Whittle, Susan Rosina (2015) ‘Changing the story: management panaceas as narrative interventions’, in Anders Ortenblad (ed.) Handbook of Research on Management Ideas and Panaceas, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK; Chapter 10, 173-189.
When we published ‘Management by panacea’ in 1993, John Gill and I concluded that ‘the search for cure-alls and their cyclic patterns is likely to continue, largely for cultural and psychodynamic reasons, despite evidence of their ineffectuality’ (Gill and Whittle 1993, p.282).
The paper was informed by three years of funded research (SERC 1993) into the implementation of Total Quality Management (TQM) in UK manufacturing and my PhD (Whittle 1994). This told a story from several perspectives about the adoption of quality management practices in a UK manufacturing plant of Union Carbide and efforts to implement TQM in the context of the Bhopal disaster. In 1993, we described managers ‘beginning major Organization Development activities . . . as an act of faith. After a year or two of intensive activity they became disillusioned and began to reappraise their investment’ (Gill and Whittle 1993, p. 286).
We suggested that:
The uncertainty, constant frenetic activity and unrelenting pace, fear of losing
ground to competitors, the inability to reflect for more than a few minutes . . .are the costs of a role interpretation which is . . . increasingly valued in western, middle-class, managerial cultures. Such behavior may help to explain partly the quick fix and the ephemeral nature of some consultant interventions. (Gill and Whittle 1993, p.291)
From our psychodynamic perspective, we proposed that the use of process consulting (Schein 1988) and truth saying (Kets de Vries 1990), designed to challenge and help managers become aware of the drift from reality that could accompany the adoption of management panaceas, might offer a more analytic and effective way forward. We also suggested that business ethics might be the next big thing. Perhaps we weren’t too wrong, given recurring concerns with Corporate Social Responsibility?
You can read the full chapter by downloading it here.