No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Charlatanism in change management

Compared to regulated professions like medicine or law, there is a lack of quality criteria in organizational development. This leads to a heterogeneous consultant landscape and confusion among clients. An informed sociological approach may be suitable for certain organizational issues, while other disciplines like psychology are relevant in areas such as coaching. Conventional business education is inadequate for organizational development. A methodology is needed that can facilitate changes in organizational structures and expectations. We have to understand organizational structures, mechanisms for change, and how to alter them in the development process.

Best practices are a form of generated knowledge, not universally agreed upon but applicable across various organizations. Examples include the need for loose coupling in change processes and criticism of overly rigid planning models. The commercialization of management trends can lead to blindly adopting such practices without considering their appropriateness. Process know-how and professional skills are important in consulting. Management literature may obscure practical wisdom.

Both deep understanding of organizational details and expertise in change processes are needed. Process consultants often shy away from understanding the intricacies of the organizations they advise. Crucial details are overlooked. Studying organizational specifics is essential to provide effective consultation. While diverse perspectives are valuable, aligning disparate mental models within consulting teams is challenging, especially when collaboration between consulting firms is only superficial. Consultants need to be carefully selected based on their ability to understand and address the client's needs.

Both formal and informal aspects of organizations need to be intimately understood. But some consultants tend to focus solely on formal structures. The Metastructure Matrix captures the multifaceted nature of organizational dynamics; effective interventions require addressing all three dimensions: formal, informal, and symbolic. Attention to detail and the relevance of specific organizational intricacies are important in driving change. Organizational consultants are like medical professionals: underlying issues need to be diagnosed rather than solely relying on surface-level observations.

A nuanced understanding of organizations draws from disciplines like sociology and system theory. Consultants should be aware of the limitations and unintended consequences of organizational models and interventions. Consultants need to address the potential negative effects of proposed changes and to avoid oversimplifying complex organizational dynamics. The introduction of knowledge needs to be balanced with the organization's capacity to absorb it; gradual disillusionment is better than overwhelming the organization with information.

Kühl, S. (2024), Scharlatanerie im Change-Management - Qualitätskriterien der Organisationsberatung - Transkript eines Podcasts mit Frank Düsterbeck und Stefan Kühl, Working Paper 2/2024.  Direct link.