På sporet af medarbejderen: Et systemteoretisk studie af DSB

Julie Stenderup & Saskia Lawson-Gern

Student thesis: Master thesis


This master thesis offers an empirical insight into The Danish State Railways (DSB). In 2011 a business strategy was launched to improveDSB‟s competitiveness. The strategywas called a „paradigm shift‟ by the management, due to a higher degree of employee participation in the strategy implementation process. We, however, became aware that theinvolvement of some employees was sought diminished. Thus, the starting point for this thesis is an interest in examining which employees are welcomed to have their say and thereby the opportunity to influence DSB‟s development – and which do not. The thesis takes a constructivist approach, which assumes that organisational change and development arephenomena linked with communication. Also, we adopt a position as second order observers and believe, that a study of DSB‟s linguification of the term „employee‟ can expose, how the companyperceives its employees. Ourspecific theoretical framework for such a study is provided by Niklas Luhmann‟s System Theory. We use it to investigate, how membership of DSB is conditioned by certain social expectations, which appear in the communication about the employee figure. More specifically, we examine how the membership issemantically constructed and uncover whichfunctional systems that motivate this construction. The empirical basis for the thesis is a study of documents produced by DSB in the year 2011. Our source material includes 43 employee magazines, the 2010 annual report, the personnel policy, an internal strategy folder plus a selection of texts from the company‟s external and internal website. Our analysis consists of two parts. In the first part we perform a semantic analysis that reveals the meaning structures, which shape the social expectations of DSB, expressed as employee qualifications. We find three membershipsemantics: The semantics of performance, competence and authenticity. For each semantic we identify a main distinction. The inside of this distinction indicates the condensated meaning of the desired employee qualifications, while the outside marks the skills, which the organisation is blind to and ignores. The findings from the semantic analysis form the foundation for the second part of our analysis, a codification analysis. Westudy the motivation behind the meaning structures by searching for general symbolic media and binary codes of one or more functional systems. We discover that the membership semantics of DSB are based on multiple logics. At first, we notice that the communication performs a structural coupling to three different functional systems: The sports system, the pedagogical system and the law system. However, it becomes apparent that these systems are support systems for one primary system; DSB uses the system of love when constructing communicative expectations to the employee figure. The love symbolism implies the need for being as devoted to DSB as to a lover. The employee figure is expected to always know and think about what is best for the beloved company. Our overallconclusion is that DSB‟s communication only grants membership to certain kinds of employees. This thesis can shed light on the blind spots of DSB. Such awareness can be useful for the company when making decisions about recruiting and layoffs. For further studies we suggest applying a historical and societal perspective. This could create a more extensive understanding of how DSB‟s membership has been constructed over time and compare these observations to the membership construction of similar public organisations.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages134