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4.5 out of 5 stars42
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on 11 June 1999
I first came across this book when studying for my MBA.Later I started teaching management classes(1992);the official reading lists for the courses I taught were long and full of difficult to read texts. Some of the students asked me to recommend an easy to read text; I recommended this book because I had found it so easy to handle. I've recommended it ever since. Over the years it has been revised and improved so it still remains fresh and stuffed with current management thinking. The summaries of different theories are really useful for struggling students.If you are a first year BA or a CMS/DMS student - buy it!
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Charles Handy is arguably the UK's top business "guru", but in my opinion this title somewhat diminishes his life's work, which has gone beyond matters of simple business administration into a philosophy of life and work, and is imbued with a spirituality that I find infectious (even though I am not a very spiritual person). This, however, is his seminal management text, and there is but a hint of the philosophical musings of "The Empty Raincoat" and "The Hungry Spirit".

Understanding Organisations was first published in 1976, and my fourth edition (I don't know why Amazon describes this as the third edition - that must be an error) was published in 1993, with a revised introduction in 1999. It cannot claim to be entirely up to date, therefore, but it remains valid both as a commentary on previous work on motivation, roles, leadership, power groups and organisations as well as contributing many of Handy's own ideas on the subject. I think that it was here that he first used analogies with the ancient Greek gods to describe the cultures of organisations, which he later developed in "Gods of Management". I've dipped into this book in the past, and have worked through it systematically recently as one of the key texts for a course on "Organisational Behaviour". My impression is that there are few more recent developments in this field than were taken into account in the writing of the book.

I have few quibbles. Handy's style is scholarly - I had wondered if this was his doctoral thesis but in fact he did not do one (he has an honorary one from Trinity College Dublin). It is accessible - and I do like the dry humour with which he delivers some of his case studies - but it is not as an easy or entertaining a read as some of his subsequent works. This is an excellent book, whether to use as a course text or to dip into as you experience and reflect on "trouble at mill" in your working life.
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on 12 December 1999
Charles Handy's book is an essential reader of the most modern developments in organizational theory and organizational behaviour. It provides a useful overview of the different key issues that matter to organizations: not just leadership and design (as it is often the case elsewhere), but the ecological and cultural factors as well.
Anybody who cares about organizations (whether they are hospitals, schools, a factories or businesses of any kind) will benefit from this down-to-earth yet profound and wise book.
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on 30 April 2012
Such a good book to this this 4th ed is from 1993 and its still so good in to days world - love it! ive only just go this book and i can say its very "handy" for doing with (study etc) in the area of organizations. This is an easy read book and is very good for students and is a good refrence to add in to one project! this book will cover both organizational theory and organizational behaviour, it great for many types of organizations and comes with some good Figs
There are so many good reviews for this book im going to end this here and say if you have found this book and are thinking should i buy it or not, i say get it, i held off for a few weeks and wish i had not this is such a good read and handy book to have on ones shelf.
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on 27 May 2007
Charles Handy has been very influential shaping my attitudes to work, life styles and the management of organisations. This is a great primer for new students. I also highy recommend reading all his books and listening to his audio recordings.

His later works outline succinctly the demands changing corporations and globalization place on individuals and society. A very inspirational and thought provoking commentator, he positions the world of work in the larger context of ethics and morality. He also explores the human struggle to maintain individuality, spirituality, choice, freedom and dignity
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on 20 February 2000
This book draws upon and analyses most modern management theories, and gives Handys well informed perspectives. The work does indeed contain pearls of wisdom, and should be essential reading for any open minded manager. The work is intended as a diagnostic tool, and would be essential for any of us prudent enough to use it as such. It is also well written enough to make a stimulating and interesting read for any intellectual person, something that cannot be said of many management books.
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on 1 December 2003
Handy's book is well-written and highly readable. By putting all litterature references at the end of the book the book becomes more readable as the book is free from reference insertions that might disturb the flow of reading. However, for academic use this convention makes it significantly more complicated to reference to any other than Handy himself. One has to cross-reference between sections of the book to try to find the original inventor of a concept. Hence, the book is highly recommended for practitioners that wants to read the book as a novel. The structure of the book makes it less user-friendly for academic work.
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on 15 October 2013
I first came across this book in 1998 when I was working for the Sheffield City Council's Education Department. I found the book very easy to read and it contained excellent information on many modern day management theories and organisational behaviour(s). The book is organised in three parts: starting with concepts that explain organisational theory within the context of the nature and history of understanding organisations, including the factors affecting organisational effectiveness and the relationship between people, power and practicalities. Handy utilises some of the early motivation theories, the psychological, financial contract(s) and summary and implications of those theories which prove to be useful in the second chapter on motivation to work roles. Interestingly, I found the third chapter, as the most useful of all in that it introduces roles and interactions including the many concepts of role theory and role definition, role compatibility, role conflict, role overload, role under-load, all these concepts are very useful in understanding our overall role in general. As is the explanation on role stress and the implication of stress. Use of person perception techniques and those interactions with people we deal with in our everyday interactions is summarised very well in this chapter. Chapter 4, of the book deals with 'leadership', including style theories, general conclusions on leadership that fit in well with the following chapters on 'power and influence', methods of influence , methods of influence - use of power in organisations and implications of power and influence in organisations. Chapter 6, deals with group work theory within the context of organisational purposes and individual purposes and examines the determinants of group effectiveness along with case study of the task, the environment and the intervening factors. Chapter 7, was my main area of interest and it helped me to clarify my understanding of the ' the cultures of organisations' that dealt with one of the most informative sections in the book which discusses the many different 'cultures' includes, power culture, task culture , person culture and continues with some of the many ongoing influential factors in organisational management including size technology, goals and objectives, the environment and the people.

The second part of the book deal with 'How I did It' or in other words, the 'concepts in application' and this is the theme in chapter 8, and how personnel administration/management or people of organisations and addresses the development in this area including management of human assets and the development of the individual and the need to integrate the objectives of the two to allow for individual psychological development within constraints of organisational goals. 'Design and structure', of organisations that includes uniformity and diversity. Chapter 9, summarises 'organisations and its designs' including 'on politics and change' and 'On being a manager' is for me the most informative section with a mention of competition, conflict, tactics of change. 'On being a manager' looks at the manager's job, the manager as a GP, the managerial dilemmas and the manager as a person.

The final chapters (1-12) at part three of the book: Guide to further study) look at the future of organisations and the many assumptions, clues to the future and possibility and problems. It highlights the many implications for organisational design and discusses other implications of differentiation, integration is largely dependent on factors examined by Lawrence and Larsch who discuss the 'integrator' rather than the 'coordinator'.

This chapter is crucial and may help those interested on how organisations may change and what challenges they face and some of these examples are mentioned in Peters and Waterman's studies into American companies. Finally, Handy summarises all the chapters by mentioning David Bells book: Post-Industrial Society and Schumacher's book: Small Beautiful.

To conclude, this is an excellent, informative and a landmark book on the study of organisations and management and how to understand them in simple terms yet in great depth!
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on 19 January 2010
This book was purchased to complement my BSc(Hon). study materials. In general I found this book informative and easy to read and understand. I found some sections of the book go a little too in-depth when it is not necessary and some of the ideas mentioned are a little outdated (but the book was wrote in the early 1990's).

Generally this book would be excellent reading material for any person studying management or business studies at college or university or someone wanting a better understanding of organisation structures within companies.

I would highly recommend this book and any other book by this author to anyone.
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on 24 September 1999
An in-depth read leaving no stones unturned. Have you ever thought for a minute that you have considered everything when dealing with people, projects and strategy...well this book reminds managers that there is always another angle! Thought provoking across the entire managerial spectrum from the essential ingredients, people, to the roll they play in creating and maintaining businesses. Prof. Handy provides all of the managerial tools needed to build a successful organization. The challenge remains to choose the right tools at the right time.
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