, a group of outside interviewers talked to three hundred General Electric Managers, men who had developed to the point where they had actually been appointed to positions of managerial responsibility.

The interviewers asked these men: "What do you consider the thing that was most important in your development? What did the Company do to help or hinder your development?" These, remember, were outside interviewers; the sessions lasted 21/z to 3 hours; and the anonymity of the managers was protected so that they felt free to say exactly what they pleased. And 90% of them said, "I got my greatest development when I was working for so-and-so in such-and-such a place." Only 10% attributed major developmental importance to educational background, special courses, rotation, etc., etc. The outstanding factors by a wide margin in the development of these managers were the manner in which the man was managed in his daily work, the climate in which he worked, and his relationships, particularly with his immediate manager. These are the things that helped him develop more than any others.

This same point is proved by another quite intensive (and expensive) piece of research. The records of 890 General Electric managers were punched on IBM cards and run off for correlations. The objective was to find out if any significant number of managers had arrived at their positions due to any one significant factor among the 45 factors studied. For example, had they progressed because they had held a lot of different jobs, that is, because of rotation? The answer was no. Present General Electric managers had held assignments in an average of 1.1 functions since coming with the Company. Significant correlations with education, functional background, and many other things were looked for, and none was found. Here was further proof that when the first group interviewed gave only a 10% weight to civic activities, outside courses, rotation, etc., they were probably rating them about right. All these things are important, but the direct daily experience is so much more important that there is just no doubt about where the major attention should be directed. Every man in the Company is having experience in his day-today work that tends to develop him or to retard his development. He is daily reacting to the climate in which he works and to his relationship with his immediate manager. And these appear to be the most important factors in the development process.


Opportunity for development must be universal. Everybody in the Company must be given opportunity to develop. Not just a small group, not even a large group, but everybody. There can be no dividing lines between "promising men" who will be developed and "unpromising men" who will be ignored. There can be no separation of the sheep from the goats. Opportunity must be available for everyone who is motivated to accept it and go to work on it.

Very many development programmes today--indeed, many of our own in the past--have been based on this idea of selecting the "high potential men", picking ten out of a thousand and saying, "These are the boys we will develop." During the process of researching the merits and demerits of this very common practice, one of the "promising young men" lists of ten years ago was dug out. There were 143 names on it. The question arose: "Where are these boys today?" The researchers proceeded to look around and find out. Only 37 per cent of them had achieved the success predicted for them. It shows how wrong these arbitrary "crown prince" theories can be.

There are historic warnings against the "promising young man" type of selection for development. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was a consistent failure in his early life; he failed in the Legislature, failed in the Senate, and went through bankruptcy; he certainly wouldn't have been on anybody's "promising" list.

It follows, as a basic principle, that everybody must be given a chance, and that no artificial distinctions can be made during the developmental process. Obviously the man of limited ability is not presented with the same opportunity that is given to one of your real up-and-coming bright young men. But each of them gets the appropriate opportunity. The lesser man is not cut off from all opportunity. He is offered appropriate opportunity in the beginning and subsequent opportunities as earned.


Primary emphasis must be on development in the present assignment, rather than emphasis on a promotional ladder. There is no attempt here to ignore the importance of promotion as a developmental factor. But if undue stress is laid upon the promotional ladder, everyone begins to feel that he is in his present job only temporarily; that he is on his way up the ladder; that he must devote most of his attention to looking ahead to the next rung and not to getting his present work done. This means that the Company's work doesn't get done, and you couldn't have a worse result from a development activity. Furthermore, when main emphasis is on promotion, the inevitable outcome is a lot of expectations that cannot be fulfilled and a lot of promises that cannot be kept. The final result is apt to be unnecessary disappointment all around.

Research to date points to saying something like this: "Boys, keep concentrating on doing today's job particularly well. This is the base from which all advancement is made." It also has the great advantage for the man's incumbent manager that it helps get the work done. Thus, while a manager is helping people develop, at the same time he is making his own job easier, not more difficult. It is wise to hold down super-imposed special development activity which cuts into the day's work or takes time away from getting results, and producing profits. The development process should be integrated with the normal conduct of the business so that they work together instead of competing for the manager's time and energy. The manager's work is actually simplified, rather than being made more complex, by the development process.

Now, this question may come up: "If the man who is working on development concentrates solely on his present job, is he not failing to broaden himself for bigger responsibility, and won't he be unable to take the bigger assignments when they come?" The answer is that it is recommended that he concentrate not solely but primarily on the present job. While he is thus concentrating he is encouraged and helped in every way that will broaden him and make him capable of taking on the bigger job which the future may hold in store for him. At the same time his advancement is directly related to performance on the present assignment. When he moves up, he has earned it. This eliminates the "replacement table" kind of set-up in which everybody is on the move all the time, or thinks he should be on the move all the time, and in which a lot of people are always frustrated and mad and dissatisfied. Broadening-for-the-future should be an additional factor; the main objective is doing better what you are doing now.


Managing is a separate and distinct kind of work which is emerging as another profession.

This fact must be recognized both in planning a man's development and in actually appointing people to managerial positions. We must, therefore, get the best possible answer to the question: "Does this man have the capabilities and drives to enter the profession of managing, or should he continue to progress in his present field?"

Take for example an engineer; his profession is engineering. If he is made a manager his profession is changed from engineering to managing. But it does not necessarily follow that a good engineer will make a good manager. He may or may not be well suited to the profession of managing. It is of pivotal importance to judge as accurately as one can in advance whether he is or not. We must estimate, from sensitive observation of his work, whether he has demonstrated the desires and capabilities that fit a man for the profession of managing. This is a safeguard against the very common mistake of saying, "We need a Manager of Engineering. We'll look around and pick our best engineer and put him in this spot." If we followed this line of reasoning in, say, baseball, Ted Williams would be Manager of the Red Sox. Quite often, in the past, the best engineer was made Engineering Manager, and failed. The star individual salesman was made Sales Manager, and failed. Not always, but often, there are many exceptions. So, many times the outstanding individual performer is made a manager, and we lose the good individual performance and get a mediocre manager; all because of failure to realize that managing, in itself, is emerging as a profession, with its own particular professional requirements.

In planning a man's development, the first question is: "Is this man in the right kind of work? Is he headed in the right direction for him?" It is really a difficult decision to make, but if man and manager look at it from this point of view, the chances of making good choices are considerably improved. General Electric Policy makes this important statement of intent: "In making the choice between manager and individual contributor positions for a man, remember that the General Electric Company owes much of its success to the fine work of individual contributors, and rewards for such work can be and should be equal to those for managerial work." This is a statement, remember, of intent. The rewards for an individual contributor's work should be equal to the rewards for managerial work. It is not yet true in practice to the extent that it should be. But we are working toward that position, and we are making progress.

Personally, I can see a lot of advantages in being an individual contributor. An adult does not yearn after the trappings of prestige. What he wants is fulfillment in his work. He wants a clear area of work and teamwork, and he seeks primarily recognition for his professional capability rather than in the social hierarchy of the Company. Of course there is an element in all of us which is something less than adult. And it often happens that an individual contributor who is getting full recognition professionally is unhappy because in the social life of the Company he sees men whom he believes to be lesser men than he is intellectually, but who nevertheless are getting certain perquisites that he is not getting, and naturally it eats him a bit (and his wife, too).


Decentralization of decision-making is a prime instrument of development.

Decision-making muscle is developed only by making decisions. There are many books on the subject of decision-making, and of course there is much value in studying them, but no one can really develop judgment and learn how to make good decisions except by actually making decisions. As in golf, bridge, and any other skill, learning is done not only with the head, but with the muscles and the intestines, and this kind of learning comes primarily from doing. Now, decision-making opportunities for men working on their development are not available if most of the decision-making power is concentrated among a few of the top brass instead of being spread out at the periphery. Organization structure, therefore, is an important and inherent part of the development process, because it opens or limits the field for individual decision-learning.

One big company discovered that many of their best executives came from small isolated plants. They wondered why. They investigated and found that the development of these men had been greatly stimulated by the opportunity, indeed, the necessity for making decisions as they came up. When Mr. Cordiner decided to decentralize, he had this factor in mind. The man in the decentralized component is relatively autonomous. He has to make decisions for himself right there on the job. Decentralization puts many men in a position to decide independently who otherwise would be running upstairs to get their proposals checked and having decisions handed down to them from above. Then if anything goes wrong they say: "You told me to do it." They have no responsibilities and so no opportunities for developing good business judgment, which is a prime requisite in the entire process of managing.


The incumbent line manager at all levels is responsible for the development of people who work under his direction. This principle is somewhat of a departure from previous practice, so the reasons for it need particularly to be understood. Many managers say: "My main job is to make the product and bring in the profits. I'll let my personnel man do the developing work, or I'll get a staff man, or I'll send the boy to a school and let them develop him."

It is not possible for a manager to delegate the development process to someone else. He can delegate the legwork and some of the educational activities, but primarily he has to carry the responsibility himself. Part of the description of his job, part of the rule against which he is measured, is serious and intensive work in helping the people who report to him to develop themselves. He must watch the climate that exists; he must make development plans for and with his men; he must originate opportunities and work situations which will challenge and develop these men.

Very often, in cases where the development activity is carried on as a separate and special "programme", the results can be detrimental instead of constructive. A man may be "appraised" by someone other than his own manager, he may take special company courses and engage in other "developmental" activities and acquire considerable information and inspiration. This may lead him to see some of the shortcomings and faults in the organization in which he works and he will return to the job full of enthusiasm for improving the whole operation. In many cases this is a good result, but in many others he finds a very apathetic or even hostile reception to his ideas. If the manager with whom he works regularly is not interested in his development, and is on the defensive (as they often are), a frustration and resentment will be built up in the individual, which may lead to retrogression instead of development.

Further, as indicated in Principle IV above, a man's development is heavily dependent on the climate in which he does his daily work and is particularly sensitive to the relationship that exists between himself and his immediate manager. Thus, it is almost certainly true that the line manager himself must recognize his responsibility for helping people develop.


Moral and spiritual values are basic in the development process.

If there is too much emphasis on science, mathematics and accuracy, the obligations that stem from this key principle may be overlooked. As a matter of fact, not only American business but American history is at a crossroads in this connection. For a long time now we have been growing more and more materialistic, making more and more progress along lines of material science, making great discoveries about the atom and electronics and chemistry and many other things. This multiplying knowledge of the physical world gives man enormous power, and with it, enormous obligation to be right.

Throughout history, the human being has advanced very little or not at all, while the scientific and physical things he has in his hands have grown out of all proportion. It is a terrible commonplace to observe that man now has the power to destroy himself and his world. We must find the way to greater wisdom in handling our present power for good or evil, or we will leave a terrible mess for our children to live in.

It seems absolutely necessary that we reach out and try to find some wisdom greater than our own, greater than the merely human. We have to find and clear a pipeline to some higher source. We have to reach out and up for the great help we need in making decisions with regard to these physical things and the people involved in them. The decisions of American business managers are going to have great effect upon the course of the world. This is a business-oriented society. Businessmen have real leadership in this country. And this country has real leadership in the world.

The quality of our decisions, particularly those in regard to people, must be really good and really high.

These are ten thoughts which may serve as guides for those interested in the development of people. They are oversimplified, and are only a few facets of an extremely complex problem. As a matter of fact, I would say one of the principal findings of our research project was that we need much more research, before we even begin to know even an appreciable part of the many factors involved. There are great gaps in our knowledge which may not be filled for generations. Our research is continuing and we are working closely with other businesses, universities and others. We hope that in time we will have a body of solid knowledge about the development of people, which will enable all our managers to do, more effectively, this development task which is both their high obligation and great opportunity.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Harold Gillingham.

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The Development of Men

The secondary title for this address is "How Do People Grow In A Business Organization? Ten Principles Which Emerged From a Research Study." The preoccupation of business enterprises, since World War II, with the development of people; taking the form of "executive development" or "management development" plans installed in a company in an effort to "develop good managers to meet the company's future needs." An acknowledgement that management today and in the future is different from what it used to be. The new position occupied by business managers in the American scene. A description of the research study and how it was carried out. The ten principles which emerged from the results of the study, each with a short discussion. Continuing research.