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Still searching the best way...: a multiple-case study in small industrial organizations
Luleå University of Technology, Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social Sciences, Human Work Science.
2004 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The purpose of my studies was to get a deeper understanding of small companies’ organization logic and to find out if they had adopted new management concepts such as Just-In-Time, Total Quality Management, Time Based Management, Business Process Reengineering, Lean Production and concepts of Learning Organization, or if they were influenced by these concepts in their way to organize production and labor. More specific research questions were: What are the opportunities and obstacles for implementation of new management concepts in small industrial organizations? What management strategies are used in small companies? How do small companies deal with learning and training? How does flexibility manifest itself in small companies? How do small companies relate themselves to the environment and are they cooperating with other companies? The results are presented in seven papers. The research method is based on Yin’s case study research, and was conducted in four case studies of small industrial organizations with fewer than 50 employees. The companies are located in the county of Norrbotten and the area of Gnosjö in Sweden, and in the state of Minnesota in the United States. The first two studies can be regarded as pilot studies and the result is presented in paper 1 and 2. The third study is the main study, and was conducted in 25 small metal job shops, 12 in Sweden and 13 in the United States (papers 3-5). In the fourth study I explore the contextual conditions for interorganizational networks (paper 6). The seventh paper discusses interaction and communication in network cooperation based on experiences from previous studies of interorganizational network and from the main study. Some important results from the pilot studies show that companies stay competitive at the market, increase the productivity and even grow although they have a traditional structure and management, and actually do nothing to change (papers 1 and 2). Important results from the main study show that the managers in these companies do not use conventional management tools in the management process. Operative and strategic management is overlapping each other or totally integrated. Strategies have emerged rather than been formulated after analyzing internal and external conditions. The strategic management process is based on intuition, feelings and experiences (paper 3). Analyzing knowledge management in these companies shows that neither the codification nor the personalization strategy is, or even can be, fully practiced in these companies. Every job is different and explores new problems in job-shops giving service to larger companies, which implicate that there is little use of codifying solutions or setting up check lists for trouble-shooting. Even if some learning is carried out in the daily work, there are obstacles to fully practice a personalization strategy because that demands extensive cultural, structural and organizational changes (paper 4). The companies in the main study are relatively inflexible or even rigid. External flexibility demands internal stability, and the most flexible way to adapt to market demand is to be very stable and to keep that stability. Flexibility in larger corporations depends on stability in the small subcontracting companies (paper 5). Cooperation with other companies in the local society or in the region is dependent on how the social capital was created in a historical perspective. The shared system of values can include positive or negative attitudes towards private business initiatives, which in turn affects entrepreneurship and local industrial development, as well as, interorganizational networking. An exogenous attitude toward local industrial development also promotes an exogenous attitude toward interorganizational cooperation. A more exogenous attitude will more likely includes a more open attitude to organizations and persons outside the local society and towards cooperation that is not based on personal ties. This means that industrial districts like Gnosjö will not necessarily cope better with environmental uncertainty (paper 6). A network organization run by a professional manager, where the members are no longer involved in planning and realization of activities normally becomes institutionalized. The members do not experience the network as network cooperation but as a service organization giving its members exclusive service in specific issues (paper 7). The small companies studied have not implemented any of the analyzed concepts and are not extensively influenced by the concepts while organizing their production. On the other hand, by analyzing new management concepts, it is obvious that they are all heavily influenced by Japanese management philosophies and that their inventors are influenced by their predecessors, who in turn were all deeply influenced by Taylor and his Theories of Scientific Management. If Taylor did not find “the best way” to organize industrial organizations, why should these new management concepts constitute that way? One of the first questions starting this research process still remains: Are there actually any “new” management concepts or are they only a new wrapping of Taylor’s old management ideas? Is the “new” management and organizational logic that we for years have tried to implement in all kinds of organizations, nothing more than a logical response to the present human, technological and environmental conditions? What makes then small manufacturing companies survive and even grow without adopting new management and production concepts? Maybe they are just trying to intuitively and logically respond to environmental conditions in a manner known for a hundred years? There is still much left before we are able to fully understand the organizational logic of small companies. Meanwhile, we are still scientifically occupied searching for the best way…

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Luleå: Luleå tekniska universitet, 2004. , 108 p.
Doctoral thesis / Luleå University of Technology 1 jan 1997 → …, ISSN 1402-1544 ; 2004:36
Research subject
Industrial Work Environment
URN: urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-25664Local ID: a7549ce0-6f62-11db-962b-000ea68e967bOAI: diva2:998818

Godkänd; 2004; 20061025 (haneit)

Available from: 2016-09-30 Created: 2016-09-30 Last updated: 2016-10-20Bibliographically approved

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