The Fad Motif in Management Scholarship

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

This has been a rather special week. I have, you see, been able to place a tick against an item on my rather lengthy and ever expanding ‘to do list’. I completed a draft chapter that I had been invited to author and within the agreed deadline (although only just!). It might be worth expanding upon this…

Some time ago I was invited by Oxford University Press to prepare a chapter on Management Gurus for an edited volume concerned with Management Practice. I was pleased and rather flattered to receive this offer (in truth, I would probably have asked my colleague Dr Huczynski, of the University of Glasgow, to write this chapter since he produced perhaps the first sustained academic commentary in this arena back in the early 1990s), and so I agreed to produce a chapter on Management’s Gurus. Look closely. The addition of the ‘apostrophe s’ is for me a crucial addition to the title. It is in fact my rather unsubtle way of placing a social distance between my analysis and the position of those who might be inclined to accept what their gurus tell them to think and do, without, in my opinion, sufficient critical reflection.

When I mention a research interest in the gurus of management I am regularly met by two questions:

  1. Who are the gurus?
  2. Do the gurus really produce empty fads?

The answer to these questions is far from straightforward. Well you wouldn’t really expect a clear answer from a Professor, would you?

It is rather difficult to produce a definitive listing of management’s gurus. Priorities change and ideas tend to fall out of fashion. There is probably ‘a famous five’ (including Peter Drucker and Tom Peters) but beyond this elite there is generally no agreement as to who we might place in that category of commentators which has been awarded (sometimes seriously and sometimes more ironically) the title of ‘guru’. In truth the debate about management’s gurus is not so much a discussion about whether or not this category exists; it is instead a sustained competition about who has the best gurus. Indeed it is worth observing that those academics who have attacked management’s gurus have called upon the services of their sociological gurus when launching this broadside!

As to what the gurus do? Well there is no doubt that these commentators produce and trade in fashionable ideas. That fact however should not be taken as confirmation that what the gurus say and do is simply empty and faddish. Nor does it suggest that those who would implement guru theory are engaged in a form of activity that is mindless and imitative. In truth it takes a lot of effort and imagination to implement TQM, ABC or BPR (you can look these up J). Some years ago I produced a paper that develops this line of analysis. You might find this entertaining:

Collins, D. (2001) “The fad motif in management scholarship“, Employee Relations 23(1), pp. 26-37

Don’t Give Up! Insight on the processes of academic publishing

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

I received some good news recently…

A paper on the professionalization of management consultancy that I published in the spring of 2016 with my colleague Dr Nick Butler, of Stockholm Business School, has been nominated for the Urwick Memorial Cup. This is an annual award made by the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants for ‘outstanding research’ in the field of management consultancy. I am obviously delighted to be short-listed for this national award but my purpose in drawing your attention to this is not (simply) to boast. Rather I thought that this event might allow me to offer a little insight on the processes of academic publishing…

Our (I hope) prize-winning paper has, yes you guessed it, an interesting back-story. Back in 2013 I was working on a paper about the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) and its annual best-practice awards. In truth I had been working on this paper, off-and-on for about ten years. In 2013 – more in hope than belief – I sent the most recent draft of my paper to the editor of a journal called Culture and Organization. The editor found the paper interesting, and so, she sent it ‘for review’. Putting this another way, the editor sent the paper (anonymously) to three academics who were invited to comment on its merits.

Some months later (academics are pretty busy and don’t get paid for this activity) the editor wrote to me and shared the opinion of the international panel of reviewers whose services she had commissioned. The reviewers had enjoyed the paper but suggested that I might like to revise my work. To help with this one of the reviewers suggested that I should contact Nick Butler because he had been engaged in related research concerning the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC).

I duly contacted Nick who was kind enough to send me some published research and – very generously – an unpublished piece of research which he had been unable to place with a journal. I was intrigued by this unpublished work and volunteered to rework the paper with a view to securing its publication. Nick agreed to this proposal and over the next year we batted drafts back and forth across the North Sea. Eventually by late 2015 we had a paper we liked.

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We sent our paper off to a journal editor who promptly rejected it. So we rolled up our sleeves, did some further editing, and sent it to another journal….and promptly received another rejection. Eventually we found an editor who was willing to send the paper for review. And some months later the draft was returned to us for revision. Over the next few months we re-wrote the literature review completely and made other changes to the paper’s empirical section and to the concluding discussion… Ok, we pretty much re-wrote the paper.

Early in 2016 this activity finally paid off. We had backed our intuition and to our great relief the paper was finally accepted for publication in Management and Organizational History…and in 2017 it was nominated as you now know for a rather prestigious award.

So, what would I have you take from this?

It’s simple really. Take advice by all means but don’t give up too quickly on your hopes, dreams and aspirations! The market place is awash with products – ‘people carriers’ and ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ to name but two – which were rejected when they were first offered to consumers.

Further reading:

Butler, N & D Collins (2016) ‘The failure of consulting professionalism? A longitudinal analysis of the Institute of Management Consultants‘ Management & Organizational History, 11(1), pp. 48-65

Collins, D (2014) ‘Constituting best practice in management consulting‘. Culture & Organization, 22(5), pp. 409-429