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An Introduction to Managing People and Organizations in Changing Contexts


This chapter is aimed at helping both aspiring and experienced managers explore of the nature of management. It has been written to help you understand the overall process of management and, as Peter Drucker pointed out many years ago, to address the central managerial problem of how best to deal with people and design organizations. 

The chapter addresses two questions:

  1. Is there a set of universal practices of management that can be applied in most contexts, which we can call a science of management, or is management highly context specific?
  2. Why is it that so much of management thinking seems to be a little like the fashion industry, with new ideas coming and going by  the season?

It ends with a case study on the development of human relations thinking and the questionable contribution of one of the early gurus of management, Elton Mayo

Listen to the Gurus

Listen to Charles Handy introduce his radio series on Gurus in Management and to one of the all time 'great' gurus, Tom Peters , who is often cited as one of the founding fathers of 'gurudom'

Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE (Radio programme featuring the latest CEO of one of the world's largest companies talk about the company's new green strategy and the problems of business)

Listen to a conversation with Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and one of the best known business leaders of the last few decades.  In it he talks about many of the people management ideas he introduced into GE and presages the green stratgey of Jeff Immelt.

Listen to Key Issues

What's in a name: Management (BBC programme about the growth of the use of the term 'manager' and 'management')

Distributed leadership - an MIT video featuring a discussion on new forms of leading and managing - discussion between the CEO of Southest Airlines and the CEO of Oxfam

Additional Reading

Read a recent study on management practices across firms and nations by researchers from London Business School and McKinsey, one of the best known consulting companies.

One of the best of the recent books on management which is critical of one-size-fits-all universalist solutions to management is by Jeff Pfeffer and Robert Sutton.  I reviewed this book for a journal, which you might want to read.  However, you should read the book itself, which is written in a highly accessible fashion.  You can get a good introduction to their ideas by watching this short video featuring Pfeffer and Sutton.

You might also want to read an Advanced Instutute of Management paper produced by Julian Birkinshaw, Gary Hamel & Michael Mol in 2005 on Management Innovation, which deals with the issue of how innovations in management and organizational practice occur.  Hamel has recently called for a management 2.0 to replace old ideas in management.  Here's a short video introduction to his ideas and those of the MLab.When I come to revise this book, one source I will draw on heavily for this opening chapter and for others is Phil Rosenzweig's 2007 book 'The Halo Effect....and the Eight Other Business Delusions that Deceive Managers' New York: Free Press.  I can't recommend this work highly enough for both serious management students and researchers.  Have a look at the website that accompanies the book and the summary - then read it.

You might also want to read a book by Tom Davenport & Larry Prusak with Jim  Wilson, (2003) What's the Big Idea: Creating and Capitalizing on the Best New Management Thinking, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

One of the Economist books of the year for 2007 is Rakesh Kurana's From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and Unfulfilled Promises of Management as a Profession, New Jersey: Princeton  University Press.   As one of the endorsements on the back of the book suggests, this work is a tour de force in charting the relationship between the changing status of management and the legitimating role of business schools.  A difficult but must read for serious students of management.

Ideas on Customising the Material

For public sector managers, one of the best resources for research in this field is IBM's sponsored research programme on the Business of Government, where you can download a number of papers

Also enrol for, which is a comprehensive site on management in the public sector

For UK readers, you might want to look at Cardiff University's Centre for Local and Regional Government Research ()


Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge (you have to sign up for access to excellent materials)

Knowledge at Wharton (you have to sign up for an excellent site)