Engineering compliance


One of the many things I enjoy is reading about FE from a disciplinary space or field that I would not normally encounter. A perfect example of this is the work of Kim Mather et al.

Kim Mather, Les Worrall, Graeme Mather, (2012),”and worker resistance in UK further education: The creation of the Stepford lecturer”, Employee Relations, Vol. 34 Iss: 5 pp. 534 – 554

I tend not to include this journal on my reading lists. This is hardly surprising. A search through 255 volumes, 4 issues per volume each with issue publishing between 7 and 9 original research papers – returned 4 papers with “Further Education” in the title. (Two of which have been written by Mather et al.)

But employee relations is a key question for FE. FE has traditionally been a volatile area to work in – with regular and recurring restructures, an active union and volatile industrial relations. FE lectures are the most strike prone professional workforce. In the last few years, the demands of policy have changed what it means to be an FE lecturer beyond recognition. The literature abounds with discussion of this nature. Yet, Mather et al are one of the few authors who explore the changes from an explicit labour relations perspective.

I have an abiding interest in conflict just now. Hence my re-reading Mather et al

Here is an extract from “Engineering compliance …”

Senior managers dealt with perceived lecturers’ recalcitrance by drawing on a range of metaphors that both reified the dominant managerial view while also reinforcing the positional power of senior managers and the downward nature of communications. These sound-bite metaphors revealed a senior management mindset that appeared to be far removed from many of the lecturers. […] in one College a senior manager explained his approach to strategy formulation and getting staff on board: “what I’m doing is putting a story down, the model I see is that [he drew a diagram on a scrap of paper] – this is a chocolate fountain”. The allusion to the chocolate fountain is suggestive of a top-down cascade of good ideas that are dipped into, and one assumes, enjoyed by staff lower down the hierarchy. 

The quote represents a particular view of not only leadership but organisational communication: one that is deeply hierarchical: leaders talk / followers listen.

But the quote is also delusional. This leader’s idea that staff on the receiving end of management communications experience them as nicely flowing sweetness suggests a disturbing disconnect between the head and the rest of the body.

To add to this desperate situation, in an earlier interview, the senior manager had castigated lecturers for refusing the live in the ‘real world’. So, from his fantasy world of management communications being something like a chocolate fountain, he accepts as real a world in which austerity is a necessity and There Is No Alternative.


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