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#384: Consultants Must Know the Source of Management Concepts and Practices

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, September 2, 2010
Updated: Thursday, September 2, 2010
How important is it to know the history of management theory as long as I know how to improve my client’s situation?

While there is a case to be made that many "new" management theories developed by researchers, practitioners and consultants are variations of existing concepts, it is still important to know their pedigree. I am not suggesting that you need to know them in enough detail to write a research paper complete with footnotes. I am suggesting you should know where they came from, why they were initially developed and whether the conditions from which theory were developed still apply to your client’s circumstances. The alternative is to keep applying what might have been, at some time in the past, a "best practice" but has ceased to be so.

Every management consultant should all understanding why some concepts, such as those developed by Whyte, Cyert and March, Simon, or Kuhn were and still are relevant. We also should be aware of why some others were tenuous at the time of their introduction, despite their popularity in the media, and are largely inapplicable now. Part of this should be aimed at understanding the circumstances under which a theory or associated consulting practice was "cast out" of the profession. For example, TQM had its day, but was its fall from grace due to a poor theory, inappropriate implementation, or being displaced by incremental theories that are rally a variation on the same theme from which TQM was derived in the first place.

Tip: Find some of the older management texts (look on Amazon under used books) that can summarize early 20th century management concepts, based on the understanding of the day. William Whyte's The Organization Man and Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions are still amazing reads. If you want the abbreviated version, try a primer on management theories.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  consulting process  consulting skills  customer understanding  learning  professional development  professionalism 

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