LEST Institute of Labour Economics and Industrial Sociology UMR 7317

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Programme A

«Innovations and new patterns of organisation»

Thursday 27 December 2012, by Last Update

Nadine Richez-Battesti and Antoine Vion

List of researchers involved in the programme:
Emilie Bargues (associated researcher), Franck Brulhart, Marie-Laure Buisson, Cécile Chanut-Guieu, Corinne Eyraud, Martine Gadille, Lise Gastaldi, Karine Guiderdoni-Jourdain, Caroline Lanciano, Ariel Mendez, Philippe Mossé, Hiroatsu Nohara, Daniel Pardo, Claude Paraponaris (associated), Amandine Pascal, Francesca Petrella, Nadine Richez-Battesti, Robert Tchobanian, Eric Verdier, Antoine Vion.

Researchers involved in this programme are working on the changes affecting firms (from very small businesses (VSBs) to multinational corporations (MNCs), public-sector organisations (government departments, regional authorities, agencies), organisations in the social and solidarity economy (cooperative and mutual enterprises, voluntary and charitable organisations) and professional organisations (self-governing professions, professional practices, professional associations). Their research emphasises the fundamentally inter-organisational dimension of the evolution of forms of work organisation and examines the legitimation and social sustainability of these changes. The aim of this programme is to produce advances in three main areas of research: organisational studies, socio-economics and political economy. It seeks to combine norm-based approaches to institutional economics with sociological approaches to collective action, with an emphasis on the cognitive dimensions of organisations and questions of legitimacy that have been at the heart of the Institute’s work for several years. The principal objective is to develop a dynamic method of investigating representations and reference systems. More generally, the programme seeks to ascertain to what extent the Institute’s methodological innovations in network analysis, process-based analysis and organisational design shed new light on the criteria used to define a shift from one governance model to another. Analyses of changes of model based on sound methodological foundations provide a starting point for investigating the sustainability of emerging models of work organisation and social models. Particular attention will be paid in this programme to three vectors of work reorganisation: the new intermediations and the interpenetration of forms of management, the production and appropriation of new knowledge and the introduction of new technologies in the workplace.

1. New intermediations and the interpenetration of forms of management

Analysis of the changes

currently taking place in education, training, health and social protection systems and comparisons of forms of territorial governance highlight the increasing interpenetration of the organising principles underlying the actions of public and private actors, their forms of evaluation and their modes of legitimation. The originality of LEST’s approach, based on the combining of different disciplinary traditions, is that it captures the dynamics created by a multiplicity of processes: the interpenetration of forms of organisational management, the concomitant evolution of the standardisation of qualifications and markets and the diverse ways in which they are implemented in various contexts. Comparison of these processes enables us to explore the effects of the structuring of norms, particularly at international national, and their local effects, and to improve understanding of the construction of the various forms of expertise and evaluation and of the issues at stake.

The processes and impacts of standardisation

The question we are debating more broadly is that of the actual impacts of standardisation on the evolution of service industries in the context of globalisation. What types of services are most likely to be internationalised and who are the actors driving the process (multinationals, NGOs, etc.)? What links can be observed between the internationalisation of service industries and their institutional environment? What is the role of standards in the production and use of services ? These questions are all the more important since some services are generally regarded as specific activities with high relational value added that are difficult to characterise using the frameworks normally applied to analysis of the globalisation of manufacturing or financial activities.

Between public and private: changes in the forms of evaluation and price setting

As far as the evaluation of work and the pricing of services are concerned, the programme will seek in particular to investigate those situations in which public authorities influence both supply (pricing, market structuring, e.g. through quality labels or guarantees) and demand (definition of needs, aid plans), particularly for hospitals and personal services. ‘Personal services’ are an interesting area, particularly with regard to the interpenetration of forms of management, which is gathering pace in a rapidly expanding sector. In the face of increasing competition from private commercial companies, traditional not-for-profit providers of home help services are taking steps to professionalise their employees and, to this end, are entering into collective agreements. On the other hand, the new service companies are having to come to terms with the performance evaluation and price regulation instruments used by local authorities.
Finally, in conjunction with programme B, the programme is developing research on pay, with a view to observing how public and quasi-public organisations are adopting, appropriating and legitimising the tools for evaluating and rewarding skills and performance developed initially in private companies. This individualisation of remuneration is closely linked to the introduction of management by objectives and the establishment of a results-driven culture. Thus the introduction of merit bonuses, the decline in the share of total remuneration linked to seniority and the practice of conducting annual evaluation interviews are all characteristic of the transition from an organising principle based on resources to one based on results in the public sector. However, although it certainly reflects a genuine search for ‘managerial’ legitimacy, the adoption by public-sector service organisations of HRM tools developed in the private sector calls into question the transferability of such practices. In many cases, after all, the process of adopting new management tools is not a smooth one and clearly underlines the importance of constructing their legitimacy within the organisation in question.

Financialisation and new intermediations

Other studies seek to analyse the particular forms of interdependence that link organisations of all types to financial organisations. We will compare these forms of relationship and governance at the various levels of the financial system in order to explore the various forms of interdependence that can be observed in multi-organisational fields. The objective here is to describe the forms of inter-organisational interdependence and the multi-level problems of coordination in the activity of financial organisations and to explore in what respects these problems affect work organisation in these companies.

2. The accumulation of knowledge and its capacitating effects

The accumulation of knowledge is analysed in this programme by investigating the conditions under which knowledge is produced and appropriated in processes of innovation and reform. This perspective offers an approach to social, technological and institutional change based on a detailed analysis of the capacitating effects produced by this process of accumulation. The notion of capacitation is defined here to include both the acquisition of skills through individual and collective learning processes and the implicit or explicit mandate that legitimises the actors during evaluation processes. This cognitive approach opens up critical perspectives on resource-based managerial approaches and economic studies of innovation in which knowledge is regarded as a good available for exchange in a market.

The production of knowledge and regulation

Public action at regional level is subject to investigation from various points of view. Analyses may focus on: 1. its institutional forms, starting from the hypothesis that new coordination spaces are (with difficulty) being created that are likely to hasten the decompartmentalisation of public action, for example by linking economic development and training policies; 2. the instruments used as indicators, particularly statistical ones: how are these ‘measurement policies’ helping to shape the debates on and the directions taken by public action in the regions? Can a new ‘science of governance’ said to be emerging from the decentralisation of public action? 3. The members of regional executives, who are key actors in public action at this level. Inter-regional comparisons provide the basis for investigating the way in which the regulation of ‘regional presidentialism’ interacts with the structuring of regional government to create new organisational forms based on ideal-typical figures of elected members of regional executives, whose activities merit close analysis: are they entrepreneurs, advocates for a cause and/or regulators of professional communities? Ultimately, two overarching questions will shape our investigations in the years to come. Firstly, in an uncertain institutional environment, are regional institutions being constructed by means of a recurrent process of trial and error, which may take the form of negotiations (strong version) or exchanges of information (weak version), in which efforts are made to seek the views of a diverse range of actors often located at different levels of the regulatory system governing public action? And, secondly, would this not lead to considerable investment in procedures requiring a good deal of coordination, the aim of which would be to bring together diverse interests and points of references in support of joint regional development projects?

The accumulation of knowledge and regional governance of innovation

From the point of view of knowledge sharing in innovation processes, the programme will explore the notion of the ‘regional governance of innovation’ based on analyses of individual and collective learning processes in productive systems based on SMEs and VSBs operating in very transient markets, with fragile, highly experimental core businesses and subject to constant restructuring. The notion of ‘regional governance of innovation’ could be tackled by examining two different strands of public action and its normative intents that are not often explicitly viewed in conjunction with each other, namely the incentivisation, on the one hand, of entrepreneurship and high-tech start-ups and, on the other, of social and environmental responsibility.

3. The introduction of new work technologies in organisations

The research on the introduction of new work technologies conducted within the framework of the programme, particularly on those linked to the worldwide web, will help to open up the ‘black box’ of the organisation. One of the starting points is the link between management tools and work organisation, which will be investigated as a means of decoding the internal dynamic of productive organisations from a perspective that encompasses various types of organisation (in terms of size, nature of ownership rights, sector of activity, etc.). Management tools are analysed as social constructs that arise out of a specific form of social organisation and which, in turn, transform that organisation. They are not only the vectors for a more or less explicit process of standardisation, but may also reflect organisational specificities far removed from the processes of isomorphism that are most commonly discussed.
Continuing along the same lines, information and communication technologies (ITCs) will be analysed, in a range of different organisational contexts, in terms of the links and interactions between their design, their adoption by management and their subsequent appropriation by users. Several research projects are starting out in this direction, drawing on the findings of earlier research but extending the field of reference to include the economic, organisational and social contexts in which these technologies are appropriated in the various segments of the productive system and by the various actors involved.
The role of ITCs in firms’ inter-organisational coordination has already been researched at LEST, particularly with regard to the appropriation of collaborative applications (groupware, digitalised collective intelligence tools, etc.). It is necessary to understand why appropriation of these applications does not meet their advocates’ strategic expectations. Above and beyond the technical aspects (the tool’s functionalities) and the users’ social situations (actual uses, appropriation trajectories, disputes between occupational groups, etc.), we have sought to take account of more organisational dimensions (forms of leadership) and managerial considerations (particularly modes of HRM). The programme will conduct analyses of new technological applications, such as extranets and social networks in firms.
In future, the programme might explore three broader but complementary avenues. This would involve, firstly, analysing the links between management tools and corporate social responsibility (CSR), which would require simultaneous or even integrated observation of the dynamics of human resource management and of environmental policies. Secondly, we could consider observing the dynamics of the diffusion of management tools between regions and firms, both nationally and internationally. The third focus of analysis would be the construction of alliances and partnerships, whether in markets or under the aegis of organisations, in order to identify the mediums used and the ways in which they are diffused.