Try fitness before the miracle cures

How many management theories do you need to run your organisation? The answer, judging by the output from academics, management gurus and business schools, is lots, and a continuous supply of new ones.

We appear to be in the grips of a management theory epidemic. I can safely predict that there will be more than 100 new theories on management before the year's end; probably more than 500 before the millennium.

As managers what should we make of this? Is the growth in theories occurring because the whole science (or art?) of management is becoming increasingly complex ?

Or is it that the complexity of management is increasingly recognised, such that we need more and more, better and better theories, in order to cope? Or is it because academic and management gurus need to keep inventing new solutions to fuel their own industry?

A medical analogy can help. Consider the organisation as the human body, with management theories as possible cures. Different illness need different cures. Yet organisations usually select the cure before diagnosing the illness.

Most management gurus have preferred medicines, indeed, perhaps only know how to use certain medicines, and tend to apply them to all problems. Consequently, we are seldom fully cured. But we become so hooked, or intrigued, that we go back again later to try the next cure.

What is the solution? Fewer cures? I do not believe so.

Having a large number of management cures is not a problem in itself. But the cure will only work when applied to the right ailment. The wrong medicine can be dangerous.

The problems are threefold:

There are too few good "organisational" GPs around; too many specialists are applying their chosen cures to the wrong problems; and we, as patients, behave badly; too many of us choose to operate directly with specialists, trying numerous new cures before finding out the cause of our sickness.

One last thought. Medicines and cures are very useful. However, they often treat the symptoms as much as the causes. If you ask doctors about the underlying causes of human illness they go back to the basics - nutrition, exercise, weight, stress.

The same may be true of our organisations. Perhaps we should consider addressing the underlying drivers of good health in our own organisations before we next reach for the keys to the medicine chestn

Paul Hills

Paul Hills is director of the Buckinghamshire-based Crane Davies Management Consultants, 01753 784000.