Business Case Studies, Executive Interviews, Michael Beer on Change Management

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Executive Interviews: Interview with Michael Beer on Change Management
June 2007 - By Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary


Michael Beer
Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration,
Emeritus at the Harvard Business School,
Chairman and co-founder of TruePoint a research based consultancy.


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  • How should Change Management be initiated and practiced in family businesses?
    The same principles and ideas I have outlined above hold. Research by Danny Miller (Miller and Miller: Managing for the Long Term, HBS Press, 2005) actually shows that family companies that succeed in preventing family tensions from interfering with firm effectiveness are actually more effective and better performers than publicly traded companies. In these firms, leaders take a long-term perspective because they want to leave a legacy.They develop strong relationships

    with employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders and they do not take short-term actions to undermine these. In these companies, the leader is able to ensure that those in the family not suited to the business stay out of the business and find other careers. They also engage younger brothers, sons and daughters as equal as opposed to using the authority of their position. Overcoming family tensions is not easy, but that is the only way the ingredients needed for change can be managed.

  • Professor, with all the due respects, what was observed over the decades (in management research, right from Tom Peters In Search of Excellence), had largely been the case of theory being fit into practice? The sole exception seems to be Peter Drucker's management literature. The researchers, when they observe certain patterns in corporate happenings, come out with theory constructs and in the process, seem to belittle the actual corporate happenings (may it be to do with innovation, best practices, cost advantages, core competencies, differentiation, etc.). And therefore, theory/concept becomes the frontend and the corporate happening becomes the back-end. Is it intentional or is it accidental? How should serious academicians look at this phenomenon?
    Both sets of concepts and theories have a legitimate place in the discourse about management and organizations. Peters and Waterman research was empirical. They extracted those practices they found cut across the excellent companies they studied and developed their conceptual framework from these observations. Inevitably, the ideas that emerge from this research are based on what has led to success in the past and it is assumed that these patterns will hold in the future. Of course, we learned later that the successful companies in the Peters and Waterman research did not always sustain excellence. Like IBM, their performance failed for a long period of time before recovering. Others did not rebound. Circumstance changed and these companies lacked adaptive characteristics Peters and Waterman missed or under emphasized. This can be explained by their research method of Interviews with senior leaders and archival data. They did not get deeply into these companies and because of this, did not come to understand how they functioned and/or did not evaluate these findings in the context of the changing environment. It also possible, of course, companies inevitably go through a life cycle that leads to eventual decline, the argument of population ecologists.
    Drucker too was a careful observer of managerial behavior, but he placed what he saw in the context of the future. He was as much a futurist as an empirical observer. In critiquing managerial behavior he identified flaws that more timid researchers with less courage or wisdom did not address. As a critic, Drucker was not acting as an empirical researcher. He was a critic.

1. Change Management Case Studies
2. ICMR Case Collection
3. Case Study Volumes


The Interview was conducted by Dr. Nagendra V Chowdary, Consulting Editor, Effective Executive and Dean, IBSCDC, Hyderabad.

This Interview was originally published in Effective Executive, IUP, June 2007.

Copyright © June 2007, IBSCDC No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced or distributed, stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or medium electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the permission of IBSCDC.

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