Mintzberg, Managers, and Meetings

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

For about twenty-five years now I have been lecturing students about the work of Henry Mintzberg. During the 1970s, Mintzberg published a ground-breaking piece of research that was instantly recognised as a management classic. Building upon a very small sample of Executive decision-makers (literally a hand full of diaries), Mintzberg basically explained just why it is that managers seem to spend so much time in meetings. On January 2nd 2017, I became Head of Suffolk Business School. As a consequence I stopped teaching this…and started living it.

Today my working day started just after 7am. I had an 8am meeting scheduled and arrived early to get a head-start on the day (there are ALWAYS e-mails). I was in truth not too bothered by the prospect of this early meeting because I had been promised that it would commence and be built around bacon rolls. The problem being that I never made it to the meeting. Something came up that required my attention so I had to forgo breakfast. Having resolved this issue I then picked up a cup of coffee and a manuscript that the editor of Organization has invited me to review.

I read the paper and made some notes (it’s quite good but needs some further analytical and structural development) preparatory to the completion of the formal review that I will submit some time over the next few weeks. At 09:30 I met with colleagues from HRM and when this meeting concluded it was time to speak with a colleague from Portugal who will, I hope, visit the University in May. When I complete this blog post I will scuttle off to a meeting convened to discuss student recruitment. Later I will ‘catch-up’ with the Deputy Head of School and with my very patient PA before I have another meeting with HR.

This is pretty much how my days unfold. So just why do managers spend so much time in meetings? I thought you might ask this…

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Mintzberg. Photo (C) http://www.mintzberg.org

Mintzberg suggests that managers spend so much of each day in face-to-face meetings simply because this is about the best means of securing managerial ends and processes. But why is this is the case? It’s simple really: Mintzberg suggests that managing yourself and managing others is challenging and rewarding because this sort of work involves an on-going negotiation as to a) what should be done b) who should actually do this and c) who should cover the cost. And in complex hierarchies with limited budgets – such as, say, the University of Suffolk – this is perhaps more complex than you might imagine because there will be lots of managers; lots of managerial goals; lots of alternative courses of action and consequently many different ways in which the ‘right thing’ to do might be conceptualised and pursued.

But on Monday…my diary looks a little more relaxed…because on Monday I will be in a tiny rural village in south-west France en vancances. The village is tiny but it is steeped in history: The great French politician Gambetta attended school in this village. But this place has for me an altogether more alluring appeal for I will be staying in a house that has no land-line, no internet access and only an intermittent mobile telephone signal.

You see, those who manage also need to set time aside for reflection, so before my travelling companions awaken I will spend a part of each morning revising a now overdue manuscript on management gurus. When I return I might share a little of this reflection. Until then…adieu!

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

#SBSAnalysis: Make America Great… Again

On  Thursday 16 February, Prof David Collins, Head of the Suffolk Business School, presented some research on Make America Great…Again: The Excellence Project in Retrospect. A version of this paper, translated into Spanish, will appear in the journal ‘Debats’ in late 2017. In the meantime, a downloadable version is available here:

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UCS Question mark (8)
University of Suffolk Waterfront Building, photograph (C) of the University of Suffolk