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

SBS Students: The Dissertation

047a220Amy Carpenter graduated from the Suffolk Business School in 2015. Having gained invaluable experience at Willis, she now works as the Employer Liaison Adviser in Careers and Employability. Here, she shares her thoughts on writing her undergraduate dissertation:

I submitted my dissertation at about 7.30am on Friday 8th May 2015 after a long 8 months (not including the time spent in Research Methods the previous semester!), and it was quite possibly one of the best days of my life. Right now, you’re probably in the midst of a literature review, wondering why on earth you chose to come to university, and what possible excuses could get you out of it or get you an extension. Don’t worry; this is completely normal, and you will get through it!

Choosing my topic in my second year was a difficult process, mostly thanks to my terrible indecisiveness. I remember sitting with my family, early on in my second year, making a list of all of the topic areas that interested me, and, perhaps, could become a dissertation. The list was so varied it included: the marketing of extreme sports; the use of brands in surfing; the law surrounding Sunday trading hours in the UK; the popularity of newspapers and magazines; the use of eBooks and eReaders; wind turbines; and countless other things that I thought would keep my attention for the year. However, I’d starting working in a new job during the summer between my first and second year, and was involved in the recruitment of interns to an international organisation. I was having daily conversations discussing how we could promote our opportunities to students, how current interns and placement students were performing, what aspects they were most enjoying, and, on reflection, what they would have liked more or less of to better their experience. As I gained more exposure to these types of discussions, it occurred to me that I could just ask other students what they had, and had not, enjoyed about their internships, and what had motivated them to apply for and complete an internship in the first place.

I started to have a tentative look through Google and Summon to see what else was out there, and I found lots of research about internships. However, most of the research involved academics or employers asking students what they’d thought about their own internship schemes through the use of questionnaires, not giving students a real opportunity to discuss their thoughts and opinions in an open and honest manner. Being a student, I thought it would be great to ask other students, on a peer to peer basis, why they had completed their internships,Dissertation-Writing what their expectations had been, and what they thought they’d got out of it as a result, hopefully removing the honesty limitations other students may have felt in previous studies. After many conversations with lecturers, my dissertation project was born!

Completing the dissertation was invaluable to my recruitment role as it allowed me to help shape the internship programme that my organisation and team offered during the summer of 2015, thus improving the experience of the students that were successful in applying. As I’d undertaken interviews for my data collection, it also helped to improve my ability to actually undertake successful interviews to fill paid roles. Now I am working here, at UCS, within the Careers and Employability team, these findings have, again, proved invaluable as I am able to effectively advise employers as to what an internship is, and how they can set it up, thus ensuring a much more positive experience for all. I will say, however, don’t worry if you can’t see yourself using your dissertation topic again in the future – the skills you will gain from doing it will be really useful, so be sure to tell employers about it during interviews!