The Witch Doctors: Going Beyond Management Fads

Twenty years ago I had a book on my bookshelf called the Witch Doctors. It was an assessment of management fads and gurus. It seems that every successful executive becomes a management guru espousing the principles they believe made them successful. Yet most executives do not clearly understand cause-and-effect for their increasingly complex businesses. For this reason one of the most eminent management professors Jeffrey Pfeffer, of Stanford Business School, has made a strong call for evidence-based management.

Executives, like doctors, typically rely too much on their own experience (which is typically skewed) rather than on credible evidence. I have seen how difficult it is for executives to clearly understand cause and effect when it comes to their business performance. Take A.G. Lafley, the twice CEO of P&G, for example. In 2007 he was named Distinguished Executive of the Year by the Academy of Management. He retired in 2009 to high acclaim and after his successor failed he was brought back in to fix the situation in 2013.   But in his second term he failed and P&G continues to face huge challenges. How is it that such a heralded executive was unable to succeed the second time around when facing a different situation?

Taking Action: The good news is that executives today no longer need to operate as Witch Doctors.   But to lead effectively you need to be much better grounded in the newest evidence across such fields such as strategy, innovation, psychology, creativity, neuroscience, and organization science. And you also need to better understand cause-and-effect for your organization and system. To do this you need to leverage the collective sensing, knowing, and deep synergy of the people throughout your organization and network.

Posted by David Sherman

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