Management Seminars: Matt Vidal (Loughborough University)
Matt Vidal (Loughborough University)
Howard House 1.01
Title: Management divided: Contradictions of labor management in American capitalism
A conflict between ensuring managerial control and harnessing worker creativity is one of the central dynamics shaping organizations today. On the one hand, managers discipline the workforce to ensure sufficient output, using work simplification and standardization, automation and machine-paced work, rules and procedures, threats and rewards. On the other hand, organizational success increasingly depends on the ability of managers to harness the creativity and initiative of workers via upskilling, cross-training, and asking workers to engage in problem solving and decision making. This paper argues that as employee involvement has become increasingly important in response to demands for flexibility and organizational learning over the last four decades, this contradiction between discipline and empowerment has been deepening.
From the 1990s to the present, lean production has become deeply institutionalized as best practice in American manufacturing. Lean has been codified into a package of well-defined, complementary practices intended to be implemented as a system. The core practices of include just-in-time production (low inventories and customer-driven production), continuous flow organization, waste elimination, teamwork and continuous improvement. In American manufacturing, the best practice for teamwork and employee involvement is widely understood to be substantive empowerment, that is, the devolution of decision-making authority to production workers. However, because many managers satisfice in the face conflicting pressures, they are settling for factories that are lean enough, that is, adopting basic lean practices to improve performance but failing to substantively empower their workers or implement the whole package of complementary lean practices.