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Management Of Change And Innovation - Case Study Of Coastline Electrics, Uk

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Autor:   •  October 31, 2010  •  2,737 Words (11 Pages)  •  700 Views

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The changes endured by Coastline occurred in the very specific context of privatisation. In this perspective, clashes of paradigms are common, in particular in the way knowledge is viewed and exercised as well as between the past and present goals of companies engaged in such process. As described by Grey and Mitev (quoted in Wilson, 1995, p.59): "If 'post-industrial society' does offer the possibility of decentralization of work and industrial structures, as well as an increase in the quantity of information and/or knowledge, it is important to remember that these changes have emerged in particular circumstances, that is, the countervailing tendencies towards (re)centralization of overall control; an increasing privatization and commercialization of social life; a commodification of information and knowledge; and an extension of surveillance and control".

In the Coastline Electric case, this tensions result in a radical change of the place of engineers in the company, and how their knowledge is being recaptured by other staff while engineers embark on totally different day-to-day tasks. Described by Bowen and Lawler (1992) as "a means to enable employees to make decisions" (quoted by Erstad, 1997), this question addresses the wider issue of knowledge distribution as well as the issue of the amount of power legitimated by this knowledge as demonstrated by Burns (2000) in a post-modern view of power as a constructed reality which allows the dominant groups to impose their will on others. The authors adopt a post-modern approach to the case, where numerous references to the way the reality is constructed, is observed throughout language and different points of view, and where engineers - as object of the change rather than actors of the change - are given "a voice". Overall, the case study examines the steps of the process by which engineers were actually and gradually marginalized in their own field and dispossessed of their former power, and how senior management eventually achieve its goals of deprofessionalisation within a few years after the privatisation by constructing a new corporate reality.

Empowerment as a vector of deprofessionalisation

It sounds like a paradox that empowering people, that is, according to Erstad, 1997, "a change strategy with the objective of improving both the individual's and the organization's ability to act" may lead to a loss of professional practices in the company. However, even if she then argues that "empowering employees does not mean disempowering managers but rather permits time and energy to be used more efficiently and productively by all players", one can only notice that in the Coastline Electric case, engineers were actually ripped of their traditional power. This is due to the fact that engineers' power (it is, according to French and Raven's 1959 definition, both a legitimate and expert power) was largely legitimated by their knowledge, and that losing the exclusive exercise of it actually weakened their legitimacy both as professionals and managers.

Indeed, engineers' managerial dimension was also weakened (although officially reinforced) by the fact that TQM and team working usually comes along with the "concept of horizontal surveillance among the individual team members" (Wilson, 1995, p.66) in which team members control each others work. Furthermore, TQM procedures and "Job Redesign" measures (acquiring a part of engineers' knowledge) also provide them the power to check their own work individually and therefore change then vertical control process by making them more independent of engineers. The programme "Partner Coaching" is also a good example of how TQM procedures may lead to a normalisation and therefore to the controllability of individuals, as Wilson demonstrate: "The techniques of 'strengthening' a corporate culture become the preventives of contamination of employees by rival values and the alignment of employee purpose with the normative framework laid down by the "cultural engineers" of the organization." Formerly in the hands of engineers only and top-down oriented, the decision-making and the control process is now much more diffuse, resulting in a kind of Foucault's "panopticon" in which everybody monitors everybody without explicitly assuming the task. Threatened in their autonomy both as experts and managers, the marginalization of engineers results in the deprofessionalisation of the organisation as a whole. The question remains whether on the long-term this should lead to an improvement or a deterioration of the company's performance.

Knowledge distribution as a vector of normalisation

One of the most striking measure implemented by the new management is the process labelled as "job Redesign" by which the checking of the work by engineers is replaced by an auto-check of the staff's work, using a step-by-step guide. To achieve this important step, rules of the guide have been written by the engineers, therefore transforming what is known as a tacit knowledge into a explicit knowledge easily transferable. Although White and Jacques (1995) argue that post-industrialism often emphasises the importance of 'changes in the knowledge requirements of workers (from an emphasis on technical knowledge to an emphasis on scientific or theoretical knowledge)', one can also see the Job Redesign process as a "taylorisation of knowledge", as Wilson (1995) describes by "systematically gathering together 'all of the great mass of traditional knowledge, which in the past has been in the heads of the workmen... then recording it, tabulating it, and in many cases, finally reducing it to laws, rules, and even to mathematical formulae' (Taylor, 1912, p. 204)".

The shift from an embodied form of knowledge (Blackler, 1995) carried by the engineers to a typically encoded form of knowledge (Blackler, 1995) straightforwardly presented in a step-by-step guide resulted naturally in a shift of power from engineers to staff. But the professionalisation itself did not shift as the encoded knowledge is somehow incomplete, as Blackler (1995) points out: "Knowledge is multi-faceted and complex, being both situated and abstract, implicit and explicit, distributed and individual, physical and mental, developing and static, verbal and encoded." And as a Coastline electric engineer recalls, "you need to know why as well as how", which is the usual limitation encoded knowledge. This limitation is also implicit in Ouchi's (1979, quoted by spender, 1996, p. 67) distinction


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