Control and isolation in the management of empowerment

Introduction
Commentators differ over the specific chronological origins of management: some date it as a modern phenomenon, while others would claim the existence of management principles as far back as 6000 BC[1-3]. However, most would agree that no matter when management as a concept emerged, it is clear that from the outset, managers have been engaged in an ongoing struggle to secure control over output levels and to secure labor discipline. Over time, in their attempts to ensure discipline and control output levels, managers have experimented with a range of managerial cocktails. Past decades have produced cocktails such as management by objectives (MBO) and management by walking about (MBWA) to name only two. Currently empowerment is a key ingredient in the cocktail consumed by management. This paper sets out both to stir and to sip from this managerial cocktail.

David Collins

The author David Collins is Senior Lecturer in HRM at Sunderland Business School, University of Sunderland, Sunderland, UK. Abstract Attempts to reanalyze the concept of empowerment as it relates to management. Tracing the origins and nature of management, outlines a case for viewing empowerment as part of a larger system of management control innovations, or cocktails of control. Does not seek to debunk or dismiss empowerment as simply founded on control, and so unworthy of serious analysis. Instead, using the concept of governance, attempts to analyze how managers use the rhetoric of empowerment to secure control. From here analyzes the limits to managerial control, founded on empowerment. Offers observations and conclusions for future research on empowerment.

Cocktails of control
Throughout the history of management, managers have experimented with a variety of control methods. Reflecting the eclectic gathering and mixing of ideas and orientations we might, with some legitimacy, refer to these as cocktails of control. Fordist production methods, for example, made use of both the stopwatch and wider forms of control which, reflecting demographic changes and wider cultural movements, attempted to extend the scope of managerial cocktails beyond the factory gate, into the social life of employees[4] and into their family life more generally[5]. We should note, therefore, that control innovations tend to emerge and gain popularity under specific historical, cultural and social circumstances and, to some degree, will change in response to changes in sociopolitical ideas and movements. However, we should also make explicit the fact that managers are led to seek out and experiment with control innovations since any managerial solution or cocktail developed to secure managerial control is almost certain to be incomplete. As Bendix[6, p. 256] notes: 29

Empowerment in Organizations Volume 4 · Number 2 · 1996 · pp. 29–39 © MCB University Press · ISSN 0968-4891

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Beyond what commands can effect and supervision can control, beyond what incentives can induce and penalties prevent, there exists an exercise of discretion important even in relatively menial jobs, which managers of economic enterprises seek to enlist for the achievement of managerial ends.

Systems of management control, then, are open to re-evaluation and challenge from competing schools of thought, (often represented by management consultants), and from subordinates. However, whereas subordinates “making out” under a particular system of control tend to react in ways designed to short-circuit or expose the flaws of the system, management consultants seek both to expose the flaws of existing systems and to proffer new ways to deal with the problems of management.

Control and empowerment
Beginning from the premiss that managers are engaged in an ongoing struggle to maintain control, and to secure discipline over workers, this paper will reanalyze the concept of empowerment. To this end the paper is structured as follows. Empowerment will be examined as an innovation in managerial control. In undertaking this examination, the facilitating factors which have focussed attention on empowerment will be examined. From here a critical appraisal of empowering initiatives will be launched. However, the paper will not seek to dismiss empowerment as simply founded on control, and so unworthy of serious consideration or further analysis. Instead this paper will argue that, far from dismissing and debunking the idea of empowerment, we should take the notion of empowerment very seriously indeed. The paper will argue that empowerment represents an important focus of analysis, not because it has rejigged relations at work, but because it is at the forefront of attempts to rejig the appearance and symbolism of relations at work. Empowerment, then, is an issue deserving of further study because, in a symbolic way, it represents an attempt to reshape the rhetoric of organization. Rose[7] argues that an understanding of the process of governance represents the key to understanding the process by which managers secure the consent of subordinates in the 30

workplace. Governance, then, relates not to the imposition of control but to the realignment of control whereby managerial concerns are aligned with the mainstream rhetoric and concerns of democratic societies. Following Rose, this paper will argue that the expertise of psychology has had a profound effect on labour discipline, since at the level of rhetoric, it supplies coherence and legitimacy to managerial action. Governance, therefore, represents a useful means by which to understand the role of the rhetoric of empowerment in granting legitimacy to managerial action and so, facilitating management control. Taylor et al.[8], discussing Japanese foreign direct investment, document a system of discipline and control, mediated by labor turnover which, in aligning itself with the rhetoric of duty and individual contribution, is hinged on governance. They note, for example, how management maintained consent and control through: “the entrenchment of an ethos in which any dissatisfaction could be represented as an individual failure to deserve employment”[8, p. 222]. Similarly, a BBC television program (Situation Vacant, BBC 2, 9 February 1995), which tracked candidates through the recruitment and selection procedures of a major toy retailer, allows us further insight into these processes of control. The documentary demonstrated how the manager of the store in question was able to portray those who rejected the ethos of the company; that managers should work, perhaps 100 hours and be paid for 40, as “ducking out”. Indeed the impression given was not just that those who quit had not deserved the opportunity in the first place, but that those who elected not to work for the company were as good as opting out of some civic responsibility. Much of this control is rooted in the form and rhetoric of selection techniques, and in work design initiatives. These initiatives are rooted in the “psy” sciences which, accordingly, play a key role in framing relations at work. On the impact of the “psy” sciences Rose[7, p. 4] tells us that:
their role is much more than the legitimation of power. They forge new alignments between the rationales and techniques of power and the values and ethics of democratic societies.

Viewed in this way it is clear that, far from reducing managerial control over work,

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managers through the vocabulary of empowerment, are attempting to enhance managerial control by reclothing it in the rhetoric and concerns of democracy. Like the “psy” sciences which underpin it, empowerment constitutes an extremely potent means of ensuring labor discipline, therefore, since it:
achieves its effects not through the threat of violence or constraint, but by way of the persuasion inherent in its truths, the anxieties stimulated by its norms and the attraction exercised by the images of life and self it offers to us[7, p. 10].

Focussing particularly on the concept of isolation contained within Rose’s view of governance, this paper will investigate the promise and the limits of empowerment. However, in order to do this it is first necessary to analyze the economic and political factors which have allowed empowerment to emerge as the latest control innovation.

The rise of empowerment
Like any control initiative, the rise of empowerment can only be understood within a larger framework of political economy, since without this wider view of context, we lack any sensible measures to explain how ideas, such as empowerment, become thinkable. Since, in management circles, empowerment rose to prominence during the latter part of the 1980s, it seems sensible to suggest that the concept can only be understood when set against a consideration of the changing market and political conditions of this decade. ‘…in reacting to foreign competition managers have been encouraged and indeed have encouraged others to think of management control and organizational success as bound up with national identity…’ Throughout the 1980s, human resource management (HRM) emerged as a key focus for management attention. Philosophically, empowerment and HRM have close links. Thus we can learn much about empowerment by analyzing HRM. Indeed it could be argued that empowerment is, in fact, little more than the 31

current incarnation of HRM, at least in its “soft” form[9]. Any attempt to understand HRM must be focussed on the market. HRM takes its inspiration from the need to address changing market conditions, and the need to satisfy customer requirements[10]. To understand the concepts of HRM and empowerment, therefore, we must make some attempt to understand the economic and political significance of these changing market conditions. There is no doubt that for a range of industrial concerns, competition has become more intense. However, in reacting to foreign competition managers have been encouraged and indeed have encouraged others to think of management control and organizational success as bound up with national identity. Part of HRM’s potency, therefore, relates to its ability to forge linkages between the rhetoric of democracy and the rhetoric of management practice. Thus Kanter[11, p. 13], setting out her own personal mission and hinting at the contribution she hopes to make to American management and business, notes:
Cheering for American Companies in the international marketplace is not just a matter of national pride; it is the best hope we have for ensuring that our standard of living can be maintained, let alone improved, for ourselves and our children.

Similarly, Peter Parker, in the introduction to The Art of Japanese Management[12, p. xiii] notes:
Japanese competitiveness has become one of the paramount economic events of the post-war world. Nowadays our mirror on the wall is no longer giving the West the flattering answers of the fairy-tale … Now the mirror’s voice seems to have cracked a bit; the tone has changed. Rather shakily it suggests we take a second opinion.

As these quotations show, management practitioners have been caught up in a series of events which have questioned the activities and orientations of management. This has led to a search for new cocktails of control and in the process of developing these, managers, reflecting the notion of interdependency assumed by soft HRM models, have repackaged control in the rhetoric of democratic freedoms and national identity. However, we should note that managers would have been unable to sell this package to

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workers without the aid of other supporting voices or agencies. Writing from a Marxist perspective, Holloway[13, p. 160] notes: “management depends on the state to provide a disciplined environment for the exploitation of the workforce and the accumulation of capital.” Thus a further factor promoting interest in empowerment which should be noted, has been a change in the political environment and an associated attempt to reconfigure cultural attitudes toward business and enterprise. Examining the British context Keat[14, p. 1] argues that:
During the course of the 1980s, the idea of an enterprise culture emerged as the central motif in political thought and practice of the Conservative government in Britain. Its radical programme of economic and institutional reform had earlier been couched primarily in the rediscovered language of economic liberalism, with its appeal to the efficiency of markets, the liberty of individuals and the non-interventionist state. But this programme has increasingly also come to be represented in “cultural” terms, as concerned with the attitudes, values and forms of self-understanding embedded in both individual and institutional activities. Thus the project of economic reconstruction has apparently been supplemented by, or at least partly redefined as, one of cultural reconstruction – the attempt to transform Britain into an “enterprise culture”.

Defining empowerment
Given that management innovations emerge to address the problems of ensuring discipline and control, it should be of no surprise that they often exhibit similarities or build from the same basic ideas. Empowerment has much in common with previous control initiatives. In particular it shares a common ancestry with initiatives such as autonomous working schemes and worker participation schemes. Thinking back to the business requirements of HRM, the logic of this becomes clear. ‘…we could say that quality products and services require worker commitment and worker “ownership” of problems. In short, effective participation in work springs from a sense of empowerment…’ According to Pateman’s[16] line of analysis, participation and empowerment are natural corollaries since effective participation is born of a feeling of political efficacy. In more managerial terms, we could say that quality products and services require worker commitment and worker “ownership” of problems. In short, effective participation in work springs from a sense of empowerment. This much on empowerment may be understood intuitively. Whether any more reflective analysis underpins the concept of empowerment within management literature is less apparent. In fact, writers on empowerment seem to be quite coy when examining the concept. Within the management literature, there appears to be a taste for home-spun examples. Here, concepts are defined by analogy. Fox[17], for example, characterizes the dynamics of empowerment in terms of a child embarking on an unsupervised shopping trip. Empowerment, she tells us, occurs when the child is briefed to buy a certain article of clothing, say trousers, and is trusted to make the right choice as to which style and brand of trousers to buy, without further adult supervision. Martin and Nicholls[18], discussing commitment at work, develop a line of argument similar to Fox’s. Thus commitment for Martin and Nicholls refers to giving all of yourself at work, and is contrasted with compliance. 32

Similarly Huczynski[15, p. 38] notes:
that the Thatcher government’s promotion of the notion of “popular capitalism” and the “enterprise culture” with its critique of the traditional education system had given legitimacy to popular management assumptions. It had revitalized them, and had led to their extension to all forms of management education.

It is against this backdrop of changed economic conditions and attempts to reshape political and economic realities that empowerment has been promoted as the key ingredient by which managers are to secure the promise of HRM. However, while managers may have reconfigured the language of labor control, it is not so clear that the concept of empowerment has, in any meaningful way, altered structures of control. To examine this issue it is necessary to analyze empowerment as defined by supporters of the concept. From a consideration of these definitions the promise and limits of empowerment may be analyzed.

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However, definition by analogy is the thief of informed debate. Just what does the relationship between a child and a parent illuminate about the relationship between peers at work, or between boss and subordinate? And just what does it mean to give all of yourself at work? In order to understand the significance of empowerment as a concept, and in order to understand the role of empowering initiatives within managerial control systems, it is necessary to examine empowerment in more depth.

Definitions of participation
As noted earlier the concepts of empowerment and participation have much in common. We might expect, therefore, that they would exhibit definitional similarities. Participation is a problematic concept to define since it is generally acknowledged to be a highly vague term – a term characterized by ambiguity and semantic elasticity. In this way, commentators on participation acknowledge, not a single definition of participation but a continuum of definitions, reflective of different world views[19]. A version of this continuum is presented in Figure 1. Following Bendix[6], the continuum is bounded by participation which allows workers to exercise a veto over policy developments at one extreme, and by the absence of formal participative structures and procedures at the other. Bendix notes that worker engagement, above and beyond the contractual requirements set out by management, is always required to produce results. The continuum scale, therefore, begins not at zero participation but at “some” participation and extends toward some idea of workers’ control. Like participation, empowerment may also be represented along a continuum. One way of

bounding such a continuum would be to consider the roles, either adopted by or ascribed to managers and workers in the process of empowerment. In a sense, then, the continuum offered here invites a consideration of the character of empowerment; a consideration of the rights and duties of each party. On the left side of the proposed continuum, empowerment takes a passive form. This seems to be the form which managers are keen to promote. Here primacy is placed on the role of manager as leader and empowerer of others. Those siding with this type of view tend to stress the need for managers to develop and share strategic visions with subordinates. They also stress the need to provide opportunities for teamworking so that workers may collaborate on a range of production-oriented problems. ‘…Participation is a problematic concept to define since it is generally acknowledged to be a highly vague term – a term characterized by ambiguity and semantic elasticity…’ At this end of the continuum, the concept of empowerment seems to turn on some notion of accountability; accountability to your team and accountability for the work supplied to customers. If we consider that most managerial control initiatives current within organizations, have more than a flavor of “After Japan” about them, and that many managerial initiatives represent attempts to tailor and adopt Japanese practices, then it should be no surprise that in mimicking a highly corporatist state, we adopt a vision of empowerment which stresses duty above rights[20]. Towards the right-hand side of the continuum, empowerment takes on a much more active character. Here a greater stress is placed on rights and so, empowerment is no longer something which has to be conferred. Instead empowerment takes place when workers act with a sense of their own power and vitality. At this end of the continuum, management do not confer empowerment on workers. Instead workers, with a sense of their own capability, act to wrest control from managers[21,22]. 33

Figure 1 A logical continuum of employee involvement and participation One-way information exchange No form of employee involvement catered for Joint consultation

Joint decision making Worker control

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Control, participation and empowerment
In line with our earlier discussion of cocktails of control, we should note as Ramsay[23,24] has, that over the last century or so, innovations in participation have alternately waxed and waned. Ramsay argues that this cyclical pattern of institution and dissolution is reflective of struggles over control at work. Thus, when managers have been confronted with challenges to managerial control, he argues, they have altered their control structures to institute worker participation schemes. Ramsay argues that such participation schemes are used to head off or deflect challenges to managerial authority and legitimacy. ‘…Thus managers became interested in participation schemes, in the 1960s and 1970s, as workers began to pursue their own empowerment…’ Reconciling participation and empowerment, we can see that managers develop an interest in participation schemes when workers begin to assert themselves, and work together with a sense of their own potency. Thus managers became interested in participation schemes, in the 1960s and 1970s, as workers began to pursue their own empowerment. We can see, too, that in setting up participation schemes, managers hoped to deflect or temper worker aspirations so that, instead of combining to wrest control from management, workers would settle for being “empowered”. Recently the work of Ramsay has come under fire from Ackers et al.[25]. Ramsay’s detractors have argued that, throughout the 1980s, managers have become more committed to participation schemes when, according to Ramsay’s line of analysis, managers should have been dismantling these schemes or allowing them to fall into disrepair. As the following sections will show, this apparent paradox demonstrates the usefulness of the concept of governance, in the examination of empowerment. 34

Governance and empowerment
In previous papers I have argued that the logic underpinning empowerment initiatives is, in fact, disempowering[19,26]. These papers argued that gauging interest in participation on a simple count of schemes in operation is a very crude system of measurement for issues of such complexity. Instead the papers argued that what is important, is the type and scope of participation allowed by these schemes. Thus while we can readily acknowledge that managers may well have instituted new schemes over the last decade or so, we should not equate this with an extension of the scope of participation, or an extension in the roles and rights offered to workers. Indeed the experience of the 1980s points to managers simultaneously increasing their interest in participative schemes while downgrading the type of worker input allowed [27, 28]. In the name of competition, managers have sought to tap into and control worker talent, and in the name of empowerment managers have been able to disempower. This is the crux of governance.

The governance of empowerment
Most commentators agree that the nature of the competitive process is now such that firms must mobilize all of their assets – especially the human ones. Thus the message of soft HRM is that managers and workers are now caught up in new relations of interdependence which make methods of control and strategies based on compliance less effective. However, the history of management interest in such innovations reminds us that concepts, such as empowerment, must be understood within a larger framework of managerial control and discipline. Indeed earlier sections have argued that empowerment has become part of general discourse in a period when managers have been clawing back control and prerogative. In terms of governance, this process is representative of a period when the rhetoric of democracy and liberalism has been mobilized to promote a vision of empowerment which, when examined closely is found to turn on managerially constructed notions of duty and loyalty. Far from reducing managerial power, therefore, the rhetoric of empowerment

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has played a key role in facilitating the reconstitution of, and advancement of, managerial power and prerogative. To demonstrate this, the remainder of this paper will examine the plants of foreign direct investors such as Nissan and Mazda since with their “new style” labor agreements and their claims to have revolutionized working practices, these plants, represent prime sites for the analysis of the role of governance in securing labor control[13, 29-32].

Governance, control and isolation
Rose[7] tells us that in order to govern a population we must, first, be able to set that population apart. He argues that:
to govern a population one needs to isolate it as a sector of reality, to identify certain characteristics and processes proper to it, to make its features notable, speakable, writable, to account for them according to certain explanatory schemes[7, p. 6].

Isolation plays a key role in the process of governance and so we will seek to examine the role which isolation plays in allowing managers to forge alignments between mainstream democratic ideals and the aims and goals of management. In particular this section will examine two interrelated aspects of isolation; the first relates to the physical isolation of these establishments and the isolation from industry customs and practices which this promotes. The second aspect of isolation, studied here, concerns the isolation of workers from ideas and structures which seek to promote or defend the rights of workers vis-à-vis the duties imposed by management. ‘…in their attempts to construct reality, managers are keenly aware of the need to remove the hindrances of past customs and practices…’ Isolation is most obvious in the physical location of these plants [31]. Often greenfield sites are selected for the construction and development of these plants, since such areas have no prior workplace histories or traditions. Alternatively management may select derelict brownfield sites which, having associations with previous managerial and industrial “failures”, signal the 35

inappropriateness of prior traditions and history[32]. Isolation is important, therefore since, in their attempts to construct reality, managers are keenly aware of the need to remove the hindrances of past customs and practices. Thus the physical isolation of these plants plays an important role both in bolstering management rhetoric and in isolating the workforce from the customs and practices of the industry which workers developed to promote their collective rights. Yet for governance to operate effectively in the workplace, it is not enough just to isolate one population from another. For any particular population, governance can only operate with full effect, if within that population, the management message is put across in full, with minimal dilution, contradiction or parody. To achieve this – to allow management to communicate its “vision” in its entirety – control over the nature and structures of communication is required. Here, as the earlier quotation from Taylor showed, the processes of worker selection and termination play important roles in ensuring the isolation or individualization of the worker. Fucini and Fucini[32] document the lengthy selection process used by Mazda as they prepared to open their first US plant. They note that the selectors stressed the need for workers to demonstrate their normative commitment to the company. In the group selection exercises and problem-solving sessions, which formed an important part of the selection process, workers were expected to develop process innovations. However, Fucini and Fucini use the insight of an experienced factory worker to demonstrate the contradictions inherent in these process innovations. Thus the experienced hand had misgivings over the naïve enthusiasm of his fellow candidates. Unlike the others, many of whom had no previous manufacturing experience, this man could see that the “kaizen-ing” of tasks was not cost free and in the long term would lead to job losses. Graham’s work[33] further pierces the mystification and decontextualization[34] of the labor process which is central to kaizen training. Unlike the managerial celebrations of kaizen, she notes that, when any particular kaizen improvement is put in place, the process improvement will place costs on workers

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up-stream and downstream, since the “kaizened” workers will now require a greater feed-rate from the work space prior to theirs, and by pushing work out more quickly, they will also pressurize workers, downstream, to process their work more quickly. Thus any “kaizen-ing” of work will cause a ripple effect throughout the organization which, since the plants are run at an extremely high pace, will force other groups to improve just to make life tolerable[19]. What might be called competitive kaizen-ing, then, is facilitated by the pace of work and by managerial control of communications and norms. Here teams and team leaders play a key role in manufacturing isolation. In HRM systems, first line supervisors play an important and more central role in the management of human resources. Indeed in such systems these workers are normally retitled as team leaders to express their role in forging new ideas and commitments. Backed by the rhetoric of democracy, team leaders play a key role in ensuring the engagement of conforming workers, or the extreme isolation of nonconformists[8,34,35]. ‘…In these ways, the rhetoric of empowerment, and competitiveness, serves both to isolate workers and to insulate management…’ Within HRM systems these appear to be the two alternative forms of making-out, one stable and supportive, the other precarious and lonely – but really these amount to the same thing, since in committing yourself to the concept of being empowered, you must offer an openended commitment to the company. However, we can see that the terms of exchange are not fully reciprocal. The managerial concept of empowerment stresses duty over rights, thus any commitment from the company will be conditional on continued conformance, and the continuing demonstration of a much more open-ended commitment on the part of the employee. And with workers isolated as individuals and isolated from previous traditions, managers are able to define skepticism, or disquiet, as a personal failure or as “ducking out.” In these ways, the rhetoric of empowerment, and competitiveness, serves both to isolate 36

workers and to insulate management. In this way, as the next section will argue, empowering initiatives play a key role in re-forming organizations and organizational realities.

Re-forming and reforming organizations
Viewed in terms of governance, empowerment is not primarily concerned with the physical restructuring of organizations. Indeed so-called empowering initiatives do little to change the control structures or the physical lay-out of organizations. Instead empowerment plays a key role in how we are encouraged to think about and visualize reality. Empowerment and HRM, then, do not change organizations in a physical sense, rather they work to locate, inform and legitimize managerial activity. In this way the concept of empowerment serves not to reduce managerial control, but facilitates and extends this control through the manipulation of norms and values. As Keenoy and Anthony[34] hint, isolation promotes the manufacture of reality in a decontextualized way, and from such cultural manipulation, managers are better placed to control and restructure the organization in a physical sense. Put more succinctly: by re-forming attitudes, managers hope to reform organizations. As Wilmott[36, p. 60] notes: “language constructs reality rather than simply reflecting it” (original emphasis). This is represented in Figure 2 as an iterative process. However, the managerial construction of reality and the reformation of organizations, like all managerial attempts to control and discipline, is bound to be incomplete. Thus, while empowerment represents a powerful means to promote control by rejigging the

Figure 2 Organizational restructuring Attitudinal restructuring Organizational re-form

Physical restructuring Organizational reform

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symbolism of relations at work, this attempt at reconfiguration will be open to challenge. As the next section will argue, worker experience of labor discipline and control can, in spite of the rhetoric of management, lead to the recontextualization of the labor process. In such situations effective challenges to managerial control may emerge where workers unite to resist collectively.

Management cocktails – the after taste
Like all cocktails of control, empowerment operates with an incomplete grip of the moral universe. Both Graham[33] and the Fucinis[32], for example, have demonstrated the limits which worker experience of work places on managerial empowering initiatives. Experience, therefore, plays a key role in combating the moral grip of empowerment. Fucini and Fucini, for example, note the rhetorical strength of management initiatives such as empowerment. However they also document a process whereby worker innocence turned to bitterness. They document a growing awareness of collective strength and a growing willingness among workers to empower themselves based on their common experience of work, of compulsory overtime and of industrial injury. Graham’s work, however, demonstrates a further weak spot in the governance process at work. She notes, based on her covert participant observation research, that workers are learning to short-circuit aspects of the isolationism built into these methods of managerial control. Whereas Fucini and Fucini draw attention to the process whereby workers through the shared experience of work and control, come to lose their innocence and so learn to confront management and overcome their isolation, Graham’s work points to attacks occurring on isolation during the process of selection itself. As we have seen, HRM systems place great stress on selection techniques. During the selection process managers attempt to hire workers who say the right sorts of things and who demonstrate appropriate character traits such as teamworking and problem-solving abilities. However, Graham notes that from the very initial stages of their contact with the company, workers in a limited way and as individuals, are 37

attempting to circumvent the selection procedures. She notes, for example, the willingness of workers to trade, what we might call, selection secrets. This type of behavior represents an explicit and calculative approach to “commitment”; workers are aware that they must sell managers a particular image in order to secure employment, and so they attempt to learn the appropriate tricks and phrasing which selectors look out for. There is evidence, therefore, that even during the processes of selection workers are already rejecting key elements of the moral universe constructed for them. ‘…workers, in their relations with the company, weigh up both the terms of exchange and the opportunities and costs associated with dissent…’ We can see then, that workers are not the simple innocents or dupes which Fucini and Fucini tend to portray. Indeed Graham hints that workers, in their relations with the company, weigh up both the terms of exchange and the opportunities and costs associated with dissent. Thus where Fucini and Fucini see innocence, Graham sees a control system characterized by worker isolation, where new recruits are naturally keen to demonstrate the appearance of commitment. From this perspective we can see that workers may not have to lose their innocence in order to combat management. Instead what they have to overcome is the feeling of isolation which the rhetoric and structures of organization attempt to enforce. Thus the experience of work facilitates the development of collectivism which allows workers the collective confidence to empower themselves, in spite of management attempts to decontextualize the labor process. Indeed Graham seems to hint at a new avenue for research into empowerment which would demonstrate the limits of managerial rhetoric when confronted by collective responses. Through the lens of governance we can see that management may be attracted to a female workforce since such groupings may be easier to isolate. However, what makes such workers easy to isolate, initially, also sets them apart from mainstream managerial ideas especially when these demand open-ended commitment. As

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Graham notes, women with child-care responsibilities soon run into conflict with management requirements for overtime working at short notice. Equally, the managerial requirements for “commitment” cause obvious conflicts with regard to the more general commitments of female workers. There may be the possibility, therefore, that within a workforce generally inexperienced in factory production, women may play a key role in attacking the processes of isolation and control which underscore many of the current innovations within management. This is not to say that women will necessarily form the vanguard of collective struggles, since this too, might cause problems with regard to domestic commitments. What seems a more likely scenario is that the individualized struggles of women may allow workers to develop the confidence and feelings of mutual trust required to generate a collective response necessary to challenge the rhetoric of empowerment and so challenge management control founded on isolation. Thus while we can agree with Wilmott[36], that managers are first and foremost in the business of reality construction, we should acknowledge that neither managers, nor language can construct reality anew. And so while the rhetoric of empowerment represents a powerful addition to the arsenal of management control, the shared experience of workers represents a significant challenge to this weapon.

control which, in turn exists within a particular politico-economic environment. Indeed the problems noted in defining participation and empowerment imply that future research on empowerment should address itself, not only to larger questions of political economy but to micro-political issues within the workplace. Thus a key issue which should inform research on control and empowerment, since it doubtless conditions any challenge raised against it by workers is; how does “empowerment” manifest itself in policy and action for this group, in this locale, at this time? Thus when investigating the promise of empowerment, we must also have an eye for its meanings and its limits.

References
1 Zuboff, S., In the Age of the Smart Machine, Heinemann, London, 1989. 2 Thompson, P. and McHugh, D., Work Organizations: A Critical Introduction, Macmillan, New York, NY, 1990. 3 Wilson, D., “Management gurus: ancient and modern”, inaugural professorial lecture, University of Sunderland, Sunderland, 1994. 4 Beynon, H., Working for Ford, EP Publishing, Wakefield, 1977. 5 Gramsci, A., Selections from the Prison Notebooks, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1976. 6 Bendix, R., Work and Authority in Industry, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1956. 7 Rose, N., Governing the Soul: The Shaping of the Private Self, Gower, Aldershot, 1990. 8 Taylor, B., Elger, T. and Fairbrother, P., “Transplants and emulators: the fate of the Japanese model in British electronics”, in Elger, T. and Smith, C. (Eds), Global Japanization? The Transnational Transformation of the Labour Process, Routledge, London, 1994. 9 Legge, K., “HRM: rhetoric, reality and hidden agendas”, in Storey, J. (Ed.), Human Resource Management: A Critical Text, Routledge, New York, NY, 1995. 10 Beaumont, P.B., Human Resource Management: Key Concepts and Skills, Sage, Beverly Hills, CA, 1993. 11 Kanter, R.M., When Giants Learn to Dance, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1989. 12 Pascale, R.T. and Athos, A.G. (Eds), The Art of Japanese Management, Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1986. 13 Holloway, J., “The red rose of Nissan”, Capital and Class, No. 32, 1987, pp. 142-64.

Conclusion
This paper has attempted to revise understanding of empowerment. The paper has attempted to explain the popularity of the discourse of empowerment, in spite of the evidence of managerially inspired disempowerment throughout the 1980s. To this end, the concept of governance has been used to explain this contradiction and, in particular, the paper has argued that management has attempted to isolate the workforce as a means of buttressing the rhetoric of empowering initiatives. The paper has argued that the nature and contours of control initiatives founded on empowerment, should be understood as taking place within a larger framework of managerial 38

Control and isolation in the management of empowerment

Empowerment in Organizations Volume 4 · Number 2 · 1996 · 29–39

David Collins

14 Keat, R., “Starship Britain or universal enterprise”, in Keat, R. and Abercrombie, N. (Eds), Enterprise Culture, Routledge, London, 1991. 15 Huczynski, A.A., Management Gurus: What Makes Them and How to Become One”, Routledge, London, 1993. 16 Pateman, C., Participation and Democratic Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970. 17 Fox, N., Empowering People at Work, Gower, Aldershot, 1994. 18 Martin, P. and Nicholls, J., Creating a Committed Workforce, Institute of Personnel Management, London, 1987. 19 Collins, D., “The disempowering logic of empowerment”, Empowerment in Organizations, Vol. 2 No. 2, 1994, pp. 14-21. 20 Storry, R., A History of Modern Japan, Pelican, London, 1963. 21 Wainwright, H. and Elliot, D. (1982), The Lucas Plan: A New Trade Unionism in the Making?, Allison and Busby, London, 1982. 22 Clement, A., “Computing at work: empowering action by ‘low-level users’ ”, Communications of the ACM, Vol. 37 No. 1, 1994, pp. 53-63. 23 Ramsay, H., “Cycles of control”, Sociology, Vol. 11 No. 3, 1977, pp. 481-506. 24 Ramsay, H., “Phantom participation: patterns of power and conflict”, Industrial Relations Journal, Vol. 11 No. 3, 1980, pp. 46-59. 25 Ackers, P., Marchington, M., Wilkinson, A. and Goodman, J., “The use of cycles? Explaining employee involvement in the 1990s”, Industrial Relations Journal, Vol. 23 No. 4, 1992, pp. 268-83.

26 Collins, D., “Rooting for empowerment?”, Empowerment in Organizations, Vol. 3 No. 1, 1995. 27 Storey, J., Developments in The Management of Human Resources: An Analytical Review, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992. 28 Millward, N., The New Industrial Relations?, PSI Publishing, London, 1994. 29 Oliver, N. and Wilkinson, B., The Japanization of British Industry, Blackwell, Oxford, 1992. 30 Elger, T. and Smith, C. (Eds), Global Japanization? The Transnational Transformation of the Labour Process, Routledge, London, 1994. 31 Garrahan, P. and Stewart, P., The Nissan Enigma: Flexibility at Work in a Local Economy, Mansell, London, 1992. 32 Fucini, J.J. and Fucini, S., Working for the Japanese: Inside Mazda’s American Auto Plant, Macmillan, New York, NY, 1990. 33 Graham, L., “How does the Japanese model transfer to the United States? A view from the line”, in Elger, T. and Smith, C. (Eds), Global Japanization? The Transnational Transformation of the Labour Process”, Routledge, London, 1994. 34 Keenoy, T. and Anthony, P., “HRM: metaphor, meaning and reality”, in Blyton, P. and Turnbull, P. (Eds), Reassessing Human Resource Management, Sage, Beverly Hills, CA, 1992. 35 Collins, D., “Review article: the Nissan enigma”, Personnel Review, Vol. 24 No. 1, 1995, pp. 67-71. 36 Wilmott, H., “Postmodernism and excellence: the dedifferentiation of economy and culture”, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 5 No. 1, 1992, pp. 58-68.

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