Do managers think? Is management simply an ideology? What should we teach future managers? How has this increasingly dominative new social group constructed itself over time? How have the scientific and positivist ambitions of management in France developed? These are some of the questions, which inspired this multiannual training programme. Others were addressed to the project’s steering committee, stemming either from established social sciences, or from university administrative sciences.
Since the 1990s, the historical, intellectual and political context has proved to be a powerful catalyst favouring a reflection on the position and concepts behind management in western societies, particularly in Europe and France. It has to be acknowledged that the manager in his current state claims to be capable of organising all collective action, in short, all communal social life. Aided by certain political parties and supported by ideologies wary of the hazards of social life or democracy, it is understandable that management, and some of its denigrators, aspire with efficiency as their objective to replace debates and political methods. Not only this, but management also aims to replace the rules and myths of man and his society, claiming either to be capable of organising their actions and their beliefs or of taking responsibility for their experiments, their faults or their errors, in other words, accepting, or even acting in favour of a practical and economical form of “inefficiency”.
Without a doubt, never in France or in Europe has management as a way of thinking and organising collective and social action had so much success: management of the family, of education, of the State, of personal relations, of sexuality and much more. Every aspect of individual and communal life, of life within society, seems to need to be studied, evaluated and improved by the grids and the tools of the business world. Specialising in the organisation of collective action and decision, the manager comes across as an expert capable of improving any kind of organisation. As a field of expertise which is based on practical experience or scientific grounding, management offers effective and legitimate theoretical and practical knowledge to all.
After promoting his experience and his knowledge of « real » civic life in the United States, the company manager offers to come to the assistance of politicians in France, who in his eyes are entangled in seemingly futile and costly quarrels. At this point, strategy or innovation consultancy firms are sought out to help resolve the imbalances of the public accounts and to facilitate the writing of a candidate’s political programme and speeches in the presidential elections. Some would therefore present management as a new cure for the so-called limits of democracy [de Gaulejac, La société malade de la gestion. Idéologie gestionnaire, pouvoir managérial et harcèlement social, Paris, Seuil, coll. « points », 2009.]. Accordingly, a vast number of actors rely on management and administration in their economic, social and political projects. As a result, they more or less deliberately blur the possibilities of vigorously analysing this controversial subject. So at the end of the day, this boils down to one question: does managerial thought exist? In other words, does the aim of the PPF really exist?
In the eyes of the classical disciplines of thought (philosophy, humanities), the answer is almost final: a managerial way of thinking does not exist because the actors, the aims or the methods are too much a part of the research into useful and operational plans of action. Only abstract fields of discipline as well as out of context and useless knowledge qualify as ways of thinking. Management, at least in terms of its academic component, sees itself reduced here to a form of rhetoric, a doctrine, or even an ideology intended to legitimize dominative practices or the capitalist economic system. As an example, the much older disciplines such as history or sociology question management’s scientific ambition by highlighting the weakness of its methodological system, of its critical apparatus and of the results put forward. Finally, the promoters of management, particularly Anglo-Saxons, are criticised for their desire to develop technologies or practices with a universal vocation, which would be applicable in their current form to any cultural, political or economical context. In this respect, from the public’s point of view, the consultants represent a form of social arrogance or of technological and cultural imperialism[McKenna, The World’s Newest Profession. Management Consulting in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge (Mass.), CUP, 2006; Kipping et Engwall, Management Consulting. Emergence and Dynamics of a Knowledge Industry, Oxford, OUP, 2005.]. Studying management even from a distance means that some, such as the classical social sciences, risk granting the capitalist system recognition. For others on the other hand, the managers or the academic environments within management, any objective and critical analysis would be inconvenient because, above all, management must serve in the interest of businesses. However, it must be acknowledged that the history of management techniques and managerial models is well-paced by what historians call revolutions and scansions. Such a process creates periods marked by the domination of certain practices or by representations following the example of the different industrial revolutions. Reflecting on the stages of management and its evolution should contribute to specifying the temporalities and the modes of passing from the proto-industrial firm to the modern capitalistic firm.
Essentially, management can be seen as the ultimate science of capitalism, the bearer of modernity, perceived to be a dehumanisation of social and human relations. In short, the vehicle for another step towards an increasingly artificial world, another stage in what Kant sees as characterising modernity, that is, the separation of modern man’s obligation to exist from that of having to exist[Dumont, Essai sur l’individualisme. Une perspective anthropologique sur l’idéologie moderne, Paris, Edition du Seuil, coll. « Points », réed. 1991.]. It is true that by defining organisational sciences as project and artificial H. Simon seems to confirm this criticism as well as emphasising the ideological basis of management. Conceived aside from all cultural social or historical constraints, management could therefore act universally to improve human organisations. According to some, it appears to have been part of human activities from the pyramids to our modern organisations[Wren, The Evolution of Management Thought, New York, John Wiley, réed, 1994.]. In short, is not management just the final step towards transforming social relations between humans and communities into new kinds of relations, which would bring together “rationalised man-objects” and rationalising men (managers engineers)? The human affect, the disorderly creations or innovations or the uncontrolled social connections are perceived in this context as hazards to be mastered.
The dehumanization of humans – managers or managed – would end up transforming them, as Jean-Pierre Le Goff puts it, into “human eiderdowns”, smoothly controllable by themselves or by others[Le Goff, Le Mythe de l’entreprise. Critique de l’idéologie managériale, Paris, La Découverte, réed. 1995.]. It is in this context that the concept of the PPF was born. The idea was to contribute to previous debates whilst adopting a pragmatic and empirical approach with two simple questions as a starting point: what do these managers do and what does the field of management cover?
A typical definition sees management as an activity, which plans and sees through collective actions. In short, echoing F. Braudel’s excellent definition, the role of managers is firstly to valorise the assets of others[Braudel, L’identité de la France, Paris, Flammarion, coll. « Champs », t. II et t. III, Les hommes et les choses, réed. 1999.]. However, it also relies on the learning and the putting into practice of technical and practical knowledge, both of which undoubtedly have in common the idea of speaking in order to do something or to make something be done. After all, one of the central tasks of the manager – whatever his rank – is to diagnose and to express problems in order to shape them into rules of organisation or into effective procedures.
One could evidently discuss the ideological or economical orientation of the consequences of managers’ actions. One could justifiably highlight that this shaping of collective action existed well before the big businesses of the 19th century. One could object that other fields of human activity preoccupied themselves with the organisation of collective action or work, such as politics, agriculture, the first States or the Church. Nevertheless, the fact remains that at one point and place in modern history – in the decade of 1970 in England – a new way of observing and analysing human activity emerged. Consequently, a new category of individuals called itself “managers” or “administrators”. Then the time came to analyse practices and teaching. Step by step, a new discipline fought for its legitimacy alongside the first social sciences, economics, sociology, and political sciences. New teaching and learning institutions appeared, lessons were organised, and demand increased for teaching positions within this field. An administrative language emerged, either opposing or relying on economy, law or diverse techniques and practices of administration (accountancy, finance, commerce, payroll management...). Eventually, a field of research, along with knowledge and humans settled into the social, economical and political sector of the contemporary world. Yet despite this, they remain an object of research which is still insufficiently studied by history. One of the tasks which the animators of the PPF assigned to themselves was to initiate a systematic study of such knowledge, of the techniques or ways of acquiring information, of the places where it can be gained, without forgetting the way in which it is assessed and diffused.
It was initially in 19th century Great Britain that this new way of describing and organising the World began to be systematized. Yet, as J. Piaget says when discussing the emergence of logical thought in the child’s mind, to organise the World[Piaget, Six études de psychologie, Paris, Gallimard, Folio, 1987, p. 112.], a measuring device is needed. The PPF offers to lay the groundwork for a study on how this new way of thinking – and not just the practices – was established. In effect, questions of organisation and administration existed well before their conceptualisation.
Subsequently, new problems gradually arose: how would this new field of practice and knowledge deal with older questions concerning the organisation of the collective actions and institutions which sustained them? How would it renew the focus on subjects that have already been studied for a long time by older scientific disciplines and practices, also dealing with organisation and the efficiency of collective action (hard science for example)? How would it find its place in the development of social sciences which is subject to change from one day to the next? In a different but complementary way, how would language and administrative preoccupations enter into debates and practices? In return, the way in which they were received by the economic, political and academic environment in France and abroad needed to be assessed. The cultural and geographical origins of the models as well as the knowledge and practices used in France were rapidly called into question. The question of how to translate and to adapt to the local context immediately followed. Responding to these points should contribute to the generic question of how administrative practices are culturally shaped, when faced with certain people’s universalist ambitions to render techniques and models applicable to all kinds of businesses or economic, political or social contexts. Pursuing this issue further allows us, for example, to understand the resistance of the French context or German management to Anglo-Saxon, or more precisely American, management. In such conditions, the bias of the PPF aims to the greatest possible extent to include in the study of the diffusion and the adaptation of managerial models and techniques a detour. Even if it is merely a small one, this detour allows us to bypass the history of cultures and imperialisms. How does one then go about dealing with the entirety of these issues or at least confront the first concerns?
The reader will now be aware of the programme’s initial postulate that managerial thought certainly exists, but only when the meaning given to this term is agreed upon. It is not the case here, as it is for the ever-present positivist tradition in the field of administrative science, to set out before any kind of study the ideal criteria for what management could – or should – be. Only when the “objective” milestones are in place, is it possible to establish a way of thinking and concepts which unquestionably pertain to the field of management. The entire process can then be legitimised by methods inspired by a certain vision of some of the “hard” sciences, such as physics or mathematics. In contrast, the PPF does not aim to define a list of criteria in abstracto and to suggest which practices, subjects, actors or institutions deserve to be studied or, on the contrary, to be subsequently excluded. Accordingly, one should reject the idea that management is in charge of all organisational matters so as to become as it were a new social science. On the other hand, by analysing the history and growth of the discipline, the PPF aims to delimit management – in the wider sense of the term – even if it is only in the way in which the PPF’s actors and partisans talk about it and construct its boundaries. It is a question of rediscovering the origins of these actors, recounting how speeches emerged, or locating the places and the moments when certain people defined words, claimed a new sense of belonging, constructed institutions or networks, or even intervened in societies’ debates, all for the sake of management.
The idea that only management specialists – practitioners or academics – are in a position to talk about and to define their field of expertise goes against the intellectual stance of the PPF, which situates itself in the multidisciplinary tradition of the “Ecole des Annales”. The complexity of the subject and the vast number of actors and institutions mean that the spectrum can be widened. This explains why the regrouped texts stem from such a large number of disciplines. However, in order to progress, it is necessary to lay the foundations for an initial, still relatively modest, delimitation of what management is.
An initial definition of management:
In the first place, management is a field of human activity which simultaneously regroups a collection of doctrines and theories – in other words, a way of thinking – practices, technologies and tools. Almost immediately a first set of problems confront the researcher, the practitioner or the teacher. What is the aim of managerial thought? What is the relationship between practices and ways of thinking? As other disciplines such as sociology of work and ergonomics have already provided answers to such questions, one need only apply them to management. From this point of view, the journey of management and its first actors is enlightening.
Beginning with the practical side, the actors, then the first teachers in what was then still called the science of business and organisation, have since attempted to promote the local and the singular to the level of general knowledge. It is this course that needs to be located and pursued. The history of discourses and practices, of ambiguities and tensions should enable the construction of successive indicators along the winding and forked path followed by this field. This epistemological and methodological choice seems interesting in two ways. For social science, history is part of the laboratory that constitutes the World. In terms of management, history allows a reflexive return to managerial practices and a reconstruction of how the managerial way of thinking may have existed. Historical perspective presents us with three possibilities. Firstly, the possibility of analysing practices for what they are, even before the emergence of a managerial thought which is conscious of itself. Secondly, that of understanding how the managerial way of thinking was constructed from practices, and what kind of complex relationships were maintained by these two fields. Finally, that of studying the construction and the possible diffusion of the local and national managerial models. From this point of view, the PPF is a first attempt simply because no other work has of yet enquired into the history of managerial thought and practices in France.
In total, around 50 contributors are presented here. The project is also a first experiment because those responsible for it have chosen to publish their work online, thus opening up possibilities to enlarge this initial circle of contributors and to create a place for an interactive dialogue on these questions. This publication concludes a programme which has given rise to several scientific events. In December 2008, a study day grouped more than 40 teachers and researchers together from disciplines varying from history, to ergonomics, sociology, economics, administrative science and agronomics. In December 2010, a symposium was held in Oxford, supported by the CNRS and the Maison Française d’Oxford. It made numerous exchanges between UK-based or American colleagues possible. The result issuing from the combination of these contributions can be found online today.
What is the aim of managerial thinking? Is it as specific as some suggest? Which concepts and trends became part of the production and diffusion of a possible managerial way of thinking as history progressed and how did they do this? Which actors were triggers? Through which communication networks or institutions (schools, parties, professional or categorical organisations) were they diffused? This step seems essential before presenting another of the PPF’s objectives: the demand or the quest for a unified and scientific conception of the managerial way of thinking.
What characterises the history of managerial thinking is the existence of a large number of sources for the ideas and doctrines of this field. This renders the task of the researcher delicate but also fascinating in terms of the multitude of sources, actors and disciplines that are available for analysis and investigation. Thanks to the first inventory of all sources in France, five can be distinguished:
1) The history of business, of the State and of public managers. Studying the birth of a distanced and generalised managerial way of thinking is unavoidably linked to studying the development of a business as an organised and money-making entity. This analysis must also take into account the principles and the practices of managerial doctrines which are born into the sphere of public action. From this perspective, the PPF incorporates itself into the works of a series of historians or researchers in social science who have taken an interest in businesses or public organisations. As early as 1962, A. Chandler analysed the rapid expansion of large capitalist businesses and proposed a managerial theory regarding the concomitant evolution of their structures and their strategies (see for example the Revue Française de Gestion 1988/2008 case and the journal Entreprises et Histoire).
2) The history of private managers. An initial question has served as a basis to the reflections of the PPF participants: why, following the industrial revolution in the West, did a group of actors decide to campaign for a new social identity with a new name: administrator/ manager? In his last piece of work, F. Braudel had suggested a general definition for these first administrators or managers[L’identité de la France, 3 T., Paris, Flammarion, coll. « Champs », 1999.]: they were both administrators of others’ capital (as well as their own) and organisers of businesses. Although this definition helps to make some progress, it immediately calls into consideration the sociological aspects of the managerial way of thinking. Yet it is through the important position occupied by the engineer in the production of managerial knowledge that France distinguishes itself. So, what then are the sociological foundations of managerial thought? Several parts of a still incomplete answer enable us to take steps forward. Like other groups elsewhere or belonging to other time periods, this specific social group decided at certain moments in history to come together and to present itself with a particular identity. By analogy, as research into political or historical sciences has shown, a methodological parallel can be drawn with the way in which the emergence of the “intellectual” profession was analysed at the time of the Dreyfus affair[Ory et Sirinelli, Les intellectuels en France : de l’affaire Dreyfus à nos jours, Paris, Perrin, 2004.]. This offers specifications in terms of the jobs and social competences (engineer, landlord, entrepreneur, and financier). As Sinclair describes in Babbit, the manager attempts to distinguish himself through his way of life and his social and doctrinal representations, both in regards to the workers and the big managers or the business owners. Like the Rubber Barons scorned by the WASP on the Eastern coast of the United States and vilified by public opinion, he frequents and develops institutions which reproduce his value and his culture at the risk of resembling an upstart.
3) The history at the disposition of managerial discourse. Following the example of other ways of thinking, studying management necessitatesan analysis of the way in which it expresses itself in spoken or written speeches. As an example, the history of the economic planning of Shell[Grant, « Strategic Planning in a turbulent Environment : Evidence frome the Oil Majors », Strategic Management Journal, vol. 24, n°6 (june 2003), pp. 491-517.] had an important impact on strategic planning theories[Berry, Une technologie invisible ? L’impact des instruments de gestion sur l’évolution des systèmes humains, Paris, Publications CRG-École Polytechnique, 1983.]. However, it is also essential to take an interest in researcher’s and consultant’s views about management. These stories are not history. Above all, such speeches are instrumental for managerial conviction purposes. They are witnesses to the objectification process of managerial knowledge. Some examples of this will be given in this book.
4) The history of techniques or managerial tools. It is impossible to reduce the concept of management to solely the construction and application of tools or techniques. One must therefore take into account the fact that the managerial way of thinking aims to define and to put into practice techniques and tools presumed to be effective in collective action. This often constitutes a starting point for those aiming to transfer practices to clients or to other sectors of the economy, in other words to generalise. As a result, uncovering the history of this technology gradually leads to an investigation of the actors and the discourses, which shape the search for recognition. Yet one must be wary of making impulsive and systematic generalisations. The strategy adopted here has consisted firstly in presenting the history of certain administrative tools in order to then place the groundwork for a better understanding of the origins and the diffusion of such tools. These studies merge with research into what can now be called a French historical trend which analyses the control of administration[Cf. pioneers studies de Lemarchand, Nikitin, Colasse ou Zimnovitch.].
5) The history of managerial or administrative disciplines. Understanding the managerial way of thinking means comprehending how this field constructed itself and how it gradually organised the production and diffusion of knowledge, particularly in the academic world. From this perspective, the PPF presents a fragmented view of the administrative disciples in France (marketing, HRM, finance...). However, this was not the objective. Research into these questions already exists in France and elsewhere[Cochoy, Une histoire du Marketing. Discipliner l’économie de marché, Paris, La découverte, 1999.]. Management is a discipline which is a lot younger than economics, formed from as early as the 18th century. In France, management individualised and established itself as a discipline taught in business schools at the end of the 19th century and more specifically at the end of the 1950s and then in universities in the 1970s. These multiple sources do not facilitate the study of the potential existence of a way of thinking in management. In itself, this question is cause for debate and has been debated on during the workings of the PPF.
Since the 19th century, managerial theory has gradually been established in order to solve practical problems[Hatchuel : « Quel horizon pour les sciences de gestion ? vers une théorie de l’action collective », in David, Hatchuel, Laufer, Les nouvelles fondations des sciences de gestion. Eléments d’épistémologie de la recherche en management, Paris, Vuibert, 2002.]. The history of managerial ways of thinking can therefore also be defined as the history of theories which were created from managerial practices. The “practices” are defined as the elements which make up a community of thought and action in response to the problems encountered in and by organisations. These practices can constitute in themselves a cooperate culture[Godelier, La culture d’entreprise, Paris, La découverte, 2006.]. We can therefore put forward the idea that management is characterised by a particular form of epistemological division between theory and practice. In this case, the production of the theories, that it to say the formulation of the general terms (which surpass a specific context) and the recurrent terms (valid at different moments in time) cannot be disassociated from the practices. It is therefore necessary to also study the stages and the content of this generalisation process even if some of its elements are already well-known.
Concrete problems or mere actions do not create a managerial way of thinking: it is when they are analysed, put into perspective through researchers’ and practitioners’ debates, that history is made. For some researchers, the existence of administrative practices, which do not produce discourses and theories, denies the existence of managerial thinking. Generally speaking, the study by practitioners of administrative practices without analysis, without the adoption of a historical stance and without the production of discourses and theories can never establish a managerial way of thinking. The managerial way of thinking only systematically emerged when practitioners like Taylor and Fayol induced administrative theories based on their own experiences at the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, they produced discourses, which were sufficiently general and recurrent to surpass the context and the cases, which created them, and to be widely diffused. A managerial “way of thinking” implies a capacity to conceptualise, to progress from the practical to the theoretical, and to be named science, technology or praxeology. However, administration has been practiced for a long time on the field. The layout of religious abbeys in the Middle Ages, the workshops of Egyptian potters or the bureaucracy of Mandarin Chinese make use of administrative practices.
If we consider management as a historical subject, we can hypothesise that its institutionalisation called for several conditions:
- it needed to adopt, as A. Hatchuel explains, “a universalist vision of businesses in society” ;
- to surpass specificities and its sector-based origins,
- to construct institutions which allowed for the formation and the diffusion of administrative models: industrialists’ networks, researchers, consultants, schools and universities where public authorities act as means of diffusion and capitalisation of managerial models and also participate in the normalisation, the formation and the standardisation of tools, vocabulary, functions, organisations and practices;
- to install firms, which were, considered to put into practice effective solutions or accurate managerial thoughts as ideal reference points.
From these details ensues the decision in this study to deny management an ontological or universal status, transforming areas of knowledge and practices into a field which has existed since the beginning of time[Wren, The Evolution of Management Thought, New York, John Wiley, 4th ed., 1994.]. We refute the idea that the managerial function is part of “man’s essence”, as a natural function. The historical perspective demonstrates, on the contrary, that management has had to overcome reticence, particularly employers’, to gain recognition in its modern form, but also, that the managerial way of thinking has not always existed. Methodologically and scientifically speaking, this repeatedly forces the researcher to “re-contextualize” the managerial way of thinking and its practices. This is one of the objectives of this book, constituting moreover merely one stage.
The scientific project proposed here is based on the observation that the history of managerial thought is indeed a history which is under construction, meaning two things: on the one hand, it does not currently exist as an academic discipline, where as the history of economical or political ideas is already widely institutionalised. Places of exchange such as the Business History Conference (BHC) in the United States or the annual congress of the European Business History Association (EBHA) have enabled a progression in this direction. Furthermore, as managerial practices develop and innovate, historical research into this field comes up against the rapidity of evolution and the effects of trends linked to the world of management[Garel, Le management de projet, Paris, La découverte 2003 ou Scranton, « Le management de projet : un nouvel objet de l’histoire d’entreprise », Revue Française de Gestion, n°192, mars 2009.]. Pursuing this project involves paying attention to what management is precisely. That implies rebuilding the boundaries between disciplines and activities that are relatively close and often merge with the management. It implies also using specific words. This confusion was seen in some of the developments of economics, engineering sciences or political sciences. Even though this may not be the direct aim of this work, the authors’ contributions assembled here should provide clarification.
It is often believed that management originates from the economic and cultural Anglo-Saxon world. This would explain some of the current managerial representations and practices. However this does not correspond to historical reality.
The term “management” is presented since 1970 in the dictionary Le Grand Robert and in most current thesauruses as an Anglicism. The 1862 Robert defines the manager “as the general agent or the steward of a mine”. Aside from the possible Italian origins (maneggiare: manoeuvre, conduct, handle), the term undoubtedly also has an English origin (let us not forget that to manage has two principle meanings: 1) to direct, govern, reign and 2) to succeed in doing something, to manage (“débrouiller” in French) to do, with an emphasis on being able to make another do something, later defined by the notion of mandate). This said, it also has French origins. The terms “ménager”, “menagement”, are presumed to have passed in transit to England and the United States and returned to France in the 1950s. Ménager appeared in France somewhere between the 14th and 16th centuries, signifying to arrange, to organise ones affaires with care. The term Ménagement emerged around the 16th century, referring to leadership, administration. It is only in the course of the 1950s that the word spread itself around France in the business sectors with strong American connotations (before, one spoke of direction, organisation, and administration). The Académie Française adopted the term in 1969 with a French pronunciation, and the JO defined it in 1973 as “the methods and techniques of directing, organising and administrating an affair, a business or a sector of activity”. Alongside the terms ménager or ménagère a new idea emerged: that of a person who looks after goods, entrusted inheritances, turning them into good accounts or at least preserving them. The meaning of “handling” people at work, including its modern sense which undoubtedly arrived along with the exportation of the word to the United States, still remained undiscovered.
It was H. Fayol who defined the concepts in the modern sense in 1916. Even if he did not use the term, he determined the boundaries by defining the foundations of the classical managerial functions of an organisation: to plan, organise, direct and control. Thus, we can see at least in terms of vocabulary, that there is a French influence on management. Many of the contributions to this work highlight the influences of France on management abroad or, on the other hand, the adaptation of foreign concepts or techniques to the French context. These have already been highlighted elsewhere[Bouillaud et Lécuyer, L’invention de la gestion. Histoires et pratiques, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1994.]. Moreover, other contributions emphasise the specificities of “French-style” managerial ways of thinking and practices. The idea of organising humans and structures pursues its course.
In the 19th century, first in the United Kingdom, then in France and the United States, managers rapidly established a set of practices and ideas – a way of thinking - intended to deal with a specific issue: organisation. What distinguishes this new type of organisation from other structures or institutions, organised to shape the activity and the work of other human groups such as the tribe, the Churches or the State, remains to be seen. As a doctrine and later a field founded on scientific ambitions, management has based itself on the hypothetical existence of an ontological unity of organisational phenomena. Recently, authors such as J. G March have highlighted the existence of continuity in the nature of organisations depending on the era and place. A heavy industry or medium-sized construction business, a consultancy firm, a major military state, a hospital, a university, an accounting or IT department are human institutions in which plans are devised according to a goal to be achieved. As a result, from an intellectual or even a practical point of view, the concepts identified by a researcher when studying a public organisation can help to understand a private investment decision. Even if numerous elements militate in favour of this parallel, both practically speaking and in terms of theoretical analysis, this point is worth reconsidering from a historical perspective. As we have seen, this approach raises many difficulties.
Putting forward the hypothesis of a homogenous field of thought or even practice has encouraged some authors of the PPF to ponder over the possible existence of characteristics common to all organisations. It could also resolve some of the methodological difficulties regarding the boundaries of the field under study or the ways of observing and analysing organisations over time. Thus defined by a coherent and delimited subject, the managerial way of thinking and its practices could gradually be shaped by history. After four years of reflection, it is possible to specify what the common characteristics might be:
- Division of the tasks and roles (translated in concrete terms as more or less formal procedures of work)
- Authoritative system
- Communicative and coordinating system
- Contributing / retributive system of organisation members
- Values and a culture common to different organisation members
The organisation is definable as a social form which, by the enforcement of a rule and under the authority of leaders, ensures the cooperation of individuals on a common piece of work, determining its implementation and distributing the results. In administration, we would say that an organisation is a system which coordinates finalised actions subjected to an exterior judgment and to performance constraints. Concerned essentially with business as a particular form of organisation, the PPF has therefore extended its gaze to the State. This is also because of the strong influence of private businesses, which tends to be forgotten by some. Managerial models for human resources or accounting have journeyed between these two spheres. Directors or managers have been fired and taken on again in one way or another, bringing with them their own ways of doing and thinking or aspects of the technical, economical or organisational cultures of the institutions, which previously employed. Unfortunately, this attitude to research, despite the potential wealth it presents, calls into question the intellectual and practical “business/organisation” boundaries. Furthermore, this also explains why the current practices, supported by certain political parties or networks of influence, see the managerial way of thinking as potentially extending its aims and plans beyond the boundaries of business. After all, as certain authors of this book prove, many hesitate between two hypotheses: either we regard business as an organisation like any other, or, on the contrary, as a specific organisation. In favour of this second hypothesis are the following elements:
- Businesses are always equipped with a formal system (from Barnard to Mintzberg).
- The quest for performance,
- Businesses as generators of stress: the quest for performance.
- The specific aims (convergence, divergence, displacement),
- The interchangeability of their members (businesses survive despite and thanks to interchangeability)
Having reached the end of this introduction, it is possible to argue that the PPF has undoubtedly raised more questions that it has answered. However, the merging of texts from various disciplines and dealing with topics which are seemingly very distinct from one another has shown that real similarities exist over and above the specificities of place and context. In short, it is possible to conclude that the managerial way of thinking and practices constitute a noticeable and delineated field, even if the surface to assess seems vast. This research programme is a first step towards understanding how and at what pace the managerial way of thinking developed from concrete problems arising in the middle of the 19th century and to a greater extent in the 20th century. Such a process cannot be disassociated from the present historical and political context, in this case, of France. This managerial thought bases itself on the emergence of small or large businesses. It depends on the expansiveness of their activities, on their number, their size and the problems that they need to address. The progressive appearance of professional managers and the development of training and advice systems increase the managerial practices and the knowledge that results from studying them.