Entwined with the Taylorist approach is another form of production management, Command and Control, an approach which derived originally from military thinking and State-run economies (i.e. Soviet Union), and was adapted to the American business literature the 1950s. Under this model production targets are set at the top of the command chain and then passed down through layers of management, who exist only to scrutinise whether targets are being hit, down to the shop floor.
On one level that such an authoritarian approach should be adopted is unsurprising as it would appear that there is nothing a politician likes more then to “command and control”. One can scarcely blame them as in election manifestos they make promises that they then spend the next years trying to achieve. This has manifested in criminal justice in penal populism (Pratt 2007) and the penal arms race (Hough 2008) between the political parties. In this paradigm the best method for keeping/appearing to keep control is to set the objective (the command) and then set milestones (control) which demonstrate that commitments are being hit. For these purposes the managerialist system is perfect as it allows the command to be monitored through target setting. As an example, payment by result is as close to a command and control methodology as can be conceived. The target is set by Government, and payment received only if these criteria are hit.
Modern business theory - The consumer focussed approach
If we return to business management theory what then is the more modern alternative? There is a big contrast when modern business and marketing theory are examined. One where the consumer rather than a “commanding” manager is at the beginning and end of the production process. Broadly this approach is called Consumer-led and means that the consumer is the focus of the business with production being trailed around them. In suggesting this approach I am acutely aware that there is some resistance to seeing “offenders” as consumers of justice and that there are alternative non business framed models especially in co-production theories. Space precludes further analysis in this article; however it was dealt with in more detail in Thorne (2014).
In the last decade within the business and management discourse has emerged a theory called Value co-creation. (Vargo and Lusch 2004) In this model production is focused around the end customer not just in the planning of the product/service i.e. market testing, but throughout the life cycle of the product/service, and the continuous engagement of the consumer is sought. The competencies of the consumer are engaged in four ways: through dialogue with customers, mobilisation of communities, management of customer diversity and through the co-creation of personalised experiences with customers. (Prahalad and Ramaswamy 2000) They write that "personalisation is about the customer becoming a co-creator of the content of their experiences". In summary the key goal of this approach is to build an ongoing relationship with the customer to build loyalty and utilise their expertise/competencies in improving the product/service.
As examples, think of how Apple products are perceived by its adherents, and how Nike engages with its customers through its Nike+ tool where consumers of its goods and services use the website to plan their own training schedules, discuss issues they are having, compete against others etc. The content of this website is marketing gold for Nike. By listening to their customers, in theory they can produce exactly what their customers want. Through engagement they also build brand loyalty, such that the consumer who has been engaged in the production side feels allegiance to the brand. It is worth noting that organisations/businesses do not engage consumers out of the kindness of their hearts. It is a practice to increase their profitability and is an approach that has been forced upon them by technological changes and the interactivity of the internet. By using actual and potential consumers who they can engage with in real time and test products on they can reducing their Research and Development costs.
Value co-creation and lean theory as models for Probation
If the MOJ really were interested in modern business theory/practice that put resource efficiency at its core, what would such an approach look like?
The relationship between Probation Officer and Probationer would be the cornerstone of the rehabilitative effort to ensure the targeted use of resources. In the current model resources are placed where the “command” dictates and as this comes from a political agenda it is unlikely to be where they can be used most efficiently. No more than a Nike/Adidas/Reebok executive can routinely guess what the next trend is going to be in footwear. If their guess is wrong and ends in a mass of unsold stock the decision will cost the company lost profits. It is far more sensible and less risky for the executive to push the decision about production to what their consumer research is pointing towards – trends from Nike+ etc.
Likewise, in Probation, rather than a Minister and their acolytes dictating the minutiae of resource allocation, the individual Probation Officer would engage the competencies of the probationer and agree with them how resources could best be spent with the objective of reducing offending/increasing desistance. The key prerogative for the Probation Officer would be the development of a trusting therapeutic relationship with the probationer to help co-create value with them. Creating value for the probationer would likely mean getting their immediate and long term needs met, such as housing, drug/alcohol, family, employment etc. Sessions would centre around the meeting of these goals with support from other agencies being utilised. To achieve this difficult balancing act, special qualities would be required. If we return to “Advise, assist and befriend” we get a good blue print. This from 1907
“The probation officer must be a picked man or woman, endowed not only with intelligence and zeal, but, in a high degree, with sympathy, tact and firmness. On his or her individuality the success or failure of the system depends. Probation is what the officer makes it”
Less radical would be the introduction of a lean methodology which is already happening in parts of the NHS. This, as a response to the previous Taylorisation of the NHS which had led to the disastrous policy of setting targets for care staff which were unrelated to Patients health, (See Francis report on Mid Staffordshire 2013.) In order to put patient care at the top of Trusts priorities the NHS is, amongst other approaches, looking at lean theory as a way of getting patient welfare at the top of the priorities of NHS managers.
There would of course be issues to be dealt with that would come with value co-creation and lean approaches, such as re-skilling some of the workforce to be able therapeutically engage “offenders”, managing non-compliance, building in time for relationship building, retraining managers to properly“ manage” their workforce and the like. These I would suggest would be less troublesome to manage then the current disruptive split, and if the NHS, a much larger organisation, can tackle these issues it should not be beyond the scope of the MOJ to do so as well.
It is the contention of this article that if the Government was really committed to following a business approach in their reforms of the justice system, they would be to follow the example of the most successful businesses that constantly interact and engage with people as well as those of parts of the Health service that have moved to a lean approach. They would implement reforms designed to encourage the utilisation of lean and value co-creation approaches in Probation, rather than an outdated and out of place production-led process driven model that originated in the iron and steel industry in the 1900s. The focus would be on developing the communication skills of Probation Officers such that they could more effectively engage with their probationers. I would suggest that the current approach being presented by the MOJ only satisfies their desire to appear to be in control “of the fight against re-offending” (MOJ: 2014) and shamefully, in view of the severe budgetary squeeze, at the cost of wasted resources and poor outcomes. In taking this approach the theoretical underpinnings to TR would appear more akin to those operating in Russia under Putin then to any current relevant management or business theory.