Managerial Decisions: A Discursive Analysis
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Decision making activity is at the heart of organisations and, as an essential managerial function, it has been the subject of an immense body of literature. As the majority of research has been undertaken within the disciplines of economics and psychology, studies have tended to emphasise economic rationality as the basis for cognitive reasoning, decision processes and judgement and as the analytic paradigm. However, in the face of new problems, and in times of profound change, conventional forms of thought may be problematic in themselves. This project suggests and assesses a Foucaultian framework as an alternative approach to the study of managerial decision making.
Within a multiple case-study strategy, evidence has been collected from three manufacturing companies in Devon and Cornwall, using a range of qualitative methods; derived from ethnography, historiography, and grounded theory. A major decisional theme emerged in each case study: employee participation, linked to the nonrecognition of trade unions; Japanese managerial techniques (Kaizen); and product quality.
A Foucaultian approach to discourse analysis was used to assess the trajectories of systems of management thought; nature and influence of changes in management discourse, and the resulting vacillation in power/knowledge relations within these three organisations. Genealogical assessment of alterations in organisational culture reveals shifts in the power relations which produce and maintain those decision outcomes; which, in their turn, establish and affirm the power relations. Among them are stereotypes that are problematised by non-unionism; the historical possibilities giving rise to the discourse and practices of Kaizen; discursive motifs on quality, and the formation of new discourses.
Comparative archaeology of the various concepts of quality, as apprehended within the study, has identified two major currents of discourse. Neither discourse is inherently advantageous or harmful to an organisation but, where discourses are both present, and in competition, the resulting dichotomy is disorientating for organisational actors and potentially lethal to business performance.
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