Any organization, no matter how stolid, may be unsettled by the news that a new boss is about to take over. Talk in the hallways increases, staff worry about their jobs, uncertainty grows. Even when the change has happened, problems emerge when the boss who was hired to manage ‘from above’ has to learn about the organization ‘from below’. In short, the relationship between bosses and employees is complicated.
In this book, Niklas Luhmann scrutinizes this relationship and shows how it is stretched to its limit by communication difficulties, demands for self-representation, problems with finding one’s proper role and disagreements concerning fundamental values. The new boss’s predecessor often casts a long shadow, and the influence of cliques within an organization may be hard to counteract. All of these issues are ultimately informed by the question ‘who has the power?’ According to Luhmann, this much is certain: it isn’t necessarily the boss, provided the employees are well versed in the art of directing their superiors. ‘Subtervision’ is Luhmann’s term for this state of affairs, and tact is the most important means to this end. Yet caution is advised: whoever achieves mastery in subtervision may well become the new boss.
This slim and thought-provoking book from one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century will be of great interest to anyone seeking to understand the dynamics and machinations of the workplace, whether they are at the top or the bottom.