KNOW IT Human Resource Management has developed its original programme in the 1980s, it has expanded and consolidated its agenda in the 1990s, and it has been flourishing explosively in the dozen years since the turn of the millennium (the 2000s so far). We will try to understand the conditions of possibility for the rise of HRM in terms of cultural background, economic and political conditions, and social transformations in North Atlantic societies at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
HRM’s evolution over time shows that it has become intensified, that it has expanded its sphere both within work organisations and beyond them, and that its current shape makes it one of the most important managerial phenomena of the 20th century. From relatively modest beginnings in the 1980s, HRM has become in the 2000s the key platform of managerialism in the age of what we term, alongside others (Heelas – reading for seminar 1), soft capitalism.
Human Resource Essay Example
The notion of soft capitalism is used to indicate that the main dimension of HRM, as well as of other managerial discourses, is the centrality of the human subject, of the Self, as the essential determination (locus) of the modern sense of work, production, and consumption (Costea, Crump, Amiridis – reading for seminar 1). Put much more simply, the context of which HRM is part is the Century of the Self – the century of the ‘Me, Me, Me’ generations always in search of Maslowian self-actualisation.
The underlying mechanism of HRM lies in what Tipton called the ‘ethics of self-work’ (discussed by Heelas), or what we term the therapeutic habitus of the modern self (introduced by Costea, Crump and Amiridis1). So, how did it all begin? The cultural, economic, political and social circumstances of the 1980s (and from then onward) led to a fundamental shift in the foundations of managerial discourses. The rationalist obsessions of the 1950s and 1960s receded into the background of managerial discourse (they are still central but less obvious), and a new motif became central and visible: the self, or subjectivity.
The genesis of HRM in its current form has its roots in the multiple crises of the 1970s and early 1980s. The historical evidence shows – unsurprisingly – that the disciplinary body called ‘HRM’ emerged as the result of a series of urgent (and often contradictory) questions about the legitimacy of management and about the legitimacy of a certain set of institutional arrangements for the management of employment. These urgent questions derived from: 1.
A crisis of managerial legitimacy in the West (especially faced with the erosion of its manufacturing base; the oil crises of the 1970s; the consequences of Japanese competitive dominance; and the rise of a ‘Japanese style’ of managerial ideology – based on the idea of ‘strong corporate cultures’; the resurgence of a strong neo-liberal polity with its ‘enterprise culture’ as a response to the various crises of the Welfare State; etc. ). 2.
A crisis of legitimacy of collective labour movements (the UK case is very illustrative in this sense – especially visible in the strikes of the winter of 1978-79). 1 Bogdan Costea, Norman Crump and Kostas Amiridis, ‘Managerialism, the Therapeutic Habitus and the Self in Contemporary Organizing’, Human Relations, 61 (2008), 661–685. Lecture 3, B. Costea 1 OWT. 223 2013 3. A crisis of legitimacy of the ‘working class’ lifestyle – the coming of
age of consumerism transformed the aspirations of the working classes into a very powerful social and cultural movement towards the middle-class, bourgeois ground. The Century of the Self. These crises themselves (economic, political and cultural) prompted a new way of asking some of the enduring questions about the nature of management: what should be the priority of management practices – control through repression of the Self, or should it attempt to mobilise the Self in work in new ways?
Should work become part of life in more meaningful ways, or should management continue to address work as a mechanical contract in which the ‘employee’ (including managers themselves) is expected to all personal baggage aside? These questions found themselves asked in new contexts. Management systems of Western organisations could no longer cope with the different facets of the downturn in productivity and competitiveness. The ‘Japanese miracle’ turned the economic world order on its head.
The atmosphere in the US and UK was marked by a pincer movement against trade unions (clearly marked in the UK) on the one hand, and by explicit calls from figures such as Margaret Thatcher for managers to reclaim the ‘right to manage’ on the other. As Len Collinson (Managing Director of Financial Times) voiced this predicament on the 5th of January 1981: “Managers for twenty years have had a buffeting and beating from government and unions and we have been put in a can’t win situation…we have an opportunity now that will last for two or three years.
Then the unions will get themselves together again; and government, like all government, will run out of steam. So grab it now. We had a pounding and we are all fed up with it. I think it would be fair to say that it’s almost a vengeance. ” We chose this expression of that particular moment because its tone is so aggressive and so uncompromising. Reading such passages may give the impression that what was to be expected was a major confrontation between employers and workers with the power balance reversed.
The topic which surfaced most forcefully in this period was the need for new modes of engaging human subjects in work: should controls be tightened Tayloristically, or should there be space for people to freely express themselves in work? The interesting dynamic here was that, despite calls for revenge, work organisations were turned into conduits for human self-expression as the proper determination of human resourcefulness, as opposed to structures of control, confinement and restriction of labour within tight systems of production.
The crises of the 1970s and 1980s triggered a new effort to articulate answers capable of changing modes of thought and action that had been shown wanting, to new ones able to resolve some of the intolerable social, economic and political tensions that surfaced both globally (in the energy crises of the 1970s) and locally (the major strikes of the winter season 1978-1979 in the UK remain perhaps the historical exemplar of these tensions). In this light, it can be argued that (in one respect at least) the context in which HRM emerged in the 1980s was one of multiple crises as opposed to a simple linear progression.
But what emerged in actual fact could be seen, from a cultural viewpoint at least, as paradoxical: the antagonism prefigured in such calls to ‘vengeance’ did not materialise as a struggle between ‘classes’ within the workplace. Quite the contrary: management circles reinterpreted the critical situation as one calling for unity. The discursive register in which the overcoming of crises was conceptualised in management did not go down the route of a new culture of confrontation.
A new tone was adopted: organisations, as social-cultural bodies, had to find a new common core Lecture 3, B. Costea 2 OWT. 223 2013 of meanings, a new cultural rationality, in which work ought to no longer be seen as a rather meaningless and adverse participation in a soulless production machine. The emphasis fell on mobilising work in its human form, on overcoming the view that labour is simply an abstract ingredient of Tayloristically rationalised mass-production systems.
This interpretation seeks to clarify the link between the crises of the 1970s-1980s and the kind of management thought that went into making HRM what it is today. This link lies in the way in which the authors of the original HRM models, the circles of practitioners who adopted them, and the consultants who continued to disperse them reached (in their search for an answer) to the cultural context that had already made self-expression the crucial value of life in post-war Western societies and which was already central to the cultural sphere of consumption.
And yet management circles were not necessarily explicitly aware of the cultural affinity between their response to the ‘problem of work’ and the culture from which they drew the resources for their answer: the turn to subjectivity and self-expressiveness in work. The cultural economy of work which ensued and led to the consolidation of HRM thrives however on this affinity: organisational performance relies on the self-expression of working subjects. This provided a new legitimation of the managerial ‘right to manage’ after the crises of the 1970s.
New cultural resources enter the managerial arsenal and a dispersion of its cultural boundaries ensues. The human subject and its attributes become the backbone of managerial vocabularies and practices: organisational cultures, participation, Quality Circles, TQM, empowerment, commitment, teamwork, organisational learning and self-development, creativity, knowledge, talent, self-actualisation and self-realisation, excellence or wellness, to mention but a few, became central to the new management idea that there is a deep equation between performance and personal affirmation through work.
When organisations began to affirm ‘People are our most important asset’ this was not an empty slogan; rather it led to the emergence and development of a sophisticated system of managing the employment relationship whose centre of gravity was (and is) the increasing importance given to attributes of subjectivity.
The functional aspects of people management (recruitment and selection, control and motivation, training and development, strategy and planning) began to revolve around a new foundational logic in HRM: productivity, profitability, efficiency, effectiveness have become dependent upon a new economy of subjectivity (a new sense of the ‘H’ in ‘HRM’). Only if human
subjects intensify their contribution as selves can human resources enhance the production process and lead the organisation to success – this is behind the omnipresent slogan ‘people are our most important asset’ (which itself becomes institutionalised in initiatives such as ‘Investors in People’ – look for the certificate in visible places in organisations).
Arguably, control migrates (through the codification of subjectivity in endless managerial idioms) from organisational structures toward self-control: does this represent a new kind of tyranny though, a tyranny of ‘self-work’? Or is ‘self-work’ an entirely different kind of engagement with work, life and identity? What emerged from the crucible of the 1980s was a new ‘mix’ of principle and techniques of people management that grew steadily and substantially. What does this mix look like?
As a mere list, it is very long and keeps growing: managing organisational cultures, participation, Quality Circles, TQM, empowerment, teamwork, commitment, motivation, self-actualisation and self-realisation at work, continuous learning, continuous personal development, Human Resource Management, Human Resource Development, core competences, organisational learning, BPR, Total Performance Systems, Lean Six Sigma, the knowledge economy, knowledge work and knowledge management, talent and talent management, organisational citizenship, excellence, emotional intelligence, programmes for ‘wellness’, and indeed for ‘happiness at work’, ‘work hard/play hard cultures’, work as fun, etc. Lecture 3, B. Costea 3 OWT. 223 2013 They take various shapes – you will have already encountered such statements: Deanna Berg asks in the Journal for Quality & Participation, “What is expected of us [organisations]? ” ‘Long-term customer loyalty … Employees who are continually expanding their abilities to create desired results … Energetic commitment to company goals … Creativity and innovation … Exceptional teamwork. ’ And then answers that, in her view, ‘…
it is only those organizations that provide a fun, pleasant, supportive work environment [that] will have the edge in attracting superior people who view work as a joy and have abundant energy, enthusiasm and talents to focus toward organizational goals. They will also unleash all of the undiscovered innovators-in-waiting who have worked there for years, with no one, including themselves, having an awareness of how much more they could contribute. We spend too much time at work not to have fun, while we’re there; when we wait until we finish our work to play we run the risk of living less joyful lives and operating less successful companies. ’ (Berg, D. H. (1995) ‘The Power of a Playful Spirit at Work’, Journal for Quality & Participation, vol. 18, no.
4, pp. 32–38. ) When these statements are made, we need to ask what do terms such as “continually expanding abilities”, “abundant energy and enthusiasm”, “undiscovered innovators-in-waiting” or “fun” mean within managerial discourse and beyond? MANAGERIALISM AND THE ‘SELF’: VOCABULARIES OF SUBJECTIVITY AND THE GOVERNANCE OF WORK IN CONTEMPORARY ORGANISATIONS So how can we think about all these management ideas systematically? This section is based upon Costea, Crump, and Amiridis (2008): ‘Managerialism, the therapeutic habitus and the self in contemporary organizing’, published in Human Relations 61(5), pp. 661–685 – a paper now uploaded on Moodle.
Here is the map you need to remember and refer back to throughout this course – there are basically four main themes under which all the relationships of management to subjectivity can be grouped: culture and commitment; performance and performativity; knowledge production, creativity and innovation, ‘talent’; wellness, happiness and self-actualisation. The governance of culture and commitment Chronologically, all this began in the 1980s. It is therefore appropriate to begin with the category that started it all: the idea that an organisation’s culture is key to its competitive advantage. It was a move made in the name of reconstituting Western corporations as reunified social and political entities, centred around an alleged common set of interests. ‘Strong cultures’ were conceived as the solution for increased quality and productivity.
This notion appeared as an appealing response to a period of industrial tension and unrest. And the idea that culture is fundamental to what an organisation is and what it can do, that culture has become somehow an economic resource (although one without an economic measure) has since become an inextricable part of all management – from overall strategies to teams, to individuals. The aim of managing organisational culture was to recover the managerial prerogative and to marshal organisations around a collective identity underpinned by an autonomous, Lecture 3, B. Costea 4 OWT. 223 2013 “empowered” working subject with a “reengineered” mentality of organizational membership.
Associated in this category were ideas and practices such as increased participation, employee involvement, empowerment, teamwork, self-managed teams, and Quality Circles. They became favoured managerial discourses recasting the subject at work as a unified collective political body. Equally, they provided ways of reshaping organisational forms through downsizing, delayering, or lean organisations. Their aim was to reconfigure corporate identity around the attributes of an autonomous, ‘empowered’ subject with a ‘reengineered’ mentality of organisational membership. The vital ingredient of the collective notion of culture is the governmental concept that continues to frame the managerial discourse surrounding the relationship between people and organisations: commitment.
Commitment became a key discursive currency used to re-enlist individual subjects in a united mode of work. In more general terms, this first category groups ideas revolving around a new politics of attachment underpinning the governance of organisations through the couple ‘strong culture – strong commitment’. Changing organisational culture was a first step in reconstituting individual and corporate identities. Concretely, it meant the elaboration of new programmes embodied in mission statements, visions and new value systems facilitated by a plethora of consultancy interventions, aimed at reinventing both the identity of the corporation and of the subjects within it. The governance of performance and performativity
The second category of discourses placing the human subject in a new light was generated by the subtle shift in the vocabulary of productivity: the emergence of performativity. In this group we can associate a variety of managerial topics: ‘total quality’, ‘excellence’, ‘flexibility’, ‘performance management’. These categories established a fundamental link between increased personal engagement with work and the success of the production process. The subtle politics of the performance-performativity nexus lie in the message that it is organisations which now rely to a large extent upon performing subjects, rather than performing subjects upon organisations.
The slogans ‘an organisation is only as good as its human resources’ and ‘people are our greatest asset’ illustrate this rhetorical reallocation of subject positions. The discourse of performativity also accompanied the vast expansion of mechanisms of financial audit. It allowed the translation of subjectivity through a multitude of techniques of accountability such as management by objectives, agreed targets, multidimensional appraisals and performance management systems, ‘economic value-added’ measurements, or balanced scorecards. Excellence (alongside total quality management) brought forth the process of work and production around the image of an endless path, a continuous
“search” (in the terms of Peters & Waterman 1982 – ), for a manner of labouring which provides individuals and organizations with a new horizon of “self-transcendence” in the name of “total quality”. “Let us help you know where you are on your journey to excellence”, professes BPA, a consultancy for call centre operators. Yet when Peters and Waterman published In Search of Excellence (1982), the focus fell somewhat predictably upon ‘excellence’ rather than ‘search’. Although many of the companies held up by the authors to be ‘excellent’ quickly ran into various financial difficulties, the more interesting and longer-lasting aspect of the title — the idea of an endless search for the “holy grail” of excellence — was largely overlooked.
To “excel” means to surpass oneself and others, to reach ahead of the actual present, to rise perpetually higher for something which lies outside the realm of the immediate. “Excellence” is not marginal to the constitution of what counts as the measure of work in everyday organizational practices all over the world. In fact, it has become the measure of aspirations of performance today. What is interesting in this discourse is that excellence is not primarily embodied in objects, but it is a primordial moral Lecture 3, B. Costea 5 OWT. 223 2013 attribute of subjects who ought to strive continuously to mobilize untapped inner resources to overcome limitations in the pursuit of ever more “excellence”.
Here, it is essential to introduce another key reading for this section of the course: Nigel Thrift’s ‘Performing Cultures in the New Economy’ (itself a chapter in Du Gay and Pryke’s Cultural Economy, in which Heelas’ chapter is also published). What is very valuable in Thrift’s chapter is that he associates the obsessive cultures of performativity in contemporary work with a human type to which he gives an extremely inspired name: the ‘fast subject’ (the globetrotting, excellent, performing type – a sort of unstoppable Jamie Oliver of executive board rooms). Thrift shows how this type has come to be constituted and his chapter makes essential reading for this course. The governance of knowledge production, creativity and innovation As the 1980s and 1990s progressed (and, in the 2000s, intensely so), another set of concepts was added to the vocabulary of managerial governance.
The idea that ‘knowledge’ was the great differentiator of performance and a main platform of personal and collective success became seductive (perhaps even more rapidly than ‘culture’ and ‘change’ in the early 1980s). ‘Knowledge’ as ‘the new resource’ was embraced at all levels of government and governance. The ‘knowledge economy’, the ‘knowledge-creating company’, knowledge management and knowledge workers became important concepts of the so-called ‘new economy’ in which ‘information’ and ‘information technologies’ appear to carry the promise of endless resourcefulness. Associated in this category are themes such as creativity, innovation, continuous improvement, the learning organisation, lifelong learning, Human Resource Development, and talent management.
Underpinning them is the expectation that the subject at work should also see itself as participating in a continuous process of knowledge creation. Thus, work is presented as a space for self-expression opened up by the eagerness of the organisation to embrace new ideas, changes and to de-routinise labour (no organisation wants to be seen as ‘mainstream’ anymore). It also presupposes the readiness of the subject to invest itself in a continuous act of creative thinking, to give of itself to work in a new way. The governance of wellness, happiness and self-actualisation A more recent addition to the legitimate managerial territory consists of a multitude of ways of addressing the person in its totality.
They are captured under a variety of names: emotional intelligence (measured by ‘Emotional Quotients), organisational spirituality and spiritual intelligence (measured by ‘Spiritual Quotients’), the ‘work-life balance’, self-realisation and selfactualisation, programmes for health at work, ‘wellness at work’, and ‘happiness at work’. Moreover many organisations now use the idea of ‘fun’ to present what it might mean to work for them. Some increasingly see their cultures in terms of a combination of work and play (Egg:|, Google, and scores of others). Thus, the entire meaning of human life becomes in varied guises the preoccupation of management, which presupposes the cultural legitimacy of blurred boundaries between working life and life outside work. This category marshals no more and no less than an imagery of total well-being at work, invoking it as an opportunity for personal completeness, for a harmonious and full life.
The value of exchanging labour as an employee is thrust into a cultural sphere with entirely new dimensions. The idea that one’s employer provides some sort of totalised care for the worker’s wellness opens up a powerful horizon for expanding the boundaries of organised work. In practice, the wellness agenda is being formulated through the appropriation and conversion of more traditional discourses concerning absenteeism, cost-reduction related to health and safety, incapacity benefits, stress and mental health costs. This has led to the formation of new concepts that attach themselves to these discourses multiplying their forms, expanding and Lecture 3, B. Costea 6 OWT. 223 2013
intensifying the areas in which subjectivity becomes an object for political-governmental intervention at multiple levels. For example, in the case of the UK, both the government and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD, the professional body for those involved in HR) spell out this managerial expansion (e. g. CIPD’s Change Agenda on ‘What’s Happening to Well-being at Work? ’ 2007). In their most recent document dedicated to this topic, CIPD states that: “Well-being initiatives include: Almost half of organisations provide all employees with access to counselling services as part of their well-being initiative. This is followed by employee assistance programmes (31%) and ‘stop smoking’ support (31%).
Around quarter of employers also provide health screening, healthy canteen options and subsidised gym membership to all employees. ” (CIPD http://www. cipd. co. uk/publicpolicy/latest_public_policy_news1. htm#sick, accessed July 2007) CONCLUDING REMARKS We have tried in these notes to render in a manageable version a rather complex but indispensable analysis of the ground upon which this course is constructed. The foundation lies in understanding that what is at stake in HRM is the sense of who we are when we work. On this basis we will ask the question of what becomes of work when it turns so fundamentally to the ‘Self’. This is how both Paul Heelas’ chapter for the seminar in week 3 ought to be read, as well as our paper for week 5. Lecture 3, B. Costea