Activity control or activity inquiry? The turbulent relationship between management and collective activity and its mediating artefacts. : The case of call centers in an electricity company.

Abstract : The paradigm of organizational control supposes that human activity is simple and transparent enough to be represented from the outside, in a stabilized and standardized form. The "control" approach, epitomized by Taylorism, thus implies some denial of the complexity of activity and favors the representation of activity – as a set of standardized and measurable operations, in the Taylorian case – rather than activity itself, as the primary object of management. The quality management movement, forerunner of "lean management" (Womack et al. 1990), was first inspired by a pragmatist philosophy in the 1930s in the US. It redefined activity as the focal point of management and stressed the exploratory nature of collective learning, which is embedded in practical experience and incompatible with variance-based control. As such, it appeared at the time as an anti-Taylorian managerial reaction. Strangely enough, using the labels "lean management" and "total quality control", a Taylorian revival, completely reverting the messages of the pioneers of lean management, has occurred in recent years, discarding the central role of activity and erasing its original pragmatist inspiration. The paper will first present a case study about work organization and management in the call centers of a large European utility company, supposedly based on the principles of lean management. The paper then describes the history of the quality and lean movement and shows that the principles applied in the case of those call centers are in direct contradiction with the historical pragmatist inspiration of lean management. To conclude, the paper analyzes the implications of the "control" versus "inquiring" debate for the design and use of mediating artefacts, as illustrated by the development of a role-playing module at the company where the case study took place.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, July 12, 2016 - 3:08:09 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, July 18, 2019 - 2:50:02 PM

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Philippe Lorino, Justine Arnoud. Activity control or activity inquiry? The turbulent relationship between management and collective activity and its mediating artefacts. : The case of call centers in an electricity company.. EGOS, Jul 2016, Naples, Italy. ⟨hal-01344773⟩

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