Over the decades, organizations have played significant roles in the lives of people and society at large. Through their activities, goods and services have been provided for both survival and luxurious purposes, as well as even securing a source of livelihood for people. It goes without saying, therefore, why organizational researchers over the years have dedicated themselves to investigate and come out with best practices that will see to the success and survival of organizations. Perception of individuals in the organization is one of such important variables that is worth discussing in the light of the success of organizations. The three main facets of an organization are people, goals and relationships. All these thrive on interaction to achieve organizational goals and objectives. In the day to day activities of the organization, people form perceptions about their jobs, employers, supervisors, colleagues and even the structure of the organization as the facets interact. Through this interaction, people seek reality to take important decisions or even relate with one another. However, in the absence of reality perception becomes a powerful tool that plays an important role in the interaction of the various parts of the organization.
What is perception? Why is it an important organizational behavior concept that needs to be understood in the realm of organizational success? According to Lindsay and Norman (1977) perception is the process by which organisms interpret and organize sensation to produce a meaningful experience of the world. Also, perception is the process by which individuals select, organize, and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. These definitions basically reiterate the actuality that, perception is a cognitive interpretation of the surroundings of individuals that are given rise to by the human senses; what people see, feel, hear etc. There are three main factors that influence people’s perception in the workplace. These are the Perceiver, the Target and the Situation.
The perceiver refers to the individual observing and interpreting his or her immediate environment. Most often than not, there are certain characteristics of the perceiver that impacts on the spectacles from which actions, individuals or any other thing is perceived. The perceiver’s attitude, motives, interests, experiences, expectations etc have a direct relationship on how and what is perceived. For example, if a team leader is a goal achievement oriented person, any team member who might give an excuse for something not being done is likely to be perceived by the leader as a lazy fellow who is not enthusiastic about achieving goals. Again, employees might have an expectation of a Human Resource Manager to be very approachable and nice to people. Thus, any behavior exhibited in contrary to this expectation by the Human Resource Manager can easily lead the employee to perceive such a person as a bad Human Resource Manager.
Again, the target being observed retains variety of factors that influences how it is perceived. The target basically refers to the object under scrutiny, this could be an employee, a team, a boss, a job etc. Some of the factors include size, sound, background, proximity etc. For instance, the features of a boss, that is, size or height can lead employees to perceive him or her as a good or inefficient leader even before getting to know and have an encounter with him or her. Mostly, tall and well-built individuals are seen to be well tailored for leadership positions as compared to short people. Proximity of the target also has a tendency of influencing people’s perception. In a big organization, where transferring of employees could be the order of the day, employees are likely to form a perception on what people might have told them about an employee to be transferred to their branch because they are not close to their target of observation.
The last factor that influences perception is the situation or context within which something occurs. Elements such as time and the work environment all play a role in perception. Assuming employees send a petition to management concerning happenings they are least enthused about in the organization, and management decides to implement a downsizing exercise they have planned for some time around the same time the petition is sent. There is a likelihood of employees to perceive management’s action as a sabotage or punishment for airing their grievances, looking at the timing of the two events.
In the organization, numerous activities that are undertaken induce perception in one way or the other. In an organizational activity like recruitment and selection, perception plays a major role. In external recruitment, there is usually limited information about candidates, hence interviewers’ expectations and interviewees characteristics form a basis of perception in the selection of a suitable candidate.
Again, when new recruits are hired, be it permanent staff, contract staff or part time staff, it takes time for them to settle in and get along with other co-workers and the statutes of the organization. Within this period, it is largely perception they employ to make meaning of their new environment, in the absence of the reality of the organization which they might get to know in the days to come.
As mentioned earlier, an activity like transferring of employees from one branch to another can breed a lot of misgivings due to absence of reality and perception will set in.
In fact, perception in the organization is a concept that cannot be overlooked or given a blind eye, since most activities are perceived even before reality becomes apparent. Since perception might not provide the exact reality needed, it has the tendency of making relationships among workers go sour, it can breed resistance to change, it can cause misunderstanding etc. These are usually not healthy for peaceful coexistence or a harmonious work environment which consequently affects productivity and organizational performance which are crucial in determining the organization’s success and ability to survive within the turbulent corporate environment. Therefore, managers should be concerned about its use and if possible try as to provide the needed information at any given point in time to prevent perceptual errors like selective perception, attributive theory, hallo effect, contrast effect, stereotyping, projection, which distorts information and brings about undesirable consequences to an organization.
When people pay attention to the specific stimuli, the information is still not been perceived. Perception is necessary for people to categorize what it is they are sensing. In this step, the raw information should be organized. Organized perception is a remarkable achievement when one considers that the information which reaching the sense receptors is confusing and disorganized. (Eysenck 1993) People’s ability to organize their perception of individual stimuli into a coherent whole can be affected by particular situations, or blocked by the poor presentation or masking of the stimuli themselves. (McKenna, 2000p.156)
Gestalt psychologists point out that the “whole is more than the sum of its parts”, which can also applied in perceptual organization. Like when an employee’s performance is appraised, the past performance and recent performance complement each other and help the manager to organize the overall information. Repetition of a message also contributes to perceptual organization. (McKenna, 2000) For example, some problems may turn up in workplace. At first, these problems may be tiny and easily ignored by manager. But the problems emerge repeatedly; they would be bringing about the organization of the manager’s perceptions. In another case, perceptual organization with respect to the features of interviewees affects the HR manager’s decision when comparing him/her with competitive ones. HR manager will pick out some interviewees from others when has an organized overall perception of the interviewees—-from aspects of personality, capability, attitude and so on.
Benefits for managers
From selecting to interpreting stimuli, people can understand the stimuli comprehensively and deeply, and then work out the appropriate response. For organizational managers, understanding the process of perception can gain several benefits, especially on decision-making, performance-appraisal system design, and communication with others.
The perception in decision making
In organization, when the manager know the factors which can influence people’s attention; and they will know how to attract people’s attention. That is to say, managers can make the appropriate decision for the organization. For instance, manager should make a decision to promote their new product to public and appeal to the consumers. If manager understands the process of perception, he/she will work out a series of plan such as put a big advertisement board on a location of large population movements, repeat broadcast the advertisement on TV during peak viewing time, and contrast own product with similar competitive brand. Meanwhile, managers understand the important of selective attention will know different individual should be motivated in different ways according to individual personality.
Unappreciated decision works out usually due to without considering all the factors. In organization, the wrong decision may affect the products and employees, and managers are supposed to make the reasonable decisions possible for the business. In workplace, managers perceive from their work situation will influence their behaviour more than the situation itself will. (Hroot, 2008) Fully understand the situation can help in the process of making decision. Organizational managers in step of perceptual organization will put all relevant information together, and enrich the content of stimulus which they focus on. The more information they consider, the more roundly outcome they will create. Managers think about numbers of factors critically in process of decision-making, the result could be satisfactory.
On the whole, when managers face a situation to make a decision, they can improve their decision making when the understanding the process of perception. First, they need to analyze the situation. Combine the facts and sort them to know what are dealing with. Second, pay attention to biases. Although the subjective biases are inevitable, they can reduce into minimal. Last, enhance the creativity and find out different ways that might be better and more effective. Managers may develop alternatives to a situation and the review them and find the one they feel will be most effective.
The perception in performance appraisal system design
Effective performance appraisal systems could be made when the organizational manager understanding the process of perception, especially when they pay attention to the subjective biases.
In performance planning, managers should understand the organizational objectives and performance measures. It needs a discussion between managers and employees, in which managers and employees should pay attention to and make consensus on how the employee should do the job, what results the employee needs to achieve, how about the rewards to employees and how about the training and development plan.
In performance execution, managers should keep detail notes of each employee’s performance on time to avoid been bias. If managers rarely keep detailed notes about their employees and appraise them only base on recent past, the performance over the year would be meaningless. What is more, managers and employees should review the performance against the performance planning regularly to ensure the problems can be solved in minimal size. Managers also have responsibility to provide conditions motivating employees to performance well and solving the problems as soon as possible.
In performance assessment, the main thing is to remove subjective bias from analysis and judgment. Managers should avoid the subjective to most extent, not judge employees on personal preference or past experience.
In performance review, the information can help managers to amend the organizational objectives and performance standards. Employees review the appraisal from subordinates, peers, supervisors and the customers, which compare with self-appraisal, can understand self-performance comprehensively.
The perception in communication
Perception is an important part of the communication process, and perceptual problem are frequently encountered in organization which are often relate to as communication problems. (McKenna, 2000) As perceptual problem easily arise in the relationship between manager and employees, manager should devote to perceive the employees deeply.
Managers can focus on people’s personality, culture difference, habit and so on. For example, when a manager knows an employee’s personality, he/she will know how to communicate with this employee better; when a manager knows an employee’s motivation, and their conversation can focus on that motivation.
To enhance the communication between manager and employees can improve the workplace relationship, and good relationships create the good work environment, which it good for the work outcome. The main processes of perception are selective attention, organization, and interpretation. And there is also an appropriate response should be made after people make sense of the stimuli.
Many stimuli can attract perceiver’s attention, when people pay attention to one thing, they will naturally concerned with a series of information into an organized whole. And after organizing the information into a stimulus, it has to be interpreted. Various biases should be avoided when do interpretation, such as halo effect (an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another area) and horn effect (one’s perception of another to be unduly influenced by a single negative trait), recency (when people are asked to recall in any order the items on a list, those that come at the end of the list are more likely to be recalled than the others) and primacy bias (when an assessor recruiter, hiring manager, etc.) is overly affected by information that was presented later more recently rather than earlier in any given selection process), stereotyping and so on.
To understand the process of perception can provide the organizational manager several practical benefits. However, it is important for manager to avoiding errors in person perception. On the one hand, they should take more time to collect and consciously use more information about people and avoid snap judgments about people. Also, they should check their assumptions and develop self-awareness of personal biases and preferences. (Clarkson, 2009)
ABOUT THE AUTHOURS
Daniel Adjei – Managing Partner Spint Consult Ltd | [email protected] |+233-302-91542and Bernice Adjei – Lecturer/Consultant.