Too much management research is clear as mud

BEWARE THE guru with a theory that explains how companies behave or the perfect recipe for how firms succeed. Beware, too, the lengthy academic studies to similar effect. That is the stark warning of “Management Studies in Crisis: Fraud, Deception and Meaningless Research”, a new book by Dennis Tourish, a scholar of organisations at the University of Sussex.

The idea of “scientific management” dates back to Frederick Winslow Taylor, who wrote a treatise on it in 1911. One example invoked the Bethlehem Iron Company, where he supposedly persuaded an employee named Schmidt (about whom Taylor was very condescending) to work harder by paying a piece rate.

Taylor claimed his schemes allowed employees to quadruple output. But he based his numbers on a handful of workers increasing their activity over a short period. Their improved work rate would, Mr Tourish calculates, have equated to 71 tonnes over a ten-hour day. But, he notes, “Taylor rounded this up to 75 tonnes, figured that such sustained work was impossible, and reduced the target by 40%.” Hardly a paragon of scientific rigour, then.

Elton Mayo conducted another much-cited early 20th-century study. He found that changes in lighting at the Hawthorne works in Illinois improved productivity. Remarkably, the work indicated that making the lights more or less...

via Business Feeds

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