Accepted Paper:

Lean management as a cultural system: ideology as common sense  


Jakob Krause-Jensen (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the social and cultural implications and effects of importing ’Lean’ — a management technology from the manufacturing industry — into the public sector of social work in Denmark.

Paper long abstract:

Flexible capitalism does not only concern companies selling commodities on the global market. Under the banner of New Public Management, public sector organisations are transformed in the image of the private sector. Consequently the public sector is open to new ideas of management from the private sector. At the moment, one very prominent such concept is 'Lean', which originated as the 'Toyota-model', and which is now applied as an important part of the public sector reform in Denmark to enhance performance and quality and overcome stress.

Normally it is easy to identify common sense and ideology as two distinct cultural systems (Geertz 1973). However, 'Lean management' is part of an ideology that comes across as common sense. It is explicitly not about new strategies. It is not about what you should do, but how you do what you already do more efficiently— It is about optimizing, not revolutionizing. But how is the Lean concept transposed and made relevant to social work? And how do the social workers negotiate and apply these new ideas? In this paper based on non-participant observation and interviews with Danish social workers and lean consultants, I argue that Lean and NPM changes fundamentally the way employees should look at themselves and their work.

Panel W057
Flexible capitalism: new forms of mutuality and diversity at work?