Kaizen, Ethics, and Care of the Operations: Management After Empowerment



The notion of empowerment has been increasingly used within management discourses during the 1990s. Empowerment is depicted by its proponents as the common denominator for recent managerial techniques and activities that acknowledge the individual employee as an intelligent, accountable, creative being, and therefore a productive resource for the company. Rather than thinking of management techniques as being, or not being, used to empower employees, this paper suggests that the notion of ethics, and more specifically what Foucault calls technologies of the self, provides possibilities for analysing how employees constitute themselves as ethical, productive, and legitimate members of society through the use of management techniques. This paper presents a study of how the management technique of kaizen, continuous improvements, is used in three Swedish companies. Thinking of work as ethically embedded rather than determined by the degree of distribution of the empowering resources in organizations paves the way for opportunities to conduct more sensitive analyses of how managerial techniques operate in practice.