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Although the effects of quality management on social work are still widely unexplored, critics suspect that it will lead to a negative standardization of working conditions, whereas supporters of quality management hope for a greater transparency and effectiveness of service delivery. This article reports on a survey of 30 managers, 261 professionals, and 435 families in 30 family intervention service organizations. It uses cluster analysis to explore the relationship between quality management and different forms of work formalization. Results showed that working conditions generally are enabling for professional practice, but differences exist between what is called here a managerialist machine bureaucracy, an atomistic professional organization, and a collegiate professional organization.

1 Quality Management and the Standardization of Professional Practice

In Germany, the introduction of quality development measures in institutions of child and youth welfare became legally binding on January 1, 1999. Since then, NGOs have been obliged to negotiate quality development contracts with local authorities. This has triggered a controversial debate in the social work profession regarding the consequences of this change in the mode of cooperation between public purchasers and private providers. Whereas one side hopes for greater transparency and a better fit between services and need, the other side fears that the introduction of quality management measures borrowed predominantly from the industrial sector will lead to a standardization and Taylorization of professional practice and thus to a loss of professional autonomy and self-control. Up to now, neither assumption has been tested empirically for social work. This article presents preliminary findings from a large-scale research project on service quality.  [2]

The risks and benefits of standardizing and deautonomizing professional practice have long been a topic of professionalization theory (Freidson 2001; Oevermann 2000). It defines professions as specialized agencies for processing problems whose resolution requires a discretionary scope for personal judgment (Urteilskraft; see Wieland 2001, p. 181). Abstract knowledge has to be applied to complex problems, and this is considered to be an essentially nonstandardizable process (Dewe and Otto 1984, 2001; Freidson 2001, p. 95). Professional discretion and professional control are viewed traditionally as an element of professional "quality development." As a result, any standardization of the two through quality management procedures would seem to be an unacceptable encroachment on professional autonomy (Daheim 1992, p. 26). Up to now, professionalization theory has assumed that the structure of professional practice can be constrained by two rationalities that run counter to it: that of market control and that of bureaucratic control. In this context, Freidson (2001, p. 106) talks about consumerism and managerialism: "I shall call the ideology of market control consumerism, that of bureaucratic control managerialism."

The term managerialism is not just used to describe organizational processes in which professional practice are dominated by bureaucratic forms of control; it also communicates a diagnosis of society. It implies that all functional fields of society are to be reshaped by bureaucratic rationalities (Alford and O'Neill 1994; Clarke and Newman 1997; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2000). Following Parsons, the sociology of organizations addressed Max Weber's proposition that the bureaucratic form of organization would inevitably supersede all other forms of organized activity. The same prediction was also made for collegiate organization (Waters 1989) to which Weber assigned a higher problem-solving capacity under certain conditions, although finally treating it as a disappearing relic. What has been called the productive misunderstanding (Mayntz 1971, p. 271) in the sociology of organizations, which viewed Weber's ideal types as descriptions of the reality of organized activity, triggered a series of empirical and theoretical studies that resulted in nearly all Weber's propositions being criticized theoretically and tested empirically. Essentially, these debates led to a "changing of the signs" set by Weber: Bureaucratic organization does not become universal, but is replaced increasingly by democratic-collegiate forms of organization. In such an "egalitarian approach" (Blau 1955, p. 204), in which a "company of equals" (Parsons 1947) produces rational decisions in a "proto-democratic process of legitimation" (Gouldner 1954, p. 221; see also Mintzberg 1983b), rationality becomes assigned to collegiate and democratic organizations: Complex social internal and external relations make it necessary to apply a variety of perspectives and incremental strategies. As Blau, von Heydebrand, and Stauffer (1966) point out, in this perspective, conflicts between a professional and a bureaucratic rationality can even be exploited productively under certain conditions:

Since professional qualifications enhance a man's ability to see the implication of his work and place it into a wider context, professionals can contribute to coordination in an organization; the task of management is to draw upon these contributions and fit them into the administrative framework. This requires a sufficient number of managers to work in close collaboration with the professional staff. If the staff lacks professional training, on the other hand, it can make only limited contributions to coordination. (p. 184)

Autonomous professional organizations are characterized by a division of labor between profession and management in which each of the two groups supports the other in its work (Scott 1965, pp. 65-66). The specialists pursue their professional task, while the managers shoulder the function of mediating between the professional and the bureaucratic rationalities. This organization model is run by a "nonmanagerial management“ (Schnurr 2005). It combines the advantages of the bureaucratic organization model and the collegiate organization form (Mintzberg 1983b).

Hence, the sociology of organizations had already predicted the end of the bureaucratic type of organization, because it was held to be insufficiently complex and too static to meet the needs of modern societies (Blau 1955, p. 202; Mintzberg 1983b). In contrast to Weber, Parsons (1968) and Blau (1955, pp. 217-218;1962, pp. 185-186) assumed that it would not be the pure bureaucratic organization model but the professional-collegiate organization form that would become universal. For social work organizations, this assumption could still not be confirmed empirically even though it soon seemed to become clear that despite a "dominant bureaucratic basic structure" (Otto 1991, p. 44, translated), it was possible to attain a degree of "compatibility between bureaucracy and profession" (Otto 1991, p. 98, translated).

1.1 Quality Management from without: Quality Development Agreements in the Tripartite System

In the German context, the term managerialism should be viewed particularly against the background of the "enabling state." This concept stands for ideas on political control designed to "ascertain potentials for optimization through improving the interplay between the governmental, informal, associational, and commercial sectors" (Fretschner, Hillbert and Stöbe-Blossey 2003, p. 44; see also Dahme and Wohlfahrt 2003, p. 76). From this perspective, those autonomous or semi-autonomous professional organizations that have previously managed to evade complete rationalization (with reference to Parsons: Seibel 1992; Wenzel 2005, pp. 48-50) become the object of necessary optimization processes and rationalization efforts. The central idea is that social services should no longer be provided by the state, but by private profit-oriented or charitable organizations. These should cooperate with the funding agencies on the basis of legally codified contracts ("contracting-out") and compete with each other in a "quasi-market" (Hansen 1997; Le Grand 1991). However, this contracting out leads to a dilemma: "the buyer does not consume the services, purchased, the consumer does not pay for the benefits – the producer is left in the highly advantageous position of accountability to a buyer who never see what he is getting and a consumer who never pays" (see Gilbert 2000, pp. 146-147; also Alford 2004, p. 71). Therefore, quality development agreements in social work represent a control mechanism that enables the state to assert its claim for control over the performance of a service that it pays for, but is unable to assess in terms of quality (Bartlett and Le Grand 1993, p. 24). One possible way of meeting the control requirements of the state in the tripartite system is to work toward the formalization of work processes through agreements on quality development.

1.2 Quality Management from within: Organizational Control

The pressure of quality development agreements places many social work institutions in a situation that forces them to formalize their internal organization structures. In this perspective, quality management would seem to be an internal organizational control of work processes and work outcomes. Two levels of quality management have to be distinguished here: the technological and the ideological. On the technological level, processes and outcomes of organizational activity should be formalized, evaluated, and, when necessary, modified. Quality management does this by drawing on a series of managerial and administrative practices and methods such as controlling, benchmarking, or the analysis of input-output process chains. With reference to Charles Perrow (1967, pp. 195-196; 1986), these measures are conceived as "technologies" that organizations apply to try to analyze and process their tasks and problems.

On the ideological level, an attempt is made to bond staff with the organization ("organizational commitment") so that they develop a "corporate identity." This should be achieved through TQM. TQM stands for Total Quality Management, a management concept that is particularly widespread in the industrial sector. It is a new action orientation for management designed to bring about comprehensive organizational reform. A uniform organizational goal should be internalized and anchored in the habits of all employees in the form of guiding principles. In the definition of the Total Quality Leadership Steering Committee and Working Councils—a body of representative senior managers of major companies together with international scientists from different theoretical backgrounds—we find:

Total Quality is a total system approach (not a separate area or program), and an integral part of high-level strategy; it works horizontally across functions and departments, involves all employees, top to bottom, and extends backwards and forwards to include the supply chain and customer chain. (As cited in Curkovic, Melnyk, Calantone and Handfield 2000, p. 767; Evans 1992)

Because a mind-set of continuous improvement should become habitual for all employees, one can agree with Ulrich Bröckling (2000) when he calls the TQM idea "total mobilization" through "management leadership." This management leadership is composed particularly of techniques of "self-management" that should give employees the feeling that continuously increasing their own productivity will grant them membership of what could be called an "efficiency community." In industrial production, this was expected to result in employees ranging from factory floor workers through overseers to upper management "all pulling together" to reduce production costs and make a company more profitable.

The technological and ideological aspect of quality management points to the distinction between rational and charismatic authority (Weber). Quality management concepts integrate both forms of authority to secure inner-organizational control. In terms of the sociology of organizations, this reveals a link between aspects of Taylorism and the human-relations movement. The resistance of the human factor (Crozier 1964, p. 177; see also Mintzberg 1983b) should be limited either through coercion or its companion affective and/or ideological manipulation (Crozier and Friedberg 1993, pp.11-12, translated). This integration is often an outcome of the rationalization of work processes, because, as Türk, Lemke, and Bruch (2002) point out, the increasing formalization of technological processes frequently calls for compensation on the ideological level:

To the extent that technical and material progress leads to an erosion and disqualification of the content of work, thereby threatening to block achievement motivation, managers and ergonomists switch to compensating the "soullessness" of work due to rationalization through a rationalization of the soul. (p. 218, translated)

The ideological level is used to ensure that "the soul of the employee becomes part of the company" (Lazzarato 1998, translated).

In the present article, the analysis focuses on the ideological level (see, for the technological level, Beckmann, Otto, Schaarschuch, and Schrödter, in press). It will study how the ideological level of TQM relates to the formalization of organizational processes and relations. This calls for a distinction between "enabling" and "coercive" types of formalization (enabling vs. coercive bureaucracy, see Adler and Borys 1996). In "machine bureaucracy" (Mintzberg 1983b), formalization leads to standardization in the sense of programmable process stages. In this case, formalization is coercive. In the professional form of organization, in contrast, formalization is a routinization in the sense of conserving proven professional problem solutions. It is "good procedures" (Blau 1955; Perrow 1986) that help professionals to meet the needs of their clients. In this sense, formalization in the professional organization is enabling.

2 Methods

2.1 Sample and Research Design

The project studied institutions in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) providing services in line with § 31 of the Federal Social Security Code (SGB VIII; socio-educational help for families). Because there is no central register of these providers of home-based family intervention services in NRW, the size of the population is unknown (though estimated at N = 370 by the Federal Statistical Office). Therefore, a snowball sampling approach was used to contact all youth welfare and youth service offices in NRW (N = 173) by e-mail and by post. This was accompanied by a simultaneous search for providers over the Internet, through personal contacts with the informal associations of welfare organizations, the state youth offices in NRW, and all the big-city youth offices in NRW. These contact persons were then all asked to provide further contact addresses. This resulted in a total of 102 institutions that met the necessary criteria for sample selection (size of institution, quality dimensions, low degree of flexibility, etc.; see Beckmann and Schrödter 2006). This population was used as a pool to draw a two-layered random sample (statutory/voluntary sector and quality management system yes/no). The selected institutions were first contacted by post and then followed up by telephone calls. All interviews were carried out by phone. In the survey period from fall 2005 to May 2006, a total of 30 managers, 261 professionals, and 435 families were interviewed in 30 institutions. This was a sufficiently large sample to perform multivariate analyses on both an individual professional and an institution level (Bortz and Döring 2002, p. 217; Micheel 2003, p. 404).

2.2 Quality Practices

Earlier empirical research frequently viewed quality management as a system of specific management and problem-solving methods containing specific modules that have to be implemented in a formalized way (see the studies of Berman 1995; Berman and West 1995; Zbaracki 1998). As a result, studies addressed the breadth and depth of implementation of the modules and compared performance in these organizations with that of ones with no formal quality management system (see e.g. Ahire, Waller and Golhar 1996; Prajogo and Brown 2004). An alternative approach is to understand quality management in quite general terms as organizational efforts to ensure and optimize quality. It is then no longer defined just as a package of formal methods, but as a conglomerate of quality practices and attitudes (see Cole and Scott 1999). This assumes that each and every organization engages in a more or less formalized quality management. In this sense, for example, supervision, regular team meetings, or systematic customer satisfaction surveys of service users are just as much an element of quality management in a social work institution as quality workgroups or the use of highly formalized work-process diagrams. With such a broad concept, organizations can be compared in terms of their dominant forms of quality management regardless of whether or not they have implemented a formal quality management system. Regarding the technological aspect of quality practices, the project did not just assess which measures and programs the institutions had implemented and what resources were earmarked for organizational quality development. As a part of the quality practices of an organization, it also gathered information on personnel management, the type and frequency of supervision, and various procedures for the planning, documentation, and control of work.

The ideological aspect of quality practices, which is the focus of the present article, was assessed with an operationalization of the TQM idea based on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA). This award is part of a national quality campaign by US-American companies in cooperation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology that is given to organizations in the industrial sector, the health domain, and education that meet certain criteria. These criteria have been worked out as detailed orientation aids for industry, the healthy system, and schools (see NIST 2004a, 2004b, 2004c), and they are reviewed every 2 years. The MBNQA criteria are considered to deliver a good representation of the quality idea.  [3]

The scale for assessing the ideological aspect of quality practices in our Service Quality in Social Work Project was developed from a Malcolm Baldrige questionnaire (see NIST 2004d). Organizational consensus over quality issues is commonly regarded as decisive effect of any quality management. Therefore, the project assessed whether the practice of defining structures and processes along with the methods for assuring and evaluating whether goals have been attained are so well anchored in the organization that not only all relevant persons are able to provide information on them but also, and above all, all relevant persons can agree on their specification. The underlying assumption is that those institutions that are able to answer these questions positively engage in quality management. The following fields were distinguished: organizational context, organizational relations, competitive environment, planning, and improving performance (see Table 1).

Table 1: Scale to Assess Consensus Over Quality Issues (Exerpt, translated)

These questions were given to institution management, because it had to be assumed that the degree of consensus actually to be found in the organization would be less important for the strategic decisions of management than the institution management's perception of this consensus.  [4]

2.3 Degree of Enabling Formalization

The degree of enabling formalization was assessed with the Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS, Hackman and Oldham 1975; Hackman and Oldham 1980). This is a widely used and well-tested job analysis instrument (see Dunckel 1999) providing a differentiated assessment of work conditions. It is one of the most frequently used instruments worldwide (Schmidt and Kleinbeck 1999, p. 205). The official German translation (Schmidt, Kleinbeck, Ottmann and Seidel 1985) has now been adapted for the education and social service sectors (van Dick, Schnitger, Schwartzmann-Buchelt and Wagner 2001), and its terminology was adapted further in the present study to fit the specific conditions of family intervention. In addition, the original 7-point Likert scale in the JDS was replaced by a 4-point rating scale. Odd-numbered rating scales provoke the well-known central tendency in response behavior, which, in turn, makes data harder to analyze, particularly when performing cluster analyses. Therefore, odd-numbered scales should be applied only when a neutral response alternative is absolutely necessary (Micheel 2003, p. 405), and this is not the case for the items in the JDS.

As an instrument for subjective work analysis assessing respondents' work conditions through self-reports, it is based on the assumption that organizational structures will be reflected in the individual attitudes of employees (Hackman and Oldham 1975, pp. 168-169; Schmidt and Kleinbeck 1999, pp. 215-217; Taber and Taylor 1990, pp. 469-471).

The Job Characteristics Model (Hackman 1969, p. 31; Hackman and Lawler 1971, p. 55) was used to derive the following major aspects of a professional activity: (a) skill variety, (b) task identity, (c) task significance, (d) autonomy, (e) job feedback, (f) agent feedback, (g) dealing with others (Hackman and Oldham 1975, 1980). In the present project, the model assumptions of the Job Characteristics Model were revised in favor of assumtions from profession and organization sociology.

Table 2: Scale to Assess Enabling or Coercive Formalization (Excerpt, translated)

Professional practice is generally characterized by a strong skill variety. It is not just direct dealings with clients that require a range of different skills and abilities. Documentation, case discussions and case planning, as well as cooperation with various life-world and institutionalized welfare agencies also require a wide range of professional competencies. Because, on the one hand, clients' case problems always have to be viewed within the broader context, whereas, on the other hand, specialized welfare agencies frequently process only partial aspects of a case, a tension emerges between comprehensiveness and partialization. Task identity refers to this tension that should not be defused one-sidedly, because it is constitutive for professional practice (see Schütze 2000). The dimensions of skill variety, task identity, and task significance can then be interpreted as an indicator for the degree of formalization. In a negative sense, they serve as an indicator of restrictive formalization; in a positive sense, as an indicator of enabling formalization.  [5]

Professional practice does not take place in isolation, but is, ideally, warranted by the whole profession . Because professional practice is, to a large degree, specialized activity, it requires collegiate control. This is usually found in team meetings, supervision, or in special case conferences. However, daily professional life can also provide numerous "feedback loops" that reveal the quality of work and institutionalize reflection on one's discipline. Hence, alongside the forms of agent feedback from others, there are also forms of feedback from the practice itself. An institution does not just need to ensure that there is enough space for critical assessments of one's own work. It can also integrate mechanisms into everyday work that give professionals continuous feedback on the state of current casework, thereby increasing the transparency of outcomes. Here as well, high scores on such features (as perceived by the professionals) indicate that professionals experience their work as being meaningful, that they feel responsible for it, and possess knowledge about its outcomes. When forms of personally and materially conveyed feedback are firmly embedded in an institution, that is, are regulated by formal procedures, formalization has an enabling impact. In contrast, personalized feedback from the management or through an inflexible documentation or diagnosis system for assessing work outcomes can impede the work of professionals. These are then forms of coercive formalization that are deprofessionalizing for the profession as a whole.

3 Results

3.1 Formalization

Hackman and Oldham (1975) have proposed a global measure for the potential within an organization for motivating personnel: the Motivating Potential Score (MPS). This is computed with the following equation: MPS = (Diversity + Fullness + Meaningfulness)/3 × Autonomy × Feedback (Hackman and Oldham 1975, p. 160; Schmidt, Kleinbeck and Rutenfranz 1981, p. 163). The 4-point rating scale used here permits a maximum score of 64 points representing the highest degree of enabling formalization (see Table 1). In the present sample, professionals attained a mean score of MPS = 36.68. This score also remained stable when the scores of professional staff were aggregated on the institution level (MPS = 37.15). However, the standard deviation then dropped markedly (to SD = 3.53). Hence, while there are individual professionals with extreme scores, no institutions differ in an extreme way from other institutions.

Table 3: Motivating Potential Score (MPS) Computed on the Basis of the Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS)





Maximum possible score


Standard deviation

Professional level







Institution level








The MPS computed on the basis of the JDS is interpreted as a global measure for enabling forms of organizational formalization. At 37 points, the mean score attained by the professionals is relatively high. It corresponds to 58% of the maximum potential 64 points. According to Hackman (1980), scores below 20% of the maximum score should be taken as low because they strongly demotivate staff.  [6] In comparable studies, employees in service professions scored 44% and teachers 52% (Hackman and Oldham 1980); professionals in social services, 34% (Jermier, Gaines and McIntosh 1989); police officers, 32% (Gaines and Jermier 1983); and bank employees, between 31% and 40,8% (Griffin 1991). Hence, the professionals providing home-based family intervention services in the present study attain far higher scores that those measured up to now in other professionals working in the social services. Their MPS is higher than that of teachers, and is thereby an indicator for working conditions that enable professional practice. A regression analysis revealed that the independent variable professional commitment explained 43% of the variance (p = .000) of the dependent variable MPS.

3.2 Types of Quality Management and Formalization

A combination of factor and cluster analysis (see Micheel 2003) resulted in a cluster solution that was theoretically plausible, sufficiently powerful in statistical terms (two dimensions with p < .001, each with eta = .84), and could be used for further empirical analyses (see Figures 1 and 2).  [7]

Figure 1: Mean loadings of enabling formalization and quality consensus on types of organization.

Figure 2: Institution types (cluster analysis).

Using Mintzberg's (1983a, 1983b) classic systematization of organizations, the types of organization found here can be classified into the following one: managerial "machine bureaucracy" and two professional organization forms of so-called "professional bureaucracy" (see also Otto 1991):

1. Atomistic Professional Organization: relatively low (!) consensus over quality issues with strongly enabling professional work conditions. The probability of a formal, comparatively long-established QM system (mean duration = 4.3 years) is very high. The introduction of quality management is apparently imposed from "outside" and has failed.

2. Managerialistic Machine Bureaucracy: high probability of a formal QM system that has not been in force for very long (mean duration = 3 years). There is hardly any consensus over quality issues. This type is characterized particularly by deprofessionalizing, coercive work conditions. In those institutions with a formal QM system, this has been imposed from "outside" and probably from "above."

3. Collegiate Professional Organization: lowest (sic!) probability of a formal quality management accompanied by a high consensus over quality issues and the best work conditions compared with other institutions.

Further analyses will need to explore the relationship between these clusters and various other variables measured in the project. For example, one assumption in professionalization theory is that a high degree of enabling formalization will lead to a high degree of professional effectiveness. Thus, social work effectiveness for the families studied should be the highest in collegiate professional organizations and the lowest in the managerialistic machine bureaucracy. Another relevant issue prominent in organizational theory is the structure of control in organizations. The general assumption is that higher organizational control corresponds with higher professional effectiveness. A further assumption is that professional organizations have a more discursive organizational culture. It can be presumed that they will be less susceptive to tactics of bureaucratic influence than machine bureaucracies.

In social service research, another question is becoming increasingly important: How do families use services to gain the capability to master their problems and the difficult social conditions in which they find themselves? To explore the use value (Oelerich and Schaarschuch 2005, 2006) of these services for families, further research in this project will conduct case studies in certain organizations of the clusters.

[1] Many thanks for the translation to Jonathan Harrow (Bielefeld, Germany).

[2] The project called Dienstleistungsqualität in der Sozialen Arbeit (Service quality in social work) is running from 2004–2008 and is being funded by the German Research Association (DFG).

[3] The Malcolm Baldige criteria have frequently been used as a basis for empirical research, for example, in industry (see Curkovic et al. 2000; Lee, Rho and Lee 2003; Prajogo and Brown 2004; Samson and Terziovski 1999), services in the retail trade sector (see Cook and Verma 2002), in hospitals (see Douglas and Fredendall 2004; Meyer and Collier 2001), and in higher education (see Winn and Cameron 1998). Nonetheless, the main concern has been to test their external validity; in other words, to test whether Malcolm Baldrige actually has discovered the relevant factors that are causally responsible for company success (see Black and Porter 1996; Capon, Kaye and Wood 1994; Curkovic et al. 2000; Dean and Bowen 1994; Evans and Jack 2003; Flynn and Saladin 2001; Wilson and Collier 2000).

[4] Naturally, possible disagreements, conflicts, and micropolicy strategies play a central role in quality practices. For this reason, these were assessed separately (Beckmann, Otto, Schaarschuch and Schrödter 2006).

[5] For comparable operationalizations of restrictive and enabling formalization in the school context, see, for example, Hoy and Sweetland (2000, 2001).

[6] The conversion of point scores into percentages is a rough estimate. Hackman (1980) states that a score of 60 points should be viewed as low. With a maximum score of 343 points, this corresponds to 17.5%.

[7] It was possible to replicate this typology using cluster solutions based on other indicators of quality consensus and formalization. The institutions remain relatively stable in the clusters.


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Author´s Address:
Christof Beckmann and Prof Dr Andreas Schaarschuch / Prof Dr Hans-Uwe Otto and Dr Mark Schrödter
Bergische Universität-Gesamthochschule Wuppertal / University of Bielefeld
Fachbereich 03 Erziehungswissenschaften / Faculty of Educational Science, Center of Social Service Studies
Gaußstr. 20 / Postfach 10 01 31
D-42097 Wuppertal / D-33501 Bielefeld
Email: christof.beckmann@uni-bielefeld.de / aschaar@uni-wuppertal.de / hansuwe.otto@uni-bielefeld.de / m.schroedter@gmx.de