Celebration of Frank Heller's Life and Work
9 May 2008
I was very pleased when Florence asked me to contribute to this memorial meeting to Frank Heller. Frank and I have known each other, and each other's work, for a long time. I feel that he made an important and distinctive contribution to applied social science in management in his programme of studies in industrial and organizational democracy. Since my Inaugural Lecture at the Open University was, rather unusually, a television programme on organizational systems, in it I interviewed Frank on his research.
I was delighted to be asked to contribute to his festschrift and I was honoured when he agreed to contribute to mine - a characteristically thoughtful analysis of the, often neglected, time dimension in management research.
I first met FH 50 years ago in1958. I had been detailed by my boss at Birmingham Tech to contact all the management education and training departments in Britain to see whether we could form a contact group and, perhaps later, an association.
Frank was distinctive because he was a social scientist (like me), but (unlike me - I was just a beginner in management education) he was the head of one of the largest departments in the country at the Regent Street Polytechnic - the first social scientist to head such a department.
In those days, Management as a subject was far too new for universities to have anything to do with it. Management departments were in Technical Colleges (run by production engineers who taught primarily production scheduling and work study) or in Colleges of Commerce (run by cost accountants who focused on cost accounting). The high status management education institution in the country was the independent Administrative Staff College at Henley. This was for those going to be top managers (and who therefore did not need to bother with work study or cost accounting) and their courses were based on Carlyle's dictum "The history of the world is the biography of great men". So they read and discussed how-I-did-it stories of great men.
The few social scientists around, like Frank, were distinctive for two reasons. First, because we knew about the Hawthorne Studies, thought they were relevant and important and wanted to teach about them - thus in due course ushering in the concept of 'Human Relations' into British management education. Second, because we believed in research - even into management. Frank, never just a talker, always wanting to do something about important issues, actually carried it out, producing some of the earliest management research from a technical college. In 1952 he published an article in the journal Occupational Psychology on "Measuring Motivation in Industry", for example. But most people in management and management education did not see the point of research, since based on their experience, they knew how to do it anyway.
Then we had the impact of a major piece of British research: Joan Woodward's study relating management structure and processes to the technology of manufacture. This was important because it directly contradicted the Management Principles of Fayol, so assiduously propagated by Urwick. It introduced what became known as the 'contingency approach' to management structures and behaviour. By the sixties, this approach had burgeoned; Lawrence and Lorsch in Harvard, Burns and Stalker in Edinburgh, myself and colleagues at Aston. Social scientists in management, like Frank, championed this approach because it gave us evidence to confront the unquestioned assumptions of the men of experience (and they were men, although Mary Parker Follett was often given the status of an honorary man).
In 1958, we did form a preliminary group; then in 1960 this developed into the full-blown Association of Teachers of Management. Frank always the do-er, played a big part in forming the ATM and became its first Secretary.
Frank was a pioneer social scientist in this field in Britain, and was at the beginning of the surge of social scientists into management education, which, by the 'seventies, had taken it over. But, of course, by then Frank was established on an important research career outside management teaching in Britain about which we are now going to hear.