Sir, As a management consultant I feel compelled to respond*. The failure of organisational change projects is caused not by management theory, but by the “codification” of successful applications of that theory. Enlightened managers working with dedicated staff and experienced consultants can — and do — apply management theories to achieve spectacular results. Ironically, this is where the problem usually begins: news of success travels fast; everyone wants a piece of the action; the race is on to “codify” and repeat this success — often with mediocre or disappointing results.
In the original initiative the successful theories will have been selected and applied with great care, taking into account the unique circumstances of the organisation and its staff. It is unlikely that another organisation will have exactly the same circumstances. Repeating the same approach may be beneficial, but it is unlikely to yield the same degree of success.
The codification problem is compounded by short cuts. Management teams under pressure will be tempted to reduce costs and timescales — often skimping on essential training or stakeholder management and communications activities. In my experience this almost always results in failure.
PA Consulting Group
*This letter is in response to Andrew Billen's article "Goodbye to glib gurus and their gobbledegook", The Times, 9 March 2009