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'You monitor performance at every hour' : labour and the management of performance in the retail supply chain

Newsome, Kirsty and Thompson, Paul and Commander, Johanna (2011) 'You monitor performance at every hour' : labour and the management of performance in the retail supply chain. In: 29th International Labour Process Conference, 2011-04-05 - 2011-04-07. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper is concerned with exploring performance management in supply and distribution organisations in the supermarket supply chain. The analysis advances an integrated perspective on labour process change at the point of production and the political economy of retail supply chains. In revealing changes in the nature and dynamics of performance regimes within these organisations, the paper exposes the connections and linkages between workplaces in the overall circuit of capital. The paper will draw upon qualitative research evidence from eleven case-studies within four product lines in the grocery supply chain notably fruit and vegetable processing; biscuits and bakery; fish processing; and warehousing and distribution. In each case-study semi-structured interviews were conducted with managers, supervisors and trade union representatives. Focus groups with operators/warehouse staff were also undertaken. The evidence illustrates the complex and often demanding relationships between supermarkets and their suppliers. The nature and the contours of the linkages between these organisations are predicated upon an exacting set of key performance indicators which include a plethora of stringently monitored factors to ensure perpetual, reliable and efficient supply. With regard to performance management, in some cases (most notably distribution and warehousing) the remit of these KPI translated into rigorous stipulations in the management of labour. By contrast in other product lines, where the cost pressures were reported as being intense, organisations had some autonomy in shaping the resulting changes in the labour process. Focussing on the labour process of these inter-linked organisations, the evidence highlights increasing attention to raising the performance of labour. In all workplaces attempts to close down the indeterminacy of labour power are apparent, with a particular emphasis placed upon extracting greater levels of effort by establishing transparent and measurable standards of required performance. The research indicates that these required standards of performance are increasingly monitored and policed more tightly. Where possible in some of the case-study organisations employers attempted to link more closely levels of effort to remuneration with the implementation of bonus schemes. In the increasingly ‘lean’ environment of the retail supply chain where cost pressures were acute other organisations eager to secure required levels of performance instigated increasingly low trust tightly controlled regimes, replete with tighter and more pervasive systems of monitoring and surveillance. The multi case-study approach in short reveals that the nature and the form of the performance management regimes within these inter-linked organisations are predicated upon the dynamics and the exacting requirements of the relationship with the supermarket customer.