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Renate Meyer

Video Renate Meyer

Renate Meyer

Researcher of the Month in October

Shareholder value, CSR, diversity – What’s in, what’s out, and what’s here to stay

Terms like shareholder value, CSR, or sustainability are labels for the ideas about how organizations should be set up, run, and managed. Management concepts like these often coexist side by side and follow certain cyclical patterns. Not every management idea can always work all the time and anyplace. WU Professor Renate Meyer’s research focuses on the question of which management concepts frequently occur at the same time as others, how they augment each other, and how one and the same name can mean different things to different people. Her studies show that not all management trends deliver what they promise; often they’re just old ideas in shiny new packaging.

A In her current research at the Institute for Organization Studies at WU’s Department of Management, Renate Meyer is focusing intently on the question of how new management ideas come to be, what they mean in different contexts, which organizations and organizational forms they are suitable for, and how they evolve and even disappear. In a current study focusing on public organizations and based on an analysis of relevant periodicals, WU Professor Meyer has applied a semantic network analysis to identify four specific clusters or bundles of concepts that often appear together: One includes performance management concepts, one quality management measures, a further involves eGovernment, and a fourth deals with diversity management. “The success of individual management ideas often depends not only on how well they actually solve management problems, but also on how well they can be combined with the existing portfolio of concepts already in use, and how socially acceptable they are,” says Meyer.

Implementation or just lip service?

A detailed look tells even more: In specialist literature, almost all management concepts are praised as new, innovative, key, comprehensive, top priority, etc. – in short, they’re all important. Where it gets interesting is when comparing the diversity and complexity of individual concepts. Some management ideas are described in comprehensive detail while others are given only brief attention. The eGovernment, open government, and open data bundle, for example, is praised not only very highly, but also in great detail – aside from the usual specialist jargon, these descriptions include values like democracy, participation, etc. that these management concepts are supposed to encourage. The diversity bundle, on the other hand, is presented in a fairly one-dimensional manner and associated with equal opportunities, legal obligations, and sanctions. The remaining two bundles are located between these two extremes. “This doesn’t necessarily allow us to draw conclusions about implementation, but it does indicate the level of enthusiasm that some concepts seem to inspire more than others,” Meyer explains, “which may also be an indicator of which concepts are implemented comprehensively and which ones may be used less often or are not as well though-out.” 

Foresight better than trend-hopping

Management ideas and concepts have life cycles just like anything else – the shelf life of the awareness and practical relevance of individual concepts varies. “Like other fashions, some trends are easier to combine with others, and which ones go together well depends on what you already have. Our results make it easier to recognize trends. We know which management concepts harmonize well, which concepts have implications that make them incompatible with certain other ideas, and which concepts are expected by various stakeholder groups,” explains WU Professor Meyer. Generally speaking, the complicated interactions between the various concepts make it difficult for radically new business and organizational ideas to establish themselves successfully in this complex network. This can be observed for example in non-hierarchical organizational forms or in business models based on non-monetary bartering systems. These results also show that as a manager, it is particularly important not to blindly follow every management trend, but rather to take a long-term perspective and view each idea and concept as part of the big picture. This makes it possible to reflect carefully on whether or not to implement a concept into an individual organizational management system.