1.2 The organisational context
Managers employ staff to achieve a set of objectives, but how do we ensure these objectives are pursued? It is the role of managers to establish the conditions, structures and processes required to ensure their employees’ efforts are directed towards the achievement of objectives, at all levels and in all departments.
There is a wide range of options available that managers might choose from in seeking to ensure that work is coordinated and directed towards the appropriate aims. These range from the policy of selecting and employing the most appropriate kinds of individuals and then giving them autonomy and trusting them to deliver, through to command and control systems that remove all worker autonomy and specify all tasks and actions, continuously monitoring compliance and performance. Most of us work in organisations that lie somewhere between these extremes.
At the beginning of the 20th century Henry Ford transformed manufacturing by reorganising work. His methods, which have become known as Fordism,removed virtually all autonomy from the workers on the production lines. Henry Ford and his colleagues devised not only a system of flowline mass productionthat revolutionised productivity, but also a system of command and control that revolutionised work and its management.
Activity 2 The Fordist approach
Using the embedded video or link below, watch the following clip to get a sense of one extreme end of the control paradigm.
As you watch, ask yourself the question:
- Is Fordism merely of historical interest, or does it have relevance and even parallels today?
If you are reading this course as an ebook, you can access this video here:
Transcript of Fordism Video
While the video clip is clearly historical and focused on one industry, you may be able to spot its relevance to the present day and to other sectors. Perhaps you have had the experience of telephoning a customer services helpline and talking to someone in a call-centre who has a script to work from and cannot answer any question that is not in their script.
As with Fordism, such call-centres are based on the idea that complex tasks can be sub-divided into small components that can be undertaken by staff with minimum training. This reduces the need to employ highly skilled workers who have a thorough understanding of the whole product, process or system, and allows managers a large amount of control over the employees’ work.
In Fordist terms, highly skilled workers have the disadvantage that their knowledge and expertise gives them a degree of power and autonomy – indeed they may know more than their bosses and as a result may gain control over decision making. In contrast, the production-line worker, who only knows how to complete one simple operation, is easily replaced and lacks the ‘expert power’ that is conferred by the possession of skills or knowledge.
Ford’s organisation of work was extremely efficient and, while management practices have evolved since the early 20th century, there are many similar examples existing today. These issues of control, worker autonomy and the coordination of complex processes are central to management and the role of the manager.