Why Hard-Nosed Executives Should Care about Management Theory

Harvard Business School, Boston, USA.
Harvard business review (Impact Factor: 1.27). 10/2003; 81(9):66-74, 132.
Source: PubMed


Theory often gets a bum rap among managers because it's associated with the word "theoretical," which connotes "impractical." But it shouldn't. Because experience is solely about the past, solid theories are the only way managers can plan future actions with any degree of confidence. The key word here is "solid." Gravity is a solid theory. As such, it lets us predict that if we step off a cliff we will fall, without actually having to do so. But business literature is replete with theories that don't seem to work in practice or actually contradict each other. How can a manager tell a good business theory from a bad one? The first step is understanding how good theories are built. They develop in three stages: gathering data, organizing it into categories highlighting significant differences, then making generalizations explaining what causes what, under which circumstances. For instance, professor Ananth Raman and his colleagues collected data showing that bar code-scanning systems generated notoriously inaccurate inventory records. These observations led them to classify the types of errors the scanning systems produced and the types of shops in which those errors most often occurred. Recently, some of Raman's doctoral students have worked as clerks to see exactly what kinds of behavior cause the errors. From this foundation, a solid theory predicting under which circumstances bar code systems work, and don't work, is beginning to emerge. Once we forgo one-size-fits-all explanations and insist that a theory describes the circumstances under which it does and doesn't work, we can bring predictable success to the world of management.

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    • "). For contributions to practice, some good works include Bartunek and Rynes (2010), Christensen and Raynor (2003), and Peng and Dess (2010). Helpful examples of empirical contributions (as well as others) can be found in many papers in APJM and other business journals (Beny, 2007; Jiang & Peng, 2011). "

    Full-text · Article · Jun 2012 · Asia Pacific Journal of Management
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    • "At the same time, Peng and Heath (1996) were able to derive some significant implications for practice regarding firm growth, which made for an interesting, valuable, and very well-read and cited paper (also see Meyer, Estrin, Bhaumik, & Peng, 2009). What would have been a much less useful approach for that topic would have been for the authors to focus only on giving specific recommendations on how to grow a firm while ignoring the important theoretical and empirical issues that are bound up in that topic (Ahlstrom, 2010c; Christensen & Raynor, 2003; Peng & Dess, 2010). That might seem very obvious to some, but many authors in their submissions to APJM will write up their research like an undergraduate textbook chapter or consultant's report complete with numerous full color diagrams, authoritative steps, and multiple lists of bullet points. "

    Full-text · Article · Dec 2010 · Asia Pacific Journal of Management
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    • "Possibly, some significant mysteries between downsizing strategies and performance have been frequently neglected in both academic and practical management fields. Christensen and Raynor (2003) used to give a warning in their writing: the mechanism between the cause and the effect was significant to the development of academic theories and the applications of firms. Once it was left out, explanations as to the cause and effect could be misleading. "
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    ABSTRACT: Purpose – Downsizing in organizations is a popular management strategy. However, in the field of organization change, the question of whether downsizing practices eventually improve performance is frequently asked and is never satisfactorily answered. The consequences have not always materialized over these years. On the negative side, downsizing harms employees, their families, and at the same time causes social chaos. The possible answers could be the ignorance of some important mechanisms between them. The paper aims to explain this issue. Design/methodology/approach – The paper applies the dynamic strategy capabilities concept from the strategy research field and strategic human resource management (SHRM) practices concept from the SHRM research field. Findings – A consolidated model is established to explain the relationships among these variables. Originality/value – The model is expected to provide significant implications for thought leaders to reflect on the topics regarding organizations' changes, firm's strategies and SHRM system and social issues.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2008 · Journal of Organizational Change Management
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