Managing In-Company Standardisation while Avoiding Resistance: A Philosophical-Empirical Approach

Managing In-Company Standardisation while Avoiding Resistance: A Philosophical-Empirical Approach

Ries Haverkamp (Interface European Manufacturing, The Netherlands) and Henk J. de Vries (RSM Erasmus University, The Netherlands)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9737-9.ch009
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Standards may be an advantage for a company but employees often resist them because they feel they are forced to behave in a certain way. This chapter uses a philosophical approach to study why staff tend to resist company standardisation initiatives. Foucault and Habermas provide insights into the reasons for this resistance but do not solve the tension between freedom and control. Dooyeweerd's philosophy seems to be more promising. This chapter uses a company standardisation project of an automotive supplier to examine three philosophical approaches to understand resistance to standards and to investigate how this resistance can be avoided by managing in-company standardisation in a more holistic way.
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‘Conforming to standards means following the advice of others, relinquishing a certain degree of one’s freedom of choice and self-control to others, and often becoming more similar to many others as well – none of which is very consistent with the concept of an actor. We may therefore expect a certain reluctance to follow standards – in particular those that are well known and followed by many – from individuals and organisations seeking to be highly autonomous, innovative, and different’ (Brunsson and Jacobsson, 2000, p. 134). Actors may view standards negatively because these can limit responsibility, prevent them from doing or saying what they want, and incur high costs during conversion from current practice to the practice prescribed in the standards. Moreover, standards may lead to uniformity (Brunsson and Jacobsson, 2000, p. 136). ‘Many of the objections to standards are similar to the objections to rules and regulation in general. standardisation is often seen as an unwelcome, unnecessary, and harmful intrusion into a world of free, distinct individuals and organisations that are wise enough to decide for themselves, or into the world of civil society or free markets. standardisation, it is felt, will mean regulation from outside, whereby actors, things, and conditions are now to be shaped in a uniform manner’ (Brunsson, 2000, p. 171). Standardisation is the activity of establishing and recording a limited set of solutions to actual or potential matching problems, directed at benefits for the party or parties involved, balancing their needs, and intending and expecting that these solutions will be used repeatedly or continuously, during a certain period, by a substantial number of the parties for whom they are meant (De Vries, 1997). In the case of in-company standardisation, the activity is carried out fully or mainly within the company, the standard may be used outside the company as well.

The issue of resistance to standards has received little attention in the literature on managing standardisation within a company. Even the studies that provide a broad managerial approach ignore it (Adolphi, 1997; AFNOR, 1967; Boh & Yellin, 2007; Wenström et at., 2000; Van Wessel, 2010). These objections may apply to all standards but probably in particular to management system standards because these affect human behaviour in a more direct way than technical standards. Therefore, this chapter starts by discussing management standards and examining the paradox between benefits of implementation on the one hand, and resistance to this implementation on the other hand. Inspired by Lelong and Mallard (1995) who referred to Foucault in their introduction to a special issue of Réseaux on Standardisation, and by an earlier study by Van Veldhuisen (1996), we analyse resistance to such standards using Foucault’s (1977) analysis of anonymous power systems. This analysis provides an explanation for resistance but not for benefits. Habermas’ (1987) concept of communicative action provides additional insights but does not solve the problem of the tension between control and freedom. Dooyeweerd’s (1955, 1957) philosophy overcomes this tension and provides the basis for a holistic management approach. We apply this approach in the case of a standardisation project in a company. This project was related to the company’s quality management system which was based on an international quality management standard. We evaluate the company standardisation project and the resistance to it during a six-year period, using quality management literature and philosophical studies by Foucault, Habermas and Dooyeweerd.

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