Management by Recognition: An Interactionist Study of Normative Control in Voluntary Work
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractMany contemporary work organizations are concerned with how they can influence employees’ intrinsic motivation. Their quest follows a widespread realization that people do not necessarily work harder because of monetary incentives or direct commands. Instead, people’s inner motives, their urge to self-realize and get recognition, are seen as key factors influencing workers’ mindsets and behaviors. In order to stimulate and shape such inner motives, management scholars and practitioners increasingly bring ‘recognition’ forward as a management tool. This thesis labels this trend ‘Management by Recognition’ (MbR). MbR refers to the idea and practical effort of achieving organizational ends by making individuals feel recognized and affirmed for who they are and how they work. Based on an ethnography of the voluntary organization Communa, which aims to enhance a ‘culture of recognition’, this study analyses the mechanisms and effects of MbR. For this purpose, MbR is seen as a particular form of normative control that aims at shaping volunteers’ moral orientation towards the organization by creating experiences of enjoyment and self-affirmation. Exploring MbR in the light of current academic debates, this thesis problematizes a prevalent managerialist ‘win-win’ thinking, according to which MbR will ensure happier workers and enhanced control. At the same time, the thesis rejects the deterministic management-focused view of control found in the critical/interpretivist literature. Instead, my study examines MbR through an interactionist lens. It suggests that MbR is not simply an activity that managers ‘do’ and the managed ‘receive’. On the contrary, MbR is seen as a collective accomplishment in the sense that both managers and voluntary workers work on recognition attempts in order to perform their selves and influence others. My study shows how MbR is neither a simple good for an organization (as the managerial literature suggests) nor an all-pervasive form of normative control (as some critics suggest). I argue that the complexity of MbR stems from the nature of recognition as something that cannot be put to instrumental ends: the very nature of recognition places limits on its instrumental/managerial use. Such limits, however, cannot be known in advance, but are decided and experienced in interactions. The study contributes to theory and organizational practice in four ways: 1) it creates a space for discussion by coining the concept of MbR, 2) it enhances understanding of how different actors collectively accomplish control in organizations, 3) it offers a more optimistic reading of normative control, while acknowledging possible distressing effects, and 4) it provides new insight to interested practitioners about the complexity of MbR, and possible unintended organizational dynamics.