«375 V I S I O N S OF A M E R I C A N M A N A G E M E N T IN P O S T - W A R FRANCE LUC BOLTANSKI Historical studies of Franco-American relations in ...»
V I S I O N S OF A M E R I C A N M A N A G E M E N T IN P O S T - W A R
Historical studies of Franco-American relations in the years following
World War II, whether French or American, whether scholarly reports or
personal accounts, have until now mainly dealt with diplomatic, military and
financial relations. ~Always politically colored and controversial, the French
debate on "Americanization," especially in the mid 1960s when France left the Atlantic Alliance and de Gaulle opposed the purchase of certain French companies by American firms, and then in the May 1968 period and during the Vietnam war, acted as a sort of projective test in which the different groups devised a partial - in both senses of the term image of the United States implicitly defined with respect to their respective positions in the French social structure and their related interests. To each his own "good" and "bad" America: for example, it could be demonstrated that criticism of the Vietnam war and of "imperialism" also contributed, through the exaltation of the hippie movement, sit-ins and protest songs, to the diffusion of an enchanted image of the U.S.A.
In this ambiguous debate, a period of recent cultural history seems to have been somewhat forgotten or repressed, the period from the Liberation to the beginning of the 1960s. Yet the "discovery" of America dominates French social and intellectual life as of 1945, and the interrogations accompanying it concern far more than just the military alliance or economic aid. Or, to be more precise, the economic and military questions are quite explicitly subordinated to the more fundamental question of the "nature" of "French society" compared to "American society," that is, indissociably, the nature of its political regime and its social structure, its economic management techniques and its methods of social control and of solving social conflicts. How can American dominance be explained? What can be learned from the United States? What should be rejected? What should be adopted or imported?
Centre de Sociologie Europbenne, Paris.
At the heart of these questions lies the social problematics which arise in the immediate post-war period concerning company management, the nature of management. What should the cadres be? Whom should they be? How can they be recruited, trained and supervised so that they are both "efficient" and tolerated by the working class? Social technologies (such as group psychology) were first imported from the U.S. in order to reform the traditional bosses (patrons)and to train middle management personnel. Their diffusion towards other fields (social work, even school systems or the Church) later contributed to generalizing these new forms of social control.
The following analysis is an attempt to recreate the intellectual and political atmosphere in which, from 1945 to about 1955, a new industrial ideology and a new image of the social space took shape (and was to become dominant in the 1960s), by reviewing documents and personal accounts in relatively different fields, from the managerial press to "role-playing seminars," bearing in mind the risks that such a thematic collection implies, the greatest of which is certainly to suggest the existence of an "invisible hand": the "foreign hand." While it is necessary to recall the obvious relation between, for instance, the action taken on the initiative of international administrations which arose from the Marshall Plan and certain changes - ideological in p a r t i c u l a r - which affected France in the 1950s, it can be taken for granted that official speeches and programs would have remained without effect had they not found the means to become efficient within the historical context and in the existing social structures. And it could be endlessly debated as to whether post-war society would have changed in the same way and as strongly in the absence of a concerted, organized effort. 2
Productivity Missions in the United States
H u m a n engineering and American-style management were introduced into France during the economic changes which, latent in the first Monnet Plan (and, before, in the Economic and Social Plan of the National Resistance Committee), developed mainly around the 1950s with the Marshall Plan and the grouping and reorganization operations which marked the period from 1948 to 1953, even before the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. 3 Undertaking to modernize the economy was not merely a matter of technology. Its application was not just in material objects, blast furnaces or rolling mills. Partially inspired by the American economic authorities who required training of a group of economically competent and politically sure native "managers" in order to obtain funds 4 (as well as, in general, the establishment of a stable social order, capable of retaining the rise of the French Communist Party, particularly after the big strikes of 19475), it was presented quite plainly as an attempt to transform French society in its whole, stressing action on men, on their "mentality" and "structures," and on inter-group and inter-class relations.
In 1948 the Commissariat G6n6ral au Plan was created, with a subcommittee on productivity presided by Jean Fourasti6, who established the "French program for productivity." The program included "establishing documents and statistics on productivity, dispatching experienced managers to the U.S., and training men capable of teaching productivity." Subsequently, the Cornit6 Provisoire de la'Productivit6 (Provisional Productivity Committee) was created in 1949, then in 1950, the Association Frangaise pour l'Accroissement de la Productivit6 or "AFAP," and finally, in 1953, the Commissariat G6n6ral ~ la Productivit6, directed by Gabriel Ardant (who was a close associate of Pierre Mendbs-France). One of the main duties of A FAP, which was awarded substantial American funds on its creation, was to organize the productivity missions to the United States. In 1949, the head of the Bureau of Technology and Productivity of the U.S. Ministry of Labor was sent to France, where he investigated 120 companies and contributed to the elaboration of the French productivity program. From about 1950 to 1953, A F A P organized more than 450 productivity missions to the U.S. involving over 4,000 members, bosses, engineers, managers (approximately 45 percent of the "missionaries"), trade union representatives (approximately 25 percent, representatives of the C G T excluded, as they did not approve the A F A P program), top executives, economists, psychologists and sociologists (approximately 30 percent) etc. 6 The efforts to rationalize enterprises, which inspired the productivity missions to the U. S., was not limited to technology nor even to organization and methods. As noted by the first "missionaries," "France's lag in productivity.., is not due to technological backwardness," since French technology "is similar to and sometimes better than" American technology: "on the whole, American equipment was no surprise to the French technicians. ''7 The "slow" French economy was not due to any technological deficiency or incompetence on the part of French engineers. 8 The wonderstruck discovery of the American "productivity spirit," of"psychological factors," of the "new concept of human factors in industry ''9 can be found in most reports. The productivity missions were intended by their promotors mainly to transform in depth the "spirit," the way of"being" and "thinking" of economic agents. A brief review of the reports by the different missions suffices to show that the importation of social technology had the upper hand over the transfer of material technology. Priority imports were to be the "scientific" management models and "rational" company management, in order to promote the "climate" of American companies in French firms: this climate was the product of technology, but of a new technology, which depended not only on engineering know-how, but also, and above all, on social sciences, on psychology and on sociology.
Thus, all the reports on productivity include, with a practically ritual frequency, an appeal to "staff cooperation in firms. ''1~ The inauguration of a "climate" of productivity, of a "spirit" of productivity, is to accomplish what corporatism could not, but through other means. It is to succeed, where corporatism failed, at the cost of sacrifices and self-denial, changes and mutations which are the condition for survival. The Americans showed how to substitute flexibility for toughness, "communication" for secret, "dialogue" for authority, "generosity," the most fruitful of investments, for greed.
First, relations with trade unions should be changed, "for their role in current American management seems increasingly important." Acknowledge them, make them "participate" and "cooperate." At least, that is what was attempted with the "free union confederations," representatives of which participated in the productivity missions to the United States and which associated in 1951 to create the Interunion Center of Productivity Studies and Research.
Once the "climate of trust" is established, redistribution of productivity profits, which should be partially recycled into wages (a considerable innovation with respect to the 1920s and 1930s when the very large profits from increased productivity had had practically no effect on the evolution of wages, thus contributing to triggering the crisis of 1929 and making "recovery" very difficult), will contribute to maintaining "cooperation between employers and workers. ''11 Again, the example of the United States is to be followed, because "American productivity" "is partially due to the fact that American workers have generally become aware of the influence of productivity on their standard of living and on the standard of living of the entire nation."12 The American "experts" sent to France within the framework of the Marshall Plan concentrated their criticism on the French company managers and bosses. Pointing out that the "constructive attitude shown by workers" in the U.S. depended mainly on the "constructive attitude of the management," they condemned the French managers in particular for "being opposed to any constructive change," "not taking into account the future when making plans," "not giving enough responsibility and authority to their subordinates," not paying enough attention to "human factors" and to "respect of worker dignity"; they encouraged them to "adopt an attitude of realistic optimism, enthusiasm and self-confidence, confidence in their subordinates and in the future of their firm," to "make communication between management and labor easier in both directions," to "apply sound methods regarding human relations," and finally to "give workers the feeling that they are participating in the company" (which does not necessarily mean, the report specifies, "their participation in company profits or the management").
Above all, said the "experts," French firms should find devoted and efficient "middle management" personnel and first of all learn how to train them:
"The Americans were quite surprised to note the complete absence of any university training for industrial management." In particular, there was no business administration training, which is the only type which could "make Europe admit the principle that industrial business administration is a profession," but neither were there any courses on marketing or sales;
companies were "often assured of the collaboration of the most competent engineers in the production units, but were hardly preoccupied by the aptitudes and training of their sales managers." "The recruitment and training of sales managers must be improved" and "dynamic, methodical prospection of new markets" promoted by"reinforcement of marketing research and studies." Training of new managers and the creation of business administration schools, as well as "perfecting the skills of current managers," thus constituted "fundamental duties." "Meetings, conferences and study sessions" should be developed, "more works concerning industrial business administration, books, handbooks and journals should be published in the native language"; "study groups, conferences, evening and weekend classes" should be multiplied; "regular visits of lecturers and animators" should be organized, particularly "American experts in Europe to participate in that type of project"; "French teams" should be sent "to the United States to follow study courses of about a year"; "a program should be elaborated in order to encourage the creation of specialized associations" capable of "spurring progress in know-how in the many fields of scientific work organization," etc. But in addition, the "attitude of the management" and of the managers should also "be changed": "the most delicate project is to develop techniques and methods which will help this change take place. ''13 The productivity campaign, with the "productivity actions" and the "productivity missions" to the U.S., was one of the consequences of the Marshall Plan. This was not particular to France: organized by the OEEC, the "missions" were organized all over Western Europe. ~4 Nevertheless, the mediations through which the missions took effect cannot be grasped without abandoning the mechanistic diffusionist models which they invoke, a universal determinism of an economic and technical nature (which is often the case among the engineers in companies undergoing reorganization who introduced American business administration techniques into France) or "imperialist violence"; This is necessary in order to analyze, on the one hand, the collision of the American model and the older French image, and, on the other hand, the struggle within the French bourgeoisie concerning the introduction and diffusion of the American model. In these struggles, the cadres hold a central position, in more than one way: they are both the privileged agents (in particular through their organizations) and one of the main stakes, their conversion to the new economic ideology being one of the top priority goals set for the productivity missions.
America: Youth, Success, Beauty, The FuturO 5