Manipulation in Management Training Programmes

Ideological manipulation of students remains one of the key dimensions conducted in many management training programmes. Like “divide and rule”, it remains an instrument used to colonise the lifeworld by attacking the “hearts and minds” of students. In this process, Managerialism sets the parameters around which nearly all manipulative dimensions revolve. By means of ideological manipulation, the dominant managerial- educational elites try to make students conform to the intentions of business and managerial capitalism.25 Quite often manipulative efforts of management training programmes run under the assumption that the greater the naivety of those to be manipulated, the easier they can be manipulated by those who do not wish to lose their power. Inside management training, students can be manipulated through rafts of ideologies, from the simple but ultimately fake “work hard ^ be rewarded” ideology to more sophisticated hegemonic ideologies such neo-liberalism. Common to all ideologies are perhaps four key characteristics:

  • 1. Knowledge in the service of power: The ideology must create and transmit knowledge in the service of power so that the knowledge transmitted in management training serves those who are already in a position of power, namely management.
  • 2. Camouflage contradictions: It must be able to camouflage contradictions that managerial processes and structures create such as, for example, the workers-management division and contradictions such as those between high wages as disposable income to sustain consumer capitalism and management’s drive towards cost-cutting that typically means reducing wages.
  • 3. Sustain the status quo: It must sustain the status quo preserving the position of those who already dominate others.
  • 4. Prevent emancipation: It must prevent those who seek emancipation from doing so as this sustains domination inside and outside of managerial regimes.

Yet another danger, namely the deliberately infused temptation to model oneself on the bourgeoisie, the great business leader, the successful entrepreneur, and the internalising of corporate values, and so on presents students with “as if” situations. These ideological assumptions pretend a state of affairs in which Enlightenment and modernity have already been achieved. They further pretend that universal freedom and human rights, democracy, and the global care for the environment are achieved or in the making. Ideologies such as “management for the betterment of mankind”, “capitalism serves all”, or “corporations are good” are often spiced up with an unhealthy dose of individualism in the form of spelling out individual possibilities for self-advancement—typically in monetary rather than environmental, ethical, or human terms. In order for these— and other—ideologies to function, students must accept the words of corporate leaders, Managerialism, or “the business community”—which represents the ultimate euphemism as the so-called business community is plagued by tensions between cooperation and self-engineered competition, viewing real communities in roughly two ways—market and labour supply—that, in turn, is ideologically camouflaged through Managerialism’s idea of “stakeholders”.

Within certain training conditions that enable such ideological deceptions, manipulation is often accomplished by means of implicit or explicit deals between the dominant and the “to be dominated”. When considered at the mere surface of their appearance, these pacts appear to give the impression of dialogue and agreement between two rather unequal entities while allowing management to “solicit the compliance of their victims”. These pacts are not based on communicative action but on bribes, secret incentives, false promises, offerings, simple force, and manipulation. The true objectives of these solicitations are determined by the unmistakable interest of the dominant elites in coercing the weaker entity into compliance. It makes the victims part of the managerial apparatus of domination by offering them the ability to partake in cooperative arrangements designed to unilaterally benefit management. In the final analysis, these arrangements are used by dominators to achieve their own ends with the inclusion and support of the unsuspected.26 Ultimately, the implicit support given by students to management, management training, and, ultimately, Managerialism can be used to legitimise domination. Sooner or later these arrangements will lead to an increase in the subjugation of students for the benefit of Managerialism. This sort of onesided cooperation is often proposed when unsuspecting students begin to emerge from the smoothing structures of domination and develop a critical awareness that, in the process, would threaten the managerial elites. In many ways, solicitation and cooperation are tools of domination that make opponents part of the ideological orbit of Managerialism. Under these strategies, students not only become part of the structure of domination, but the structure also moves them from being mere passive spectators who receive management knowledge to becoming an active part of the problem. At the first signs of developing a critical—if not anti-managerialist—consciousness that frightens the dominant managerial elites, the latters’ tactics may shift towards greater manipulation or even eliminating such students.

In this phase of management training, manipulation has definitely become a fundamental instrument for the preservation of domination. Prior to the emergence of students developing a critical and reflective consciousness, there was no enhanced need to manipulate as standard managerial ideologies often provide sufficient instruments to asphyxiate people. As long as people are not aware of the power of emancipation and remain submerged in the managerial reality of domination, it is largely unnecessary to manipulate them through more aggressive means. Deliberate manipulation is largely a response to students who have started to realise that management always—and necessarily—includes elements of domination as an inherent structural imperative. Through manipulation, the dominant-training elites of management training programmes can lead students into unauthentic types of training and therefore remain able to avoid one of the most threatening alternatives to domination, namely emancipatory education under the principles of communicative action and ideal speech.27 This opens up two possibilities for students:

  • • Being manipulated by management training
  • • Working towards emancipation using communicative action.

For the latter, students must organise their own emancipatory education as authentically as possible, otherwise they will be manipulated by management training. Authentic educational self-organisation can never be stimulated by dominators. It remains the exclusive task of emancipatory educators. In many cases, large sections of those self-organisers will come from what today must still be called the “proletariat”, those who participate in management training simply because they are employed and forced to sell their labour on the labour market. They are hardly “independently wealthy” or living of other means. Yet they are no longer blue-collar workers from industrialised centres. In many cases, they are white-collar workers of the “manufacturing^service” transition of capitalism. Although these new sectors are still defined by the domination of managerial regimes, many of those working in the service industry lack an explicit emancipatory “working class” consciousness while considering themselves as privileged. They have adopted petit bourgeois middle- class values as daily rehearsed by corporate mass media. Among them, the

Management Education


ideology of Managerialism and the manipulation through management training programmes—especially when skilfully linked to managerial promises (promotion, personal advancement, careers, etc.)—usually falls on fertile ground.

The antidote to manipulation through management training lies in a critical consciousness of self-organised emancipatory education. It comes with ideal speech capable of exposing critical issues such as domination in managerial regimes and the adjacent legitimising ideology of Managerialism. Through this, students can conceptualise their own position inside the managerial machinery, thereby unmasking Managerialism and the instruments used to manipulate. They will discover that management training is not a technical but a deeply political-ideological affair and that virtually all managerial training policies are based on manipulation, dependency and an uncritical attitude to accept them. While it remains the task of ideology to ensure students remain confused, ultimately the ideological fog might be removed, leading to a certain downfall of domination.

Perhaps even the end of Managerialism might be imminent. But emancipatory education must remain aware not to be deluded into thinking that it can achieve emancipation by means of a quick assumption of power. In situations of manipulation and domination as depicted in many management training programmes, the impassioned critical educator might be tempted to achieve a “quick assumption of power” and forget the absolute necessity of joining those seeking emancipation through the unavoidable triadic process:

Figure 8.3 emphasises the importance of communication. This might be extended to managerial elites but their authoritarian dialogues need to be separated from the processes outlined in Fig. 8.3. There is, of course, the real danger that one can still become manipulated by managerial training elites. Not uncommonly, even emancipatory educators—particularly in the early stages (Fig. 8.3)—have fallen back into managerial games

From mutual and equal recognition to emancipation that Managerialism suggestively terms “realism”

Fig. 8.3 From mutual and equal recognition to emancipation that Managerialism suggestively terms “realism”. Manipulation in management training programmes will always attempt to asphyxiate students and render them unable to reflect critically on what is done to them. But once students are able to connect their real situation inside managerial regimes to domination, challenges will inevitably emerge. Whether this process is called correct thinking, emancipatory consciousness, or critical reflection, it remains an obligatory precondition of emancipatory education. However, the dominant managerial elites are well aware of this fact and they will use all ideological-, training-, and HRM-related means to keep students from thinking.28 In management training programmes, this is engineered through strict time tables, rigid curricular activities, information overload, e-learning, key learning objectives, testable knowledge, and the like. Ideologically trained management trainers have an astute perception of the ability of students to engage in dialogue that can very quickly develop into a capacity for criticism of managerial regimes and Managerialism. Many managerial trainers regard even the simplest forms of critical dialogue among students as a danger.

One of the key methods of ideological manipulation remains to entice individuals—with the kind assistance of corporate mass media—with an appetite for personal success by linking Managerialism to individualism. This sort of ideological manipulation is sometimes carried out directly by management (e.g. promotion) and sometimes used by management trainers (e.g. summa cum laude) while at other times it is hidden. But these manipulative initiatives always serve as intermediaries between Managerialism and students. The emergence of the ideology of individualism linked to Managerialism as an ideological style found in management training programmes often coincides rather causally with the emergence of those who oppose rampant individualism, greed, and egoism. But managerial leaders who foster these processes remain ambiguous living in between two elements:

  • 1. A legitimate student quest to end domination
  • 2. The dominant managerial oligarchies they represent.

They can manipulate others inside and outside of management training programmes but never fight for an authentic emancipatory education.

These types of management trainers, managers, or business leaders often only pay lip service to popularised issues like sustainability, corporate citizenship, and CSR but they do very little for emancipation. Only by abandoning the ambiguous characteristics and hypocritical duality of managerial action directed towards shareholder value and profit maximisation as well as the “management talk” of CSR, to mention a few, can business leaders become authentic. By opting decisively for emancipation, they can renounce ideological manipulation while dedicating themselves to the emancipatory task of education. But at this point they would cease to be business leaders or management trainers. They would move from domination to emancipation, no longer pretending to be intermediaries between students and Managerialism and no longer representing living contradictions. They would join the forces of emancipation.

With the conversion towards emancipatory education, they can appeal passionately to students to self-organise their education and work towards ending domination while defending human rights for a humanised lifeworld. But with business leaders and management trainers moving ever more aggressively above and against students—even as prudently as possible—emancipatory education and communicative action will have to face the ideological instruments of Managerialism. Above that, if Managerialism and the institutionalised forms of management training programmes have sufficient force to stop emancipatory education, they will apply those in the same way as the Catholic Church showed Galileo Galiei the instruments of torture in the year 1633 to stop him from speaking the truth.

As long as business leaders restrict themselves to ideological Sunday speeches, pretended paternalism, faked corporate philanthropy, and managerial fads like wellness, work-life balance, and insignificant welfare activities, domination is served. Management trainers who pretend to care about students—even if critical thinking (e.g. CMS)—with very occasional excursions into the realm of emancipation might still be forgiven by those who are in the position of organisational power because corporate welfare programmes, pretended paternalism, and CMS remain instruments of manipulation that in their final consequence will serve managerial ends. They act as sedatives while distracting those seeking emancipation from true emancipatory education. But they also asphyxi?ate students in an ideological mindset that disallows them to realise managerial pathologies and work out concrete solutions for these.

Above that, they fragment those seeking emancipation into minigroups of atomised individuals hoping to get a few more corporate benefits generously offered by management—the bribes that underscore the individualistic ideology of Managerialism. Yet, ideologically manipulative situations, nonetheless, also contain some positive elements—not for management but perhaps for individuals because individuals who have received some offerings from management tend to “always want more”. Simultaneously, those who do not receive such managerial offerings tend to become resentful towards management. As a consequence, management has to achieve a fine-tuned balance between manipulation, ideology, and bribery. But since the dominant managerial elites will never include everyone in their offerings, they—necessarily—will have to increase domination in order to “manage” those on the receiving end. This is the point where emancipatory educators can take advantage of the contradictions of managerial manipulation by posing them as a general problem of domination. How this works will be part of the next chapter.

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