Dant, T. and D. Francis
(1998) 'Planning in Organisations: Rational Control or Contingent Activity?'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/3/2/4.html>
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Received: 20/4/98 Accepted: 22/6/98 Published: 30/6/98
The plans of the chief executives I studied seemed to exist only in their heads - as flexible, but often specific, intentions. The traditional literature notwithstanding, the job of managing does not breed reflective planners; the manager is a real-time responder to stimuli, an individual who is conditioned by his job to prefer live to delayed action. (Mintzberg, 1981: p. 66)
Organizations engage in formal planning, not to create strategies but to program the strategies they already have, that is, to elaborate and operationalize their consequences formally. (Mintzberg, 1994: p. 333)
- Erm, maybe we're a little bit more specific about the group activity planning that we do now, but that is something that has evolved from us, not from (Head).
- And to do with the National Curriculum. The structure of the Broad Focus and the Limited Focus an' the rest of that is something that we just do because - I mean before we had these erm flow charts you see, so I suppose they've replaced the flow charts, if you like. They're a bit more specific than the flow charts, but really its just a bit of an added extra. I mean its very difficult really (to explain) because its - there's such a lot of things you have to think about when you're actually planning a topic, that you want to do, you know you have to think about all of it, erm an' - I mean -
- Are you saying to me that really what you do is you plan the way - more or less the way you always have done but then present the - what you've done in such a way that it fits those [ structures
- [ More or less, yeah, I think so. I think so.
2 We note that, as a methodological move, the shift to a post- modern perspective has some 'family resemblance' to the respecification of social inquiry recommended by ethnomethodologists (Garfinkel, 1967; Button, 1991). Indeed, a plausible case can be made that ethnomethodology anticipated by a couple of decades much of the epistemological critique of social science nowadays associated with postmodernism. For a discussion of these matters, see Lynch, 1994, ch.4.
3 The health authority studied cannot be claimed as typical. The study was conducted at a time when all health authorities were undergoing a series of organisational changes. The changes introduced in the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Act were designed to separate 'purchasers' of health care from 'providers' as part of creating a form of public sector market. Traditional planning was as a result largely being replaced by 'contracts' or expressions of intention to purchase services. The splitting of responsibilities of authorities is organisationally further confounded by merging health authorities into 'purchasing commissions'. Despite these massive changes planning was still a feature of the organisational activity that in some formal aspects fitted with a rational planning model while demonstrating contingent features which contradict the logic of a rational planning model.
4 Bolman and Deal (1991) comment on the role of plans as a sign of good management, ' a ceremony that an organisation must conduct periodically if it wants to maintain its legitimacy'. They cite with approval Cohen and March's 1974 study of planning in universities that identified four functions of plans: as symbols, as games, as excuses for interaction and as advertisements (see also Cyert and March, 1992, pp. 110 - 113). These are similar points to the points we make above insofar as they point to the contingency of planning on all the other activities of the organisation.
5 This notion has something in common with at least some contemporary versions of the concept of 'discourse'. However, we have chosen not to adopt this concept since from our point of view it has certain implications which limit its analytic utility. Specifically, while discussions of the concept 'discourse' draw attention to the constitutive role of linguistic practices in the framing of social action and the patterned organisation of these practices in historically located 'discourses', they seem to us to overemphasise the predefined connections between ways of thinking, speaking and acting. One consequence is that analytic positions which are at pains to reject the assumption of the structural determination of action come close to substituting for such determination the constraining effects of socio-linguistic edificies called 'discourses'.
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