Subordination, Loyalty And Productivity

Management desires three responses from workers: “subordination, loyalty and productivity“ (Harbison and Myers, 1959: 49). How do the legal, functional and ideological bases of the ‘right to manage' deliver these responses? In what ways are modern management techniques associated with HRM aimed at delivering subordination and loyalty and how do they motivate workers to increase productivity?

The following essays seeks to look into the question of modern management techniques, looking specifically at the issue of whether or not modern management techniques, which are associated with Human Resource Management (HRM), are aimed at delivering subordination, loyalty and productivity. We intend to split the essay up into two discernible parts, looking first at the legal, functional and ideological bases of the ‘right to manage' and the various ways in which these facilitate responses of subordination and loyalty before moving onto examine the ways in which modern management and HRM strategies conspire to motivate workers to increase productivity. This, quite clearly, constitutes an expansive and highly complex undertaking, especially during the contemporary era when the dynamics of perpetual change demand that managers and human resource practitioners alike alter their approaches to suit the demands and expectations of the twenty first century (McMillan, 2008:74-101). Thus, we should acknowledge from the outset the way in which the essay will need to transcend the specific topic of management so as to explore the broader political, social, cultural and economic climate in which modern management techniques have emerged. Before we can commence our analysis in earnest, though, we need to establish some important definitions with regards to ‘rights to manage' and the legal, functional and ideological basis of this in order to establish a conceptual framework in which the remainder of the discussion can take place.

The most important point to note about the concept of the ‘right to manage' is that the right of management itself is rooted in the first instance in the legal framework of the contemporary liberal society in which we live. By this we mean to state that rights as they exist in the workplace (both managers' rights to manage as well as workers rights) have come about as a direct result of the evolution of the modern democratic state. Beginning with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century and continuing forward with the conceptualisation of the trade union and industrial relations (IR) over the course of the twentieth century, workers and corporations have witnessed the edification of a stringent and coherent set of rights emerge which, in tandem with the dominant socio-economic imperative of the day, have conspired to establish the contemporary ‘right to manage' landscape (Edwards, 2003:1-37).

The notion of the right to manage is therefore grounded in the authority bequeathed to managers via common law, which has emerged as a direct consequence of the evolution of the contemporary capitalist state. As a result, we have to acknowledge the significance of property rights and the legal rights given to managers as a result of the transfer of the ownership of property by private sector enterprises (Selznick, 1969:122-137). As Mike Salamon (2000:15) observes, we cannot ignore “the influential role of the owners of the business which should be accommodated by including them as an actor on the management side and their property ownership interest as a context impinging on the operation of the industrial relations system.”

In a strictly legal sense, therefore, we have to acknowledge the over-riding power of property rights and the various ways in which this bequeaths power to owners and managers in an industrial and commercial context. Viewed from this perspective, then, we can see that the legal power vested in managers and business owners has created fertile grounds for the right to manage and the subsequent focus upon loyalty, subordination and productivity that this entails. While employment law necessarily caters for the rights of the worker, we should acknowledge as a priority the way in which employment law has been conceptualised as a means of securing the right of business owners and business managers' right to manage (Taylor and Emir, 2006:8-11). This is an important point to note and one that ought to be borne in mind throughout the remainder of the discussion.

In additional to the significance of the legal basis of the right to manage we must also make note of the importance of the functional basis of the right to manage and the rise of professional management theory that this has involved. As a result, we have to highlight the primacy of the principles of bureaucracy, which have been strengthened over the course of the twentieth century as the concept of IR “the job of management” (Harbison and Myers, 1959:11) have been become a staple part of modern industrial relations practice and the power of the traditional trade union has been inexorably weakened. The functional basis of the right to manage is therefore rooted in the triumph of the ideal of “co-operative and conjunctive bargaining relationships” that characterises the contemporary association between management and employees (Rose, 2008:280-283), which, in turn, has been triggered by the advent and subsequent triumph of privatisation, globalisation, corporate restructuring the dominance of free market liberal ideology.

The functional basis of the modern workplace has given rise, over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to the ideal of specific management functions including the roles of line managers and supervisors (Mayo, 1933:94; Child, 1969:70-71) with the concept of the HR department emerging later in the twentieth century (McGivering, 1970:171-193). This, in turn, has facilitated the triumph of the goal-seeking, objective-based workplace environment characterised by “functional structures, bureaucratic control systems and conservative strongly shared cultures.” (Stacey, 2007:46) The triumph of the functional workplace system should be interpreted as a mirror image of the rise of the core bureaucratic executive in the political sphere. When, for instance, we pause to consider the vast policy-making changes that have occurred to the decision-making process in Whitehall in the past twenty years we can understand the way in which bureaucratic measures have come to dominate the workings of the post-welfare state (Smith, 1999:9-36). In this way we should understand the functional basis of the right to manage in the private sector as mimicking the functional basis of the state's right to manage in the public sector. Interdependence and the fragmentation of departments and agencies therefore characterises the functional structure of modern management techniques.

We should at this point make due note of the inherent weakness of the functional model and the obstacles that this poses for attempts to instil loyalty, subordination and productivity in the contemporary workforce. Firstly, we have to acknowledge that the creation of quasi-independent, autonomous bodies such as human resource departments creates a culture of competition, fragmentation and confusion which is often to the detriment of the broader organisational objectives and goals. This is especially true of paradigms relating to ethics and organisational culture (Martin, 2004:471). Secondly, we have to observe that the promulgation of this decidedly scientific form of management has created the ideal conditions for a utopian vision of the workplace underpinned by the concept of ‘maximum prosperity' whereby “the principal object of management should be to secure maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.” (Winslow Taylor, 2003:13) However, rather than resulting in the maximisation of employer and employee prospects, we should take note of the way in which the functional basis of the right to manage mirrors the broader marketisation of contemporary western capitalist culture with citizens and workers seen increasingly in terms facts and figures (as opposed to abstracts and emotions.) In the final analysis, interpreting employees as functional models of management and scientific knowledge only serves to negate the ‘human side of enterprise', which remains a key feature of organisational success in the modern capitalist western hemisphere (McGregor, 2006:3-19). Thirdly, it is imperative that we do not fall into the common trap of assuming that the theory of the functional basis of the right to manage is easily translated into practice. Rather, we should, as Blyton and Turnball underscore, recognise the schism that exists between theory and practice in addition to the inherent limitations of the functional basis of organisational and managerial control.

“Within organisations a common interest between management and workforce cannot be assumed, willed or ‘managed' into existence. On the contrary, the nature of employment relations, and the basic relationship between profit and wages, authority and compliance, creates a persistent (albeit often latent) tension between employers and employed, management and workforce. The objectives of employees at work - be they income, security, satisfaction, career, companionship - are not synonymous with the objectives of management or company shareholders.” (Blyton and Turnball, 2004:4)

Aside from the legal and the functional bases of the right to manage we should likewise underline the value of the ideological basis of the right to manage which is grounded in some of the most well known political and philosophical theories of the modern period. We have, for instance, already highlighted the significance of property rights as a means of strengthening the position of the business owner and the business manager, which itself is indebted to Marxist property theory (Shandro, 2007:22-28). When we consider the way in which the privatisation of property has fuelled the rampant rise of capitalism over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we can begin to understand the extent to which property and ownership constitute the twin pillars upon which concepts relating to subordination, loyalty and productivity have historically been formed. In addition to the Marxist theory of ideological control we also have to note the importance of pluralist concepts of the right to manage (whereby the rights of managers and supervisors are offset by rights for workers and unions) as well as unitary models of the right to manage (which accentuates the role of scientific management and human relations) - both of which play a significant part in the creation of a contemporary working environment that places great emphasis upon loyalty, subordination and productivity. While we might (correctly) assume that the workers' right championed by the pluralist approach are kept in check by the unitary approach championing the managers and business owners' right to manage, we should not gloss over the true nature of the “level at which social partnerships operate.” (Waddington, 2003:237) By this we mean to declare that the modern workplace and modern management techniques should not be understood in a fictitious light where employees are placed on an equal ideological footing with employers (Fox, 1966:366-369). This is an important point to note as we turn our attention towards the second half of the discussion and the ways in which modern management techniques associated with HRM are aimed at delivering subordination and loyalty and increasing worker productivity.

To understand the ways in which human resources management and modern management techniques are aimed at delivering subordination and loyalty we need to first establish the conceptual framework around which HRM is constructed. We have already observed that HRM is a product of the fragmentation of the contemporary organisational structure, which has seen managers and supervisors play the part of enablers of the dominant corporate vision to the critical mass of the workforce. While we should not assume that there is a singular coherent concept of HRM that is applied across western capitalist organisations, we should underscore certain key facts about the role of human resources which are applicable in a broad sense. We should, for instance, acknowledge that HRM is an important ideological vehicle through which the needs of the workers and the desires of management can be effectively synthesised. As Fang Lee Cooke declares, “it [HRM] attaches importance to systematic recruitment and selection, training and development (including socialisation into the corporate structure), close attention to motivation through personal involvement and participation in work and its organisation, appraisal and progression procedures and incentives schemes.” (Lee Cooke, 2005:173)

Thus, we can see how HRM and modern management techniques deploy a subtle motivational mechanism for instilling a sense of loyalty and subordination in the workforce. For example, whereas early industrial magnates used fear and coercion as a means of increasing worker productivity, today managers and HR practitioners use personal involvement in organisational goals, appraisals, incentive schemes and other means of internal progression as a way of increasing productivity in addition to maintaining a degree of loyalty and subordination to the company in question. Workers are consequently made to feel an integral part of the organisation and its corporate culture via fostering a sense of partnership between management and staff, which is meted out in terms of pay and reward (Pilbeam and Corbridge, 2006:230-264). A member of staff is, according to modern management techniques, much more likely to remain an integral part of an organisation if he or she is made to feel a part of the decision making and profit making process. Likewise, a member of staff is much more likely to become disillusioned if he or she is made to feel isolated or alienated from the core mechanisms of corporate power.

Thus, we should note that modern managerial philosophies are increasingly based on adopting a constitutional approach to leadership, doing away with some of the more outmoded means of increasing productivity and motivation amongst the workforce. The extent to which companies engage in this constitutional approach to management depends, of course, on a variety of interdependent variables relating to, for instance, the institutional and cultural factors. A transnational corporation built upon the fluid interchange of cultures, languages and nationalities will, quite clearly, adopt a different management style to a predominantly domestic enterprise with indigenous workers hailing from the same national culture (Sparrow, Brewster and Harris, 2004:1-13). Contextual factors such as company size, industry and occupation likewise play an important role in the type of management philosophy adopted in order to maximise motivation and productivity.

However, we should be aware that this subtle sense of corporate bargaining is little more than a smokescreen masking the true nature of the relationship between managers and employees and between business owners and workers which, as we have already noted, is not an equal relationship. While modern management techniques and contemporary HRM strategies might appear to act as enablers in an egalitarian partnership between workers and managers, the true nature of the corporate contract ensures that management retains the upper hand with regards to the ongoing relationship between the decision makers and the critical mass of the workforce. Thus, we can see that, rather than representing the ideal of liberal market values, modern management techniques serve to perpetuate the divide between managers and the workforce by engaging in traditional, conservative means of organisational control, reinforcing the dominant cultural and corporate vision in the process (Holbeche, 1997:48-49; Legge, 2000:43-65). As a result, we should make due note of the limits of bureaucracy and the ‘paradox of consequences' where “modern employing organisations, all of which are more or less based upon the bureaucratic principle, use rational calculative techniques of various kinds as means towards the ends pursued by their controllers.” (Watson, 2008:125)

Thus, while it is clear that modern management techniques and HRM models of competencies strive to instil subordination, loyalty and productivity through creating a common corporate culture and by offering incentives for staff, the fact remains that individual staff members are autonomous human beings in their own right. As a consequence, we must note that what might inspire and motivate one worker might repel and drive away another worker of the same skill set (Mullins, 2007:122-167). Though the modern organisation appears as a homogenous corporate monolith, individuality and flexibility remain key, often overlooked parts of the modern management process. This, then, is a major structural weakness of the quasi-scientific HRM approach to management where individual people cannot be forecast in a methodical manner (Torrington, Taylor and Hall, 2007:58-61).

We must also observe the inherent structural weakness of the fragmentation of the contemporary organisation and the creation of inter-dependent bodies (such as the human resource department, line managers and supervisors) that this has entailed. Therefore, it is important to note that the role of HRM and its incumbent ability to motivate and increase productivity has been largely negated “as traditional hierarchies are eroded and organisational boundaries are blurred, leaving the personnel function vulnerable to ‘externalisation' and ‘balkanisation' and a diminishing organisational contribution.” (Bach and Sisson, 2000:5)


We have seen how the rise of capitalist culture during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has created fertile grounds for the creation of the concept of the ‘right to manage' with vital legal, functional and ideological bases for this right being established over a long period of struggle between workers and business owners. Thus, the contemporary manager and modern management techniques should be seen as a manifestation of the evolution of the western capitalist organisation which in many ways mirrors the dominant socio-political climate in which it has originated.

Yet while we have duly noted the solid foundations upon which the power of the business owner and the manager has been cemented, we have also charted the inherent limitations of bureaucracy and the scope for misinterpretation and mismanagement in modern management techniques. Specifically, we have seen how contemporary HRM strategies fail to take into account the essential humanistic element of individuality which is a core feature of organisational life. Consequently, while broad based goals, objectives and visions can - in conjunction with pay, rewards and incentives - be used to instil a sense of loyalty and subordination, there is a discernible limit with regards to the extent to which modern management strategies are able to increase productivity through these means alone. For this reason, workers should be interpreted as individual actors as opposed to scientific variables. As Herzberg (1968:170) concludes, “industry, as the dominating institution in our society, must recognise that if it is to use human beings effectively, it must treat them in terms of their complete nature rather than in terms of those characteristics that appear to be suitable to their organisation.”


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