Beware of Consulting Fads in Times of Crisis


It’s a familiar story: an economic crisis hits, and as panic sets in, a charismatic leader descends from the mountain with a simple, magical, means of overcoming the crisis. While some dissent, many decide to put their faith in this new awe-inspiring leader.  The plan ultimately fails, leaving a newly enriched leader and an even more impoverished group of followers.

A similar scenario occurs in board rooms as executives chase the newest fads sold by charismatic marketing consultants, particularly during times of crisis and change. And while the type of educated person that typically sits on a board would be suspicious of a political leader claiming to have a simple one-size-fits-all answer to complex problems, they may be just as susceptible to falling for a similarly overly simplistic solution or fad when touted by  a management guru or other huckster. 

In her book, Facing Up to Management Faddism: A New Look at an Old Force, Maragaret Brindle provides some answers. In times of crisis, when old ways of thinking and working seem to be failing, it is typical for fads to enter and organization. They are particularly attractive to organizational leaders, though, for a few reasons. First, they give leaders a reason to think that the complexity they are facing can be overcome, which reduces anxiety. Second, by latching onto the latest and greatest in management and marketing guru speak, executives can show stakeholders that they are in fact keeping up with what is going on. And finally, utilizing a management fad can show that at least leadership is trying something or has some kind of plan, a must for investors.

The point, though, is that there is little reason to believe a management guru descended from the heavens will be any more likely to succeed than a political one. One should always be skeptical of simple answers to complex problems. There are no one size fits all methods to every management problem out there, and if a guru tries to convince you that there is – run.  

Greg VanderPol