Upbeat look at getting the best out of staff;Books

19th March 1999 at 00:00
MOTIVATING PEOPLE IN LEAN ORGANIZATIONS. By Linda Holbeche. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann pound;16.99.

In between putting the children to bed and marking exercise books, teachers may have caught last year's BBC docusoap The Shop. Viewers were invited into the simultaneously real and unreal world of business management: real in that we were invited to gaze on people at work, and unreal because their work, values and humanity were objectified into externally determined motivation strategies.

One week we saw managers learning to co-operate while sailing, the next they were competing to sell as many store cards as possible. These strategies seemed to be based on pragmatism: try whatever we can to cut costs and raise profits. The saddest parts were two vignettes: the manager who had targets for the sale of store cards increased by more than 10 per cent, and the shop-floor worker who took every opportunity to sell a store card in order to win bonuses.

It is within this context that educationists should view and critically evaluate books and other business management products such as this one. We have not really learned very much new since the Hawthorne studies from the Thirties: controlling workers is full of contradictions, you should never exceed targets or you will be exploited, and the willingness to be exploited is not always organisationally determined but is linked to the worker's broader life interests.

Linda Holbeche presents an optimistic text which contains the usual prescriptions of change management, leadership and teams. Lean organisations are familiar through the language of empowerment, down-sizing and flatter structures, and this is sweeping through the business (and the education) world as "they enable an organisation to reap the benefits of flexibility and innovation while facilitating such useful practices as teamworking".

In business process terms, the aim is to reduce the cost of supplying the input while maximising the value of the output to the customer. People are self-motivating. Strategic human resource management enables integration between the individual and the company.

A case study from education is used as part of an analysis on how to develop your employees. We are told the story of Joan Hudson, a head of year, who in the absence of further promotion sought the challenge of additional work, so "she administers the school's timetable daily, arranging cover for absent colleagues". In other words, Joan is working harder for the same pay, and is expected to accept the new definition of development, which is not about promotion but "the ability to create challenge in even mundane tasks and to visualise ongoing challenge and growth in the future".

At best, candidates for the National Professional Qualification for Headship could use the language of this text to meet the assessment requirement to draw on business practice. At worst, the text presents a way of working which could become a reality for schools if NPQH graduates act on this type of business practice.

Those who are interested in investigating the business world are advised to look at the work of Ralph Stacey as it challenges assumptions underpinning human resource management. Educational professionals should read Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, as they are concerned with understanding the nature of teachers' work rather than using problematic management models to implement systemic change.

Helen Gunter

* The writer is a lecturer in education at Keele University

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