Likert Management Systems

Likert Management Systems, developed by Rensis Likert in the 1960s, are powerful theories of leadership which highlight various organizational dimensions and characteristics.

The organizational dimensions Likert addresses in his normative framework include motivation, communication, interaction, decision making, goal setting, control, and performance (Likert, 1967). While Likert did not use an illustration to depict his framework, like the earlier models reviewed thus far, he describes four different types of management systems within organizations, which take into account the organizational dimensions he identifies. (see figure below). In order to determine the management system operating in any given organization, Likert developed a 43-item survey instrument with questions related to the seven organizational dimensions. The purpose of the instrument was to measure employees’ perceptions (e.g., upper management, supervisors, and staff) of the organizational dimensions within the organization. Interestingly and contrary to popular belief, Likert’s original scale did not have standardized scale labels such as “strongly agree,” “agree,” “neither agree nor disagree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.” Instead, Likert provided customized scale labels for each item stem (i.e., for all 43 items). The first response alternative, in this case “provides minimum information,” represents Likert’s System 1: Exploitative-Authoritative. The second response alternative, “gives subordinates only information superior feels they need,” represents System 2: Benevolent-Authoritative, and so forth. To determine the perceived functioning of the organization, the responses of various employee groups are averaged across items and dimensions. A profile is graphically plotted, indicating the current management system level for each of Likert’s seven dimensions. The terminology and system devised by Likert have been adapted and/or changed by other researchers over the years. For example, Nelson and Burns (1984) have introduced a version of Likert’s framework with the following terminology: the reactive organization (System 1), the responsive organization (System 2), the proactive organization (System 3), and the high-performing organization (System 4). These changes have been made to reflect more modern terminology and contemporary theory. Nelson and Burn’s High-Performance Programming framework will be discussed in greater detail later in this review.[1]

The Four Management Systems[2]
The four management systems as identified by Likert were:

  • Exploitative Authoritative: Exploitative Authoritative systems are extremely hierarchical, with power and responsibility lying at higher levels within the organization. Individuals lower down the system (non-managers) do not influence the decision-making whatsoever and are not involved in the process by their superiors - this is due to a lack of trust between managers and employees. Communication is delivered top-down and roles are dictated, rather than it being a two-way conversation. Higher management considers themselves responsible for achieving organizational objectives but will hold employees responsible for any mistakes that are made at lower levels. A summary of the system characteristics:
    • Decision-making and responsibility at upper levels of the organizational hierarchy
    • Little to no trust in employees
    • Decisions and roles are imposed on employees
    • Employees cannot openly discuss decisions and roles with managers
    • Employees may engage in counter-productive behavior
    • Motivation by punishments and threats - play on fear
    • Teamwork and communication are minimal

Likert Management Systems

  • Benevolent Authoritative: In a Benevolent Authoritative system, responsibility also lies at the upper echelons of the organisation. However, instead of inducing performance through the threat of punishment, and therefore fear, employees are instead motivated through a reward system. Superiors have more trust in their employees than do managers in an Exploitative Authoritative system, and therefore are more willing to reward individuals for good performance. There is more two-way communication between employee and line-manager however, upwards communication is more limited and tends towards only positive information, not queries or requests. Employees will not suggest any new ideas or recommendations which can make them more productive or satisfied and therefore the result is a lack of communication and teamwork. A summary of the key characteristics is as follows:
    • Decision-making extended to middle-managerial levels
    • More trust towards employees, though somewhat condescendingly
    • Responsibility still lies near the top of the hierarchy
    • Limited employee consultation on decisions
    • Employees still cannot discuss their roles with managers
    • Team members may compete for rewards
    • Rewards for performance, but also still a threat of punishment
    • Teamwork and communication are minimal
  • Consultative: In a Consultative System, managers have yet greater trust in their subordinates and demonstrate as such by implementing ideas or beliefs that they share with their team members. There is an open level of communication throughout the hierarchy of the organization and team members are often consulted during the decision-making process, particularly when any changes will affect them substantially. However, the ultimate power of decisions still remains with those at the highest levels within the organization. Employee motivation is fueled by incentives, including both rewards and the possibility of involvement or even responsibility for specific tasks. In this style, employees are given greater freedom and involvement in meaningful tasks are used to boost intrinsic motivation. A summary of the key aspects:
    • Decision-making extended to lower-levels when it significantly affects their role
    • Substantial trust in employees
    • Responsibility often shared with some team members
    • Decisions can be formed through employee consultation processes
    • Employees discuss job-related issues horizontally, and sometimes vertically
    • Teams are more co-operative - communication and teamwork are good
    • Motivation primarily through reward, but sometimes punishment
  • Participative: Likert considered the Participative System to be the most satisfying for lower-level employees. Upper management has full trust in their subordinates and actively works with them as part of the decision-making process. Employees are free to discuss any issues or ideas with their superiors, knowing full well that their discussions may be conducive to at least some kind of change. Rewards within a Participative System are common, and teams are happily co-operative with no direct competition between employees. The level of communication is high, both horizontally and vertically, and teamwork is regular. This system is generally more common in flatter organizations, or those which are smaller with lower tiers of the hierarchy, though it can be employed within any company. A summary of the key aspects:
    • Decision-making, responsibility and values are free-spread across all tiers
    • Complete confidence and trust in all employees
    • Decisions are formed through group participation and consultation
    • Communication is free and managers actively try to understand issues
    • Employees are co-operative and openly accountable
    • Motivation is provided through monetary rewards and involvement in goal-setting
    • Teamwork, satisfaction and therefore productivity, are high

See Also


  1. Explaining Likert System Analysis OI Institute
  2. The Four Management Systems BusinessBalls

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