Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000


Ilpo Koskinen (2000) 'Plans, Evaluation, and Accountability at the Workplace'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 4, <>

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Received: 9/8/1999      Accepted: 24/2/2000      Published: 29/2/2000


This paper is based on an ethnomethodologically informed analysis of plans by Dant and Francis (1988). Using ethnographic and conversation data, this paper will argue that although plans do not ordinarily organize action at the workplace in the sense proposed by rationalistic viewpoints on planning, planning does have one key managerial use that has scarcely been dealt with in previous research. Managers often formulate and systematize their vision of the workplace using plans and categories found in plans, and they simultaneously formulate the workplace's activities as sanctionable. This result is discussed.

Conversation Analysis; Ethnomethodology; Management; Organization; Planning; Workplace

Plans, Evaluation, and Accountability at the Workplace

In most accounts in sociological literature, planning has been presented as a rationalistic enterprise that proceeds in a determinate manner. Planning starts with the definition of overall objectives. These are then further specified. Planners then list all the opportunities for action that are open, and describe all the consequences that would follow from each alternative opportunity. After that, they describe the means for achieving various ends, and describe their consequences. It is only then that they are able to select the action which will produce the desired ends with minimal sacrifices. In this account, planning is a rational activity that is meant to make activity more rational in instrumental terms (see Banfield 1973). Several studies have argued that careful planning at least partly explains managers' efficiency (Penfield 1974; Allen 1981). Managers translate the values of an organization into concrete programs, and get an instrument for evaluating action through these plans. This view connects planning to values, and is widely shared in sociological literature, in which it is usually linked to managerial control (see Dornbusch and Scott 1975; Edwards 1979: 18).

The last two decades have produced several studies that have changed the way in which planning is understood. Planning, no matter whether it takes place at the workplace, in city halls, or on a national level, has been, given this evidence, seen to perform a host of functions, not just formulating, selecting, and programming work. Instead, planning has been described variously. For example, planning has been seen as an incremental process, which stresses that in planning, decision-makers focus only on those policies which will differ incrementally from existing policies, consider only a small number of policy alternatives, evaluate only a few important consequences for each alternative, and adjust their means and ends continuously (see Braybrooke and Lindbolm 1963: 83-110; Etzioni 1973: 219-220). It has also been pointed out that plans have several uses in any organization, and that these uses go beyond the rational model (Cohen and March 1974; Cyert and March 1963: 110-113; cited in Bolman and Deal 1991). For example, plans may be treated as symbols, games, excuses for interaction, and advertisements. Cyert and March observe that plans may be treated as goals, schedules, theories, and precedents (Cyert and March 1963: 111-112). Mintzberg (1994: 333) has similarly argued that plans program strategies that are already there, rather than create strategies.

Also, some writers have mediated between these alternative perspectives by pointing out that when it comes to fundamental decisions, the rational model seems to work better than the incremental, which, in turn, best describes mundane organizational decision-making realities (see Etzioni 1973: 223-225). Still, by and large, professional planners build their self-image and sense of competence around rationalistic terms. However, planning has increasingly been depicted as a process which has other functions as well.

From an ethnomethodological perspective, Dant and Francis (1998) have taken a fresh look at planning by studying how members of two organizations orient to planning. In their study of planning in two British organizations, they found that although planners in a local health authority and in a County Primary School had devised an elaborate system of planning, the image of planning in these two cases "does not fit with a rational planning model - it is not produced as a systematically considered guide to future action" (Dant and Francis 1998: 4.1). Instead, in the local health authority, plans are treated by members respectfully, but in terms of action, there is another plan in members' heads: as one of their interviewees said, "if you ask me for a plan for [this year], it's probably in my head!" (Dant and Francis 1998: 3.8). In the County Primary School, very little could be inferred about how teachers "actually planned from the fact that their planning was represented according to the textual requirements of the planning sheets" (Dant and Francis 1998: 5.10), which were detailed and plentiful.

Still, Dant and Francis observe that formal and informal plans are not exclusive, but rather mutually implicative, and that they presuppose one another. Based on their studies, Dant and Francis (1998) propose that plans can be part of continuing action in at least seven ways:

As Dant and Francis note, their study demonstrates that planning is a situated practice that has many consequences that depend on what the members of some organization do with them (Dant and Francis 1998: 6.3 and 7.1). In more general terms, plans are doubly elaborative at the workplace. They formulate prior action, and at the same time, they provide a future opportunity for seeing action in their terms.

This paper elaborates Dant and Francis's argument at one important point by showing that even though formal plans are a bad predictor of individual workers' actions, managers use plans in various ways to keep an eye on on-going work at a general level, to study methodically whether activities proceed in an expected manner or not, and to hold employees accountable for problems at work. The basic argument of this paper can be put in the following terms: (1) Plans provide a perceptual "technology" for managers to make sense of on-going work at the workplace. (2) Because of this possibility, members may be held accountable for their actions. (3) How this happens depends on managers' reasoning that is partly based on plans, but is primarily a joint interactional achievement.

Plans and Accountability

A major problem for any member of most of today's workplaces is how to find a recognizable order amongst the activities and participants of the organization. In a study of laboratory work, Lynch has noted that in interactions with the members of a laboratory he studied, no single member had detailed access to the total range of activities in the laboratory's overall research program, or to how the overall program of the lab achieved its direction. Instead, "for many of the students and more recent members of the lab, the [lab's research] program was mostly available in terms of an immediate set of technical tasks, with a developing horizon of prior studies" (Lynch 1985: 57-64). The lab director may have had a more comprehensive overview of the lab's program than did any other lab members, but even he had only limited access to some studies that were pursued fairly autonomously. This is the case in most modern workplaces as well. This situation presents a problem for managers, whose job it is to maintain order at the workplace. Still, managers have to be able to see the larger situation.

One way in which they do this is through formal organizational schemes, as Bittner (1974) has pointed out. Another means for achieving such observable coherence is through plans that order the organization's projects into more or less coherent units. Typically, the basis of this system is a unit called the "project"; these projects are typically listed in the annual plans and other key documents, and form the most important administrative representation of work at the workplace (see Button and Sharrock 1996). A third way of achieving such coherence is through plans that collect projects together and present their objectives for the following year. Plans may be used as interpretive devices in assessing whether action has taken place according to these specifications. Plans "provide for the intelligibility of perceivably normal conduct and for the visibility of conduct which deviates from this" (Heritage 1987: 240), and make it possible for managerial members to review work. Also, plans allow them to find out whether that work is producing the expected outcomes. It is against the perceptual background provided by plans that managers (and other members) may also identify faulty outcomes, or trends that are likely to produce troublesome outcomes.

Plans, then, provide a possibility of observing and seeing an organization's work in a coherent manner, and they simultaneously provide a way of making that work organizationally accountable (see Button and Sharrock 1998). People who are responsible for fulfilling the plan's promises know that they may be held accountable for their future actions against this plan. Managers know that workers know this. All members know that should they not act according to a plan, they cannot explain their behavior by saying that they did not know what they were expected to do. Instead, they can be held accountable for not committing themselves to their duties. In contrast, if they act according to the plan, they know that they have fulfilled the requirements set for them, and cannot be blamed for not doing what they have been supposed to do all along. Plans are mundane devices through which a collectivity's work can be organized into a coherent scheme, and against which that work be assessed. Plans are a means that situate people involved in those plans into a web of organizational accountability.

Thus, although Dant and Francis rightly point out that plans have many kinds of uses at the workplace, and that members seldom observe coherence in plans and their actual daily activities, plans may still have other important uses at the workplace. Regardless of whether members of an organization (i.e. those who are to be affected by planning) take plans seriously or not, plans create a possibility for interested parties to later examine actual action for their properties, to judge whether it has proceeded according to plan, and if not, study the reasons for that peculiar outcome. Even if members do not know whether such practical study takes place, plans create a possibility for such analysis. In terms of Dant and Francis's (1998) analysis, this train of thought points to another possible use of plans: plans provide a means of maintaining managerial perception over the workplace, and studying work to find out whether it is on the planned track.

Description of the Setting and Methods

The setting of this study is called here the Housing Research Institute or, briefly, the House. It is located a few kilometers outside the city centre in Helsinki, Finland. It is a government-financed institute originally set up at the end of the 1980s to study housing policy and its effects on consumers in Finland. Out of its approximately 40 workers, 22 were permanent employees, the rest temporary workers and project-based workers. Being a relatively new institute, a good deal of the Housing Research Institute's personnel had a background in administration rather than in academia. Thus, out of its almost 30 researchers, only three had a Ph.D. and three more a Licentiate's degree, an intermediary degree between a Master's and a Ph.D. Most researchers had a background in applied economics in the agricultural sciences. There were three economists on the payroll (one of them a computer chief rather than a researcher), and one social psychologist.

The House had five or six managers, depending on how we count them. They were Karita, the Director, research chiefs Maria and Mikko (who was a temporary research chief), Anita, the information chief, and Petri, the data administration chief. In addition to these chiefs, there was a sixth member of the managerial team, Jari. Jari was a permanent research chief, and the holder of Mikko's post. Jari was on sabbatical in 1995, but worked in the House as an ordinary researcher, and could not leave his managerial duties completely.

During the fieldwork, the House changed from a line organization to a team-based research organization. After this reform, a new organization was built around first six, then five, research groups. Each research group consisted of, on average, 5 researchers and contained several "projects" (studies) running simultaneously. These research groups were more or less thematically coherent. The idea was that when some researcher finished a study, s/he would then be assigned to another study, and this study would determine which research group s/he would work in next. Also, the assignment of the two research managers changed: instead of having a position that brings authority, their influence would now be based on a facilitative role, and on their own research. Each research group was assigned a "head" and a "coordinator," whose positions were formalized in the working order of the institute at the end of 1994. Both of these were to come from the ranks of researchers.

My fieldwork in this setting began in September 1994, and its intensive phase took about a year. After September 1995, I maintained contact with the House, mainly through participating in weekly floorball matches (floorball is a kind of indoor hockey, popular mostly in Scandinavia and Switzerland). During the first weeks, I mainly wrote initial field notes (see Emerson, Fretz and Shaw 1995), and spent my days reading through the papers written by the House members. In November 1994, I started to audiotape meetings, which I continued throughout spring 1995. The most intensive audiotaping period took place at the end of spring. I was able to tape approximately 50% of the meetings between April and June.

Since the focus of this paper is on the way in which managers used plans in their interaction, a few words about managerial meetings are necessary. Due to various incidental reasons, there were only two managerial group meetings at the end of spring, the first held on May 22nd, the second on May 30th. These meetings were exhaustive: both lasted for about three hours, and in these two meetings, the managerial team went comprehensively through the House work. There were other, less exhaustive, reviews during the spring, but I will focus on this pair of meetings because the interactional structures that were at work in these two meetings were also found in other meetings, but in a more simplified form.

In analyzing the data, I drew on the precepts of conversation analysis. Any analysis based on this approach involves detailed, qualitative analysis of (here) audiotapes of naturally occurring interaction. This approach, based on an inductive search for regularities in interaction, does not entail the formulation and testing of hypotheses set prior to the study. Instead, conversation analysis aims to describe the methods and the reasoning used by the speakers in producing their own action and in interpreting the actions of others. In analyzing the data, I repeatedly played and replayed audiorecordings, and transcribed them in detail using a system that is described in the Appendix. These transcripts do not replace listening to the audiotapes; rather, they are designed to facilitate the analysis of these audiotapes (see Hutchby and Wooffit 1998).

Plans as a Perceptual Basis for Evaluative Interaction

To see how House managers structured their perception of work, and their ensuing course of action of using plans, we need to understand how plans were used by managers in their meetings. Table 1 provides the Table of Contents of the House annual plan for 1995. In this plan, called the "action plan," there is first a brief general presentation of House organization and its relationship to the main financing ministry, and its objectives for 1995 (items I and II). The bulk of this plan consists of a description of "research groups and projects" (item III), and a description of projects in data administration and information services (items IV and V).

Table 1: The Table of Contents of the House Annual Plan for 1995
IThe Background of Action1
IIThe Results Objectives for the Housing Research Institute3
IIIResearch Groups and Related Projects5
1. Housing and the Management of Everyday Life (1993-1997) 5
2. The Meanings of Housing (1995-1999)6
3. The Trends of Development of Housing in Society (1993-1998)7
4. Sustainable Housing (1994-1999)8
5. Housing Market from the Consumer's Point of View (1992-1996)9
6. Welfare Effects of Housing in Common Market (1994-1997)10
IVThe Maintenance and Development of Information Administration11
VThe Maintenance and Development of Information Service12

This is the most administrative formulation of House work. In essence, it describes House work by listing on-going projects, and by classifying them under more encompassing units. These units are either research groups (item III), or organizational units (items IV and V). In addition, it relates project work to House strategies and to the objectives set in annual results negotiations for the House. These negotiations take pace between the House and the responsible financing ministry.

To see how the body of the plan opens the items given in Table 1, it is enough to take a look at one example, which specifies the plan for one research group. Example 1 is from the House's annual plan. It sets the objectives for one research group, consisting of five researchers. There is a brief description of the background for having this research group in the first paragraph, and a formulation of the group objectives in the second. The final part of this description classifies group projects into those that "will be finished" in 1995, and those that will be "beginning or continuing." This form was used repeatedly in all House planning that had something to do with its project work.

Example 1: [Annual plan 1995, 7]
1Finnish consumer society is relatively young. When
2outlining present and future housing policies, we must
3consider the ways this consumer society is developing.
4Housing policy is facing new challenges in the era of
5electronic communication, as companies must act in
6large global markets. Are consumers keeping up with
7these fast paced developments? What will the consumer policy
8of the future be like?
10The research group's aim is to investigate the present
11and future challenges of disseminating information and
12guidance about housing, as well as to assess the impact
13of such information and guidance on consumers. In
14addition, the group will produce information which can
15be used to plan future housing policy.
17Of studies related to the research group in 1995:
19will be finished:
20- unmarried men's uses of food stuffs and food
21 expenditures
22- Consumption and the changes of consumption of food
23stuffs from the 1950s onwards
25beginning or continuing:
26- Households, consumption, and giving advice - from
27giving advice to households to consumer policy in
28twentieth century Finland
29- The internationalization of Finnish food culture and
30food stuff use
31- The development of home cleaning habits in Finland

These formal plans cover a good deal of the workplace's work. Plans not only described the objectives, the organization, and the budget of the House, but also its (then) six research groups. Underneath these groups, there were 44 research projects. In addition to these, information administration plans explicated 10 projects, and information service plans 13 projects. This structure, which gave the official and public version of House activities, could also be found in documents such as the Annual Review, and in various House public relations brochures. Also, this descriptive organization was essentially the same from one year to the next; it provided coherence to House work "vertically" over time as well as "horizontally." This structure, then, was the dominant public description of House work, and linked persons and performances into coherent maps and schedules in the sense proposed by Bittner (1974: 78-79). As such, it acquired a status somewhat akin to a Durkheimian social fact: something stable in the midst of daily House activities.

As we shall also soon see, the representation of the organization in plans did more than just that. Using plans as the basis, House managers could monitor on-going work. For example, given these documents, the absence of some (planned) activity becomes noticeable, reportable, and potentially punishable or rewardable, given that an analysis of its properties provides a justification for resorting to such measures (see Heritage 1983, 1987). Plans could be used to define some sequences as work and to make people accountable for doing certain things in certain ways. 1

Using Plans in Reviewing and Evaluating Work

As I have already mentioned, evaluations have to be made in order to be effective as devices for making accountability issues bear on action. For example, most managerial meetings were not evaluative in tone. It was only when agenda items were specifically built to review activities that evaluations took place. In most meetings, managers did other things. Topics to be handled varied from acquisitions and purchases to preparation of budgets for the Board meetings. Evaluations, then, were specifically occasioned when they took place in formal meetings.

Some meetings were specifically scheduled to house evaluation, as the following agenda shows (Table 2). It is taken from a managerial group meeting held in May 1995, which was designed to go through the major House activities. In fact, the House organization is mapped onto it. Item 2 deals with research, the main form of work, while items 3 and 4 deal with information service and computer work. Item 5 deals with "developmental projects," while items 1 and 6 are administrative rather than related to on-going projects. Chiefs are required to report about "projects" within their respective areas of responsibility. Since general categories of the type "The activities and the projects of the Information Service (Anita)" are used, hearers know they are going to get a general overview of all events that are administratively speaking important in the House. Thus, this meeting was designed to survey the House's on-going work in a comprehensive manner. When managers arrived at item 6, they got an overview of all on-going House projects, as defined by the main planning documents. When they reached the end of the agenda, they had collaboratively provided themselves with a shared, encompassing vision of House affairs.

Table 2: An Agenda for a Formal Meeting
# 4/1995

  1. The use of apportionment and budget follow-up (Petri)
  2. Research groups (Maria, Mikko, Karita)
    • progress in projects and results objectives
    • proposals related to the execution of projects
  3. The activities and the projects of the Information Service (Anita)
    • SUPERMAN: among other things the results of the marketing campaign
    • developmental needs of publications
    • the preparation phase of year books etc. (Research & Practice, the trade research group)
    • information service plans and matters related to the library and its reading room
    • other developmental targets (INTERNET)
  4. The activities and projects of Information management (Petri)
    • developmental projects of administrative services
    • information management's developmental needs and plans dealing with purchases
  5. Other projects and on-going projects (Karita)
    • the developmental plans of the organization
    • Nordic cooperation
    • the proposals of the focus group project group
    • the results of video analysis; preliminary plans dealing with the methods experiment
    • pay negotiation work group
  6. Matters for the Board
    • sectoral research institute study; possible opinion statement or statements
    • the HRI's*) developmental needs and prerequisites for international cooperation
    • other
  7. Service engagements and customer protection
    • activity proposals from the HRI's point of view
  8. Other

*Refers to the "Housing Research Institute."

To see how this agenda was used in practice, we need to look at the interaction between the chair and chiefs. In particular, the role of plans is of interest here: plans were introduced in talk by the chief; they were not called forth in the agenda. The transition to talk based on plans was usually done using "agenda-setting questions." The form of this turn is important in that it specifies the way in which interaction is to ensue in some particular meeting.

Example 2 gives the transition to reports on research as it took place at a managerial group meeting in May. Prior to this turn, there has been a fifteen-minute off-the-record strategic discussion that dealt with assumed cutbacks in the House budget for the fiscal year 1996. The chair then moves the meeting from a prior topic to research groups in lines 2-19. She first marks the transition in lines 2-3, and sets up a new focus of attention in line 4 by taking up "our own work." Then she proposes a more specific new topic ("research groups," line 5). After a pause, she selects Maria and Mikko as targets of her talk, and after another pause, specifies a question for these two. (Original Finnish transcripts and word-by-word translations are available on request from the author).

Example 2:. [Tape 05/30/95 1(2) A:1 & B:1-]
3 (PRO-) A LITTLE EH::: (1.5) INTERNAL affairs and (0.3)
4 k-KHR:: (0.7) our own work;. These are important
5 things too (1.2) Shall [we begin with] research groups
6 (2.2)
7 K.hhh Maria Mikko,
8 (1.7)
9 KJust briefly how does it #loo:k# like if we
10 look at this year's action plan and
11 the requirements set for the (0.4)
12 research groups h .hhhhhhh
13 (0.3)
14 K ->How, (.) According to research chiefs'
15 (3.2)
16 K ->view, How
17 (0.3)
18 MiHHH[HHhhh
19 K -> [has the year gone so far?
20 (1.1)
21 Ma*Shall I: begin then*
22 Km:m?
23 (3.0)

The chair's question calls for a review of research from the two research chiefs. Any other action by any (other) member would be noticeable and accountable after her turn (see Heritage 1983). However, this question does more specific work as well. It also proposes a certain frame to be used by chiefs in their review. Specifically, in lines 10 and 11, the Director asks the chiefs to compare action to "this year's plans" and "requirements for research groups" (set in plans). Her turn structures the subsequent interaction: her question is followed by two strings of reports about research. In these strings of reports, the two research chiefs go through the work in their groups. In doing this review, they compare each project to what was stated in the plans.

The research chiefs whose reports followed Karita's elicitation turn used the annual plan's project lists and categories (see Example 1) as a memory aid throughout the meeting. They went through the work they were responsible for research group by research group and project by project in the same order in which research groups and projects were in the House plans. The House managers' reports about work typically take the following form. In Example 3, Maria reports to the managerial team about two studies that are about to be finished (see line 2). "Interest loans" in line 2 refers to government-supported low-interest loans granted to people who have difficulties paying back their loans. In doing this evaluation, she names the researchers in question, and notes that they "proceed as planned" (in line 4).

Example 3: [Tape 5/30/95, 58-63]
1 MaUnderstandable and well?, (1.8) then we have mhhhh
2 finished these interest loans and (0.4) this debt settlement
3 and voluntary settlement systems [studies] That is Maria's
4 ->and (0.3) Ira's projects proceed as planned and
5 manuscripts are (coming) *here* (0.9)
6 this June?

In this excerpt, Maria first compares two projects to the plans and finds that both projects are doing fine on the terms laid down by the plans (see line 4). She further notes that manuscripts are to come out soon from both projects. Importantly, no problems are reported. Hearing this report, her recipients learn that both projects are doing fine, and no further attention is needed (at least this is what the secretary wrote down [managerial group minutes 5/30/95, p.3]).

The following case shows that these comparisons are used by members to evaluate non-research projects as well as research. Here Petri, the computer chief, reports about a House product. Since we are dealing with a software product here, I will call it "SHOE," after a comic strip character, a (bird) journalist who keeps having trouble with his computer (this pseudonym is chosen to reflect humor in software product names). SHOE is designed to assist housebuyers in calculating the costs of their mortgage loans. Its main customers are housing authorities in some non-governmental institutions and in municipalities. Petri had been in charge of the development of SHOE 5.0, which has encountered some unexpected incompatibility problems, partly due to changes in the operating system (Windows) and the spreadsheet upon which it was built (Excel).

Example 4: [Tape 05/30/95 2(2) B:11, 2-14]
1 (0.3)
2 Petri, (.) the data management unit
3 (1.3)
4 PWell okay I'll go through (.) *this* (0.4) list quickly
5 thru (0.2) There is Shoe, (0.7) here, (1.9)
6 ->[it] proceeds (with trouble), (.) In the Annual plan
7 ->[there is] (0.8) the polishing of the new the version
8 ->of Shoe (.) (We have) decided that it is ready now.
9 (0.7)
10 PThere are so- in some machines there are, (1.2)
11 in some places< Shoe (causes-) (.) trouble but, (2.0)
12Since \we can't put our fingers on the problem
14 (1.2)
15 KWe can't figure it o[ut,          v e r s i o n ] 5 of Shoe
16 P                              [We can't figure it out]
17 Kis on the mar*ke#t,#*

Again, there is more than one evaluative item. The first one is in line 6, where Petri says that "[it] proceeds (with trouble)". This evaluation already forecasts problems, but does not detail them exactly. The second one is also in lines 6 and 7, where Petri notes that the annual plan promises that SHOE 5.0 will come out. By the end of line 7, his turn implies that the project will come out as promised in the annual plan, but that there are some as yet unspecified problems. Finally, the third evaluation, saying that SHOE "is... ready," is in line 8. This item positions the project as being at the very end of its life course, which does not project further work. However, there are items that indicate problems in this picture as well. The first such item was the description of "problems" embedded in the first evaluation. Secondly, Petri does not just say that SHOE is finished. Instead, he says that it has been "concluded," that it is ready (line 8). Third, there are qualifications in line 8 ("(We have) decided now that it is ready"). Finally, when Petri does not receive comments from others (line 9), he explains what the "problems" mentioned earlier mean (lines 10 to 12). This explanation also accounts for why it has been "concluded" that the project is finished: there are problems, but because they cannot be solved, and the markets are waiting, some shortcomings have to be accepted.2

Plans, Evaluation, and Accountability

As noted earlier, plans may not just be used by members to provide a sense of coherence over the affairs of the workplace. While making the workplace affairs observable and reportable through plans, managers simultaneously studied whether things were taking place as planned. What is at stake here is not just that interaction and perception may have grounds in plans, but also that the way in which workers are held accountable at the workplace is simultaneously based on plans. The following two cases first show how plans are linked to accountability at the workplace, i.e. how members can be held accountable for certain outcomes outlined in plans. Secondly, they show that plans are a resource for managers' joint reasoning rather than a structural ground that automatically leads managers to view and evaluate action in certain ways.

In Example 5, Maria refers to plans in making an evaluation. Note that the contractual nature of plans becomes apparent in the very first words of her report. It appears that she is treating plans as a set of promises (lines 3 to 7). Then she proceeds to mention that one project aside, every other project is doing fine. The project that is not doing well is then specifically examined as a potentially troublesome case. I will come back to what Maria does after she has done her evaluation (->) immediately after presenting her report and the ensuing interaction. Her explanation for why Marketta was late is marked with another kind of arrow (=>).

Example 5: [Tape 05/30/95 1(2) A:1-; B:1, 35-58]
1 Ma...cansay about (.) .hhh (This) home management (.)
2 I just (.hhh) grounded it by looking at our
3 plan and (these) single projects [to find out] where
4 we are going and h (.hhh) and in my opinion kinda, (.)
5 what's been said to be finished this year,
6 (1.0) this year (.) #e:#=it looks, (0.8) looks like
7 these< Here are six, (.) six [pieces of] hair, (.)
8 ->under "will be finished", (0.9) and well [there's] only
9 ->one that seemingly won't, (0.7) won't stay on schedule
10 ->and it is Marke#tta's, (0.) work, (0.2) but. (0.2)
11 Marketta's, (.) continu- continuance study concerning
12 =>(these) (.) info signs,=But on the other hand
13 =>Marketta has had this development work, of the
14 Km:m?
15 Ma=>study pa*nel,#* (0.5) and all other,h (1.2)
16 =>sorts of h (0.2) odd jobs t[o which ( )
17 K                                               [[General proj[ects
18 Mi                                                                         [Marketta has
19 Ma                                                                           [Genera-
20 Mi[put the] downstairs <into [a [good] condi#ion#>
21 Ma[general ]                            [
22 K                                             [Yes=
23 Ma=yea
24 (0.8)
25 MaSo so it is [I think sorta the only [one] that I fully]
26 K                   [Anecessary quick a s s i g n *m e n t* ]
27 Maful[ly understandable
28      [((?))
29 (1.1)
30 MaUnderstandable and well?,
31 (1.8)

In lines 2 to 4, Maria frames the way in which she has come to her evaluations. She first tells them that prior to the meeting, she has gone through work formally under her managerial powers, and has compared it to the plans, which are thus explicitly introduced as grounds for the forthcoming evaluation in this excerpt. Then she proceeds to an evaluation that targets all work underneath the plan's category "will be finished" (line 5). This procedure produces her first collective evaluation, "what's been said to be finished this year... only one that seemingly won't, (0.7) won't stay on schedule" in lines 5 to 9. Notice though that by saying "only one," Maria makes it clear that other projects are proceeding as they are said to proceed in the plans. Notice also that this evaluation is placed into an utterance that locates the items to come in one class of projects, those that "will be finished": since only one project has not stayed on schedule, the problem is minor and unique among this group of projects. Positioned this way, the (research) group gets a positive account at the outset, while the only project in trouble gets highlighted.

Then, in lines 8 to 12, she gets to an evaluation of Marketta's ill-fated project. First she specifies the sense in which there is a problem in this project, which is that it has not stayed on schedule (line 9). Then she identifies the troubled case by naming the researcher who is responsible for this project, Marketta (lines 10 and 11). Next she proceeds to an explanation of the reasons that explain the problem. In lines 12 to 16, Maria gives an account of why this particular project is going to be late. The reasons for Marketta's being late are other assignments, "the developmental work of the study panel" and "other odd jobs" that have taken her time. Although her project is overdue, she cannot be held responsible for the current situation because her "being late" is effectively accounted for. Since there are good organizational reasons for her being late, her action is given a "secondarily elaborative" treatment (see Heritage 1989: 115-120) by Maria, Mikko and Karita that show that it was not her fault that she is late. Accordingly, she cannot be held accountable for this specific delay.3

Example 6 shows how House managers could arrive at an intention to take corrective action. The project in question, ordered and run by the Council of State, was lagging, with little hope of being finished in the forthcoming months. The reason for delay was that since the researcher, Johanna, was tied to that project, she could not work on her own (planned) work, thus endangering the objectives of her research group (lines 12-19). The trouble was not that Johanna was working in a ministry-run project; rather, the problem was that she was planning to delay publishing her work for more than a year. Furthermore, she had made non-scientific arguments to defend her plans.

Johanna's plans were known because Anita had discussed them with her a few days ago. After Mikko introduced the project into talk, Anita intervened, and went on to tell about her discussion with Johanna, and what she had learned from her plans (this story is too long to be reported here). Immediately after her story, Karita and Mikko conclude that they have to take action to make sure that Johanna's project would not be late (lines 1-16). Anita's story has made it apparent that Johanna's plans for the future will not promise to improve the situation. To correct the situation, Karita and Mikko decided to go to the ministry to talk about the project with an administrator, Joki, who was responsible for this state of affairs (lines 1-10).

Example 6: [A 05/30/95:1 1(2) B:2, 404-413] (detail)
1 K ->     [.hh Well WE've [well (.) we surely have
2 Mi?                         [(hm:::)
3 K ->have to talk with Mikko[ to Joki ab]out
4 Mi->                              [#We M u s t#]
5 K ->*what well ab[out   [(this) what we
6 Mi->                              [#We must# think about
7 ?                              [(*mh hmh*)
8 K ->[have in plan]
9 Mi->[(what) we're g]oing to do with [h#e[:r#]
10 K                              [Y e[ a ] th]at's true
11 A                                        [*m m* ]
12 K(.) [that's true and in ALl< M:ny things are
13 A       [*(And there's then)*
14 K(.) marked in (0.2) Johanna's integration research
15.hhhh group she has not done anything for #them#
16 MiNo (.) [(she has]n't)
17 K          [#s:# so ] so that (0.2) everything depends
18on Anna in that regard *how Anna's (.) #work,#*
19(0.2) (.hh) goes forward in the future

This example shows one way in which evaluative action and the House planning process can be interwoven: negative evaluations show that there is a threat to the House program (lines 12-19). When managers note that action does not follow the route laid down in the plans, their observation may prompt a discussion whether some kind of corrective managerial action is needed. However, whether such managerial intention arises depends on how managers treat each others' actions and formulate their collective opinion. In this example, such intention was observably shared by several members of the managerial team.

These examples shows that in the final analysis what is at stake is accountability rather than plans (or schedules) as such. In both cases, plans are treated as yardsticks against which action is analyzed. Plans are treated by managers as promises against which action can be compared. If someone's work does not proceed according to plan, his actions are analyzed by managers to see why this is the case. Occasionally, as in Example 5, this analysis leads to an acquittal (to borrow a legal term). Occasionally, as in Example 6, managers' analysis may lead to the conclusion that the target is for some reason responsible for this trouble. If that is the case, additional concerns may be raised. For example, the managerial group may venture into talking about how to get the project back onto the normal track. In meetings of this type, accountability issues are deeply interwoven with plans that form the background pattern (see Garfinkel 1967: 78) against which such accountability issues are made observable (see also see Heritage 1987: 235).

The Interactional Treatment of Plans by House Managers

So far, we have seen how House managers use plans to review and evaluate work in the House. In doing an evaluation, managers formulate and make public their stance towards some piece of work. Their evaluative turns make several subsequent actions possible, depending on the type of the evaluative turn. These subsequent actions, in turn, are crucial in terms of how the overall managerial opinion comes to be formulated. Examples 5 and 6 represent extreme cases in this respect: in Example 5, there was an acquittal, while talk in Example 6 led to an intention to take corrective action instead. This differential treatment leads us to the next question: what is the role of interaction in formulating a joint managerial opinion?

This issue leads us to a closer analysis of turns that follow the evaluative turn. Three cases must be distinguished. In Example 6, a negative evaluation was followed by aligning negative turns. In that example, the overall managerial evaluation comes to be negative, and provided a ground for a managerial intention to take action. If no alternative opinions challenge this criticism, managers may observe that corrective action is not only justified, but in fact necessary. However, recipients of an evaluation may also turn managerial inquiry away from this critical direction. If this is the case, the turn that follows the evaluation formulates an alternative view of the situation, and provides subsequent speakers with a possibility to align with this alternative. It also shows that there are different ways of seeing the situation, and that a disagreement with the original negative evaluation does not remain an act of an isolated individual (see Asch 1955; Eder and Enke 1991). This kind of turn thus changes the social psychology of the on-going situation. Finally, there is a complication to this second pattern. In House meetings, there are cases in which no recipient action takes place at all. If this is the case, it is up to the speaker to infer how others relate to her on-going reasoning, and formulate this inference in her talk. The way in which subsequent turns are formulated is thus crucial for how managers do their work. Examples 7 and 8 show that plans do not lead managers automatically to certain judgments, but are a resource used in joint reasoning. Plans provide managers with a background for viewing work systematically, but the outcome of their reasoning depends on how they treat the initial evaluation in interaction.

In Example 7, Maria first voices a negative evaluation. Just before the transcript begins, she has identified one research group, and noted that this group is doing fine. In lines 2-3 of the transcript, she notes that even though all projects in the group are progressing, only one discussion paper is coming out from the group (lines 4-7), and goes on to ask Anita about its status, since Anita is responsible for publications (lines 7-8). Next Karita notes that this particular paper is an exception (it was written several years ago, and finished only recently), and Maria aligns with her (lines 9-17). At this point, it appears that the initially positive evaluation is taking a darker turn: this research group begins to look unproductive.

Example 7: [A 05/30/95 1(2) A:1 & B:1, 229-235]
1 Ma [Oh yea] so that, (.) it's
2 Kati Koivu and (0.2) she is doing that norm guidance
3 *eh* (0.6) together with the Turku people (1.2)
4 and and (2.2) In my opinion all these projects
5 are progressing (but) nothing is (.) getting
6 finished from it now, (1.2) there's this
7 discussion #pap#er,h (0.8) *where's that now*
8 (0.2) [it's] in print ]
9 K      [Yea ]it isn't rea-] W- which is a bit sort
10 A      [mm ]
11 Kof differ: differ:=
12 Ma=It it of a different [sort yes it is]
13 K            [It starts from] a
14different [starting
15 Ma          [>It is a bit
16 K[(p o # i n t#.) ]
17 Ma[sort of those back]gr[ound< yes it doe-
18 K ->            [But you've got to remember
19 ->that (0.7) this res- group has begun only *at the
20 ->end of* last Su#mmer a:nd a:nd# an- [in=fact
21 Ma                                        &nbs p; [(yea/mm)
22 K ->Sonja has (.) as *a main rule been involved in
23 ->totally* other, (.) projects #so that we[ll#]
24 Ma                                        &nbs p; [Oh ] well
25 Son[ja has]
26 K ->    ['s MOR]e like a planni[ng stage *still (0.8)
27 Ma                                [*mm*
28 Kinitiation phase going on,*

However, immediately afterwards, Karita goes on to remind her that there is a bias in her reasoning: this group has only begun its work, and is still in the "planning stage" (lines 18-28). She shows through this turn that for her, Maria's blame is too harsh and unfair to a group that is still in its early phases. Karita's turn simultaneously shows Maria that the whole managerial group is not behind her. She later backs off from the position that was possibly implied in the original evaluation (lines 4-6). Karita's turn manages to thwart a negative trajectory made possible by Maria (compare to Eder and Enke 1991 on gossip).4

In Example 7, two members reason openly together. Often in formal meetings, recipients stay quiet (see Boden 1994: 143, 239), and it is the speaker's job to infer what the recipient silence means, and how to formulate this inference. In Example 8, Erika is a permanent researcher in the House. There is an identification in lines 2 and 3. Since this example takes place immediately after a case in which it was said that two projects were "proceeding as planned," Erika's project is depicted in a positive manner up to the middle of line 3 because of the way in which Maria begins her report about Erika. When Maria opens her report about Erika with "in the same way then," she formulates an initial background understanding that Erika's project is also proceeding "as planned." Initially, then, recipients are led to see Erika's project in unproblematic terms.

Example 8: [A 05/30/95 1(2) A:1 & B:1, 63-76]
1 Mathis June? (0.9) And in the same way then
2 in her own work about this cleaning Erika has
3 eh, (.) has giv[en me one sort of very rough,
4 ?                  [HHHHH
5 Ma(0.7) rough manuscript, (she's been) (polishing) it
6 for commentators. It is [still [going to take more
7 ?                  [((back[ground noise))
8 ?                        [(uhm)
9 Ma *#time with Erika# before it (comes out)* (0.8)
10 Since it's an old project (I'd) already like to see
11 ->that it'd be finished *(but)*
12 (1.2)
13 Ma->but perhaps it will (be finished) (0.3) in Fa-
14 ->in early Fa*ll,h*

Although the report begins positively, this footing soon changes. The manuscript offered by Erika is first depicted as "very rough" in lines 3 and 5. Although a manuscript can usually be taken as a signal that a project will likely be finished soon, Maria's description shows that having a manuscript does not necessarily imply a quick finish for this project. Secondly, in lines 6 and 9, she spells out an implication that was implicit in the description of the manuscript as "very rough": this project is still going to take a long time before it is finished. Furthermore, it is not just Erika's time that will be consumed, but Maria's time as well (line 9). Thirdly, in line 10, Maria shows that in her mind, the project should have been finished by now because it is an old project (compare this to Bergmann 1993: 124-125 on gossip). Thus, in her report, Maria has installed several items into her report that show that the project is not as it should be. These items could serve as "baits" that provide opportunities for other participants to show willingness to talk about Erika's difficulties.

Note that she holds several pauses in her talk that could be taken by others as an opportunity to start talking (lines 9 and 12). Both pauses are in places in which she has just completed a syntactic unit, and thus in places in which others could take a turn. However, no one uses her pauses that way, thus providing her with the possibility to continue with her report. The most interesting part of the report is in lines 13-14, where Maria shows her understanding of the project and how she understands her recipients' action during her turn. Here, she ends the report with a hopeful "bright side" formulation (lines 13-14). This closing component does several things here. First, it shows that for her, talk about Erika's work is not warranted anymore (for how optimistic projections close troubles talk, see Jefferson and Lee 1980a appendix, pp. 2-5; Jefferson and Lee 1980b: 38-39; Jefferson 1988: 431-433). Secondly, with it, she shows how she understood the reception of her action: since no one joins her criticism, she backs off. Finally, it closes the report in hopeful terms. The placement of the item is significant in that it provides her recipients with a final summary, which is positive, and does not call forth further talk about whether something ought to be done to Erika's project. After a pause of 1.1 seconds in line 15, in which no recipient takes the turn, she opens up a new report. This episode, then, is a joint construction even though it looks like a monologue in the first place.

Taken together, Examples 5-7 show that plans provide managers with a resource for analyzing work and making evaluations about it. Evaluations formulate how some piece of work is doing in terms of plans. Simultaneously, these examples show that plans are a resource for managerial reasoning rather than a mechanism that automatically directs managerial action in certain directions. Plans organize managerial attention, and provide means for comparing action to the direction found in plans. In the final instance, plans are a method of manager's action. Their usage depends on how managers use them in interaction. In this interaction, managers bring to the fore some implications of prior evaluations and press down other implications. In brief, plans provide a starting point for managers to make observations and judgments about work. Plans are not a mechanical tool that automatically guide managers to inevitable conclusions. Instead, managers treat plans as a practical method for collaborative reasoning.

Conclusions and Discussion

In general, planning in the House took place in an incremental (Braybrooke and Lindblom 1963) rather than in a rational manner (see Banfield 1973; Etzioni 1973). Also, it appears that in their daily activities, House members seldom consulted plans. Rather, it appears that much of the daily work in the House was based on perspectives arising from the immediate sets of tasks rather than from plans (or other formal documents). However, even if House planning could not be described primarily in rational terms, its plans fulfilled other functions (see Cyert and March 1963; Cohen and March 1972). For instance, plans situated the organization within its larger organizational and policy context. Also, it is easy to argue that these plans had symbolic uses. For instance, they were used as advertisements in the House. Plans were always visibly placed next to the main entry, and they formed the main element in an introductory package delivered to newcomers and visitors: they were meant to provide these visitors with their first view of the House.

Rationalistic models of planning suggest that plans give a direction to work, and are a part of social control at the workplace. In this thinking, plans essentially formulate managerial interests and values and situate members onto a grid, which specifies acceptable and non-acceptable courses of action for them. Simultaneously, plans provide managers with a method for finding out deviations from these courses of action (see Edwards 1979; Dornbusch and Scott 1975). Alternative sociological perspectives typically argue against this account, but are in many ways tied to it. Usually, they show that plans articulate more varied values, and have uses and functions that are not deducible from rationalistic principles (for example, Cyert and March 1963; Braybrook and Lindblom 1963). These perspectives contest the idea that plans are based on rationalistic premises. Additionally, these analyses point out various reasons for this situation, including lack of time in managerial work (Mintzberg 1975: 66), uncertainty of future conditions of action, conflict, and multiple, contradictory values (see Mintzberg 1994). However, the analytic logic of these alternative perspectives aims to discover why plans are made if they do not fulfill rationalistic premises. In short, although these analyses identify alternative functions for plans, the actual uses of plans are not studied in these alternative accounts either. To evaluate the merits of these perspectives, we need empirical data of how plans are actually used. This article provides an initial step in this direction.

The problem with these accounts is not that they are wrong. If we look at workplace interactions in detail, it is fairly easy to show evidence that supports each one of these perspectives, as House practices show. The problem, however, lies precisely here. Each of these perspectives systematically highlights only one or at most a few aspects of plans, and builds a theoretical construct on that aspect alone. Perspectives currently found in literature remain partial, and their validity depends on whether we accept their conceptual and theoretical underpinnings. Much disagreement in the literature deals with these underpinnings rather than with the uses of plans that provide sociology with its data (see Zimmerman and Pollner 1970: 99). It is just here that ethnomethodology and conversation analysis is at its strongest. These perspectives offer radically descriptive ways of analyzing action. Through a detailed description of members' methods of action, we get an opportunity to see how society is constituted in the concrete actions of its members. Such understanding provides us with an independent, and a more general comparison point for analyzing arguments in literature. The value of conversation analysis grows largely from such understanding, not from agreement or disagreement with some particular finding.

In an ethnomethodologically-informed article on planning, Dant and Francis (1998) specify ways in which plans formulate various links between an organization and the systems of action in which it is involved, be these within or outside the organization. Their analysis richly shows that plans provide managers with a powerful means for organizing and linking organizational activities together. Their data also shows that members do not pay much attention to plans in their everyday actions. However, their argument needs to be revised at two points. Firstly, their interview data does not allow inferences of how members use plans; interview statements provide an access to members' theories of these uses rather than in-situ uses. Secondly, their analysis focuses on employees rather than on managers, which partly accounts for the major difference in their argument and the one put forth in this paper. Should they have taken a look at managerial uses of plans, they might have found more control-oriented uses for plans. In fact, the very idea that people at work pay little attention to plans points out the importance of studying how managers use plans to keep in control: since managers know that plans are not always followed, they must monitor whether and how they are followed. This observation also points out a topic for further exploration: the issue of accountability, i.e. the way in which both managers and employees take accountability into account in their actions. It seems that plans are a major instrument in creating a set of specific expectations to be followed in organizations, and thus indirectly provide means for retrospectively studying whether action is in line with these expectations. In focusing on these uses, the current analysis takes Dant and Francis's analysis one step further.

This paper has shown that managers use plans in reasoning together about work, and the outcome of evaluation depends not just on plans, but on the results of their reasoning as well. When we look at how plans are used by managers in their activities, we learn that plans provide an important resource for managerial reasoning. This appreciation of interaction is missing from other analyses of the uses of plans. To pay attention to these uses of plans, we do not have to look for what goes on in members' heads. As this article has shown, managers use plans to make sense of and evaluate action in meetings, which are observable occasions. Plans are one element that makes organizational accountability (Button and Sharrock 1998), and thus direction, possible.

House managers face a complex sense-making task when they are making their inquiries concerning House work. Still, as we have seen in this paper, they have a bag of practical ways of resolving the problem of seeing how work is proceeding. Their inquiries into House work take place in and through collaborative reporting activities in meetings, where they use their specific knowledge of their organization as a sense-making resource. Their inquiries are based on specific organizational "technologies" such as House plans. Of course, managers may act on their situated inquiries, and in that way try to direct the same action that they study in their meetings. In any case, House organization is achieved at several levels simultaneously. The coherence of any "organization" is an on-going accomplishment, not an external and constraining "social fact" in the classic Durkheimian sense (see Garfinkel 1967: vii; see also Bittner 1975). As Silverman (1997) has argued, this understanding of organization, based on ethnomethodology, is in contrast with any Durkheimian understanding of the workplace, including Powell and DiMaggio's "new institutionalism" (Powell and DiMaggio 1991). This understanding also elaborates on those analyses that claim that understanding at the workplace is based on several discourses by pointing out the situated and joint quality of discourse.

Finally, this paper contributes to the growing literature on managerial work that looks at the situated qualities of managers' work (see Watson 1994; Boden 1994). Managers are certainly not people who lead the workplace as conductors lead their orchestras. To some extent, they always face a reality in which the direction of work is determined by an "immediate set of technical tasks, with a developing horizon of prior studies," as Lynch (1985: 64) puts the matter. Still, managers are not puppets either, whose strings are held by someone else. If managers have a meansto maintain a coherent view (for practical purposes) of their workplace and things going around it, they are able to work efficiently even though their work pace would be hectic, and consist of brief spurts of action, as Mintzberg (1973) has forcefully maintained. To understand this quality of managerial work, we need to pay detailed attention to what managers do in their practical activities.


Transcription conventions (adapted from Jefferson 1984)
(.)Micropause, or interval of 0.1 second in talk.
(0.4)An interval of 0.4 seconds.
'n [she sa]id
    [But th-]
Overlap begins and ends.
=[[I'm saying
   [[But no::
Utterances start simultaneously.
Wha:tA colon indicates an extension of the sound it follows. Each colon is about 0.1 seconds.
.A period indicates a stopping fall in tone.
, A comma indicates a slight fall in tone.
?A question mark indicates a rising inflection.
?, A combined question mark/comma indicates a slight rising intonation.
;Continuous intonation.
/    \ Rise and fall in intonation
Wha:tUnderlining indicates emphasis.
*what*Quietly, or in whisper.
hhh .hhh .nhhOutbreath, inbreath, and inbreath through nose respectively. Each "h" is about 0.1 seconds.
(what)(  ) saySingle parentheses indicate transcriber's doubt or best guess.
((door slams))Double parentheses indicate various features of the setting or transcriber's comments.
.mt .pt Click or a smack of tongue, and the same in English.
#that's true#Creaky voice.
@what@Markedly different tone than elsewhere.
$what's that$Laughingly.
W(h)hatWithin words, (h) is a laughter token.
he HEH HEH hahLaughter tokens.
wh-Cutoff of a word.
And th( )<The speaker halts some unit in progress.
>she said<Quickly.


Nely Keinšnen, Ph.D., checked the language of this paper.


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