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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Piet-Hein Coebergh interview
Article Type: Leading edge interviews From: Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, Volume 29, Issue 4
Piet-Hein Coebergh is a co-author of 100+ Management Models: How to understand and apply the world’s most powerful tools.
He is a lecturer in PR and social media at the University of Applied Sciences, Leiden, and managing consultant at Coebergh Communications & PR in Amsterdam. He earned his DBA at the Bradford School of Management for his dissertation “Voluntary Disclosure of Corporate Strategy” (2011). He is author or co-author of a dozen books and articles on communication, governance and e-commerce.
In your preface to “100+ Management Models”, you state “in the past, aspiring managers usually learned the profession by trial and error […]” but that “today’s students and managers can benefit from a wide range of research studies.” Is “trial and error” still a feature of modern management or are all businesses now fully enlightened?
The authors don’t expect full enlightenment in the near future for mankind in general, nor for business or management in particular. Our book is based on management science. This starting point, by definition, takes the understanding of reality as something that is a great task that we can only try to accomplish by educated trial and error. Preferably following scientific knowledge and methods, since this approach helps mankind to be more efficient and effective. Scientists and practitioners have to be modest and careful in developing and applying theory. We see, on a daily basis, that even great and successful organizations make big failures and put their future in danger. By providing the essentials of management thinking in a comprehensive and critical manner, we attempt to serve students, teachers and professionals in knowing and understanding what it takes for organizations to endure.
How do you distinguish between “reliable” models and ones that are “true”?
We consider models that have consistent outcomes to be “reliable”, which is why they are useful in practice. But this does not necessarily mean that they are true. The watch on your wrist is probably a sufficiently reliable model of passing time, and you can use it to enable you to be on time for an event or to catch a train. But your watch is most likely not telling the exact time, as it easily might be at least a thousandth of a second fast or slow.
In your conclusion, you talk about “certain key values which need to be in place in the culture of the workplace and in its relationship to other parties”. What are these key values?
Our selection of management theories is put into perspective by an overarching model that we call the sequential excellence model. This model connects theories on sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship, strategy and positioning, diversity and culture, customers, HRM, results and benchmarking – all driven by insights on leadership and communication. We are not just speaking of these eight themes, but even more of the stakeholders who constitute these bodies of knowledge: employees, suppliers, customers, partners, the environment and investors. Without all of these playing their part, the model will not work. We believe in the importance of reconciliation and of synergy, which can only happen if all stakeholders and their interests are treated equally, justly and fairly. These three values are preludes to reconciliation and synergy. If one stakeholder contributes more than others, he or she should gain more and each should benefit according to their relative contributions.
You talk about “recognising that our environment is in crisis”. Does that view have a wide acceptance within the business community and, if not, why not?
In our take, this view does at least have an increasing acceptance, if not a wide acceptance indeed. Fact of the matter is that sustainability is high on the agenda of all powerful organizations and societies, whether they like it or not. We would like to quote the endorsement of our book by Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever plc, who states: “I highly encourage students, academics and leaders in business and government to take note of the latest sustainable business models, theories and best-practices set out in this book. The reason is straightforward: we all have a responsibility to make the much needed transformational change towards a more sustainable and equitable world”. Polman’s statement makes clear that sustainability can be a key priority for world leaders but at the same time that there are still many stakeholders to be convinced.
The book examines 100 models. Are there more worth considering? Is it too confusing to have so many?
Actually, we have failed to limit ourselves to “only” discuss 100 models, since we used many other models to put our top 100 in perspective. That’s why we put the + in the title of our book “100+ management models”. There is certainly a wealth of wonderful knowledge behind our selection, to which we guide the reader through our bibliography of over 300 prominent books and articles. This body of knowledge might indeed frighten some readers initially. To help the reader, we applied various guiding methods. For instance all models are visualised by the playful yet consistent and well-researched drawings by our favourite cartoonist and Oxford graduate David Lewis. Second, all models can be read and understood independently, as the essentials of each model are consistently described in two pages, explaining its essence, usage, results as well as the main comments on the model. Thirdly, our sequential excellence model serves as a navigation system that easily helps the reader to know how each model connects to organizational theory and practice in general. And last but not least: we developed some sparkling and tempting digital storytelling on the eight themes of the book, all to be found on YouTube-channel “100+ Management Models”.
Shareholders come last not in importance, but in time, Is that a controversial statement?
To some managers this statement might sound controversial. But as our book describes in detail: the world has developed considerably away from the shareholder capitalism that was dominant during the previous century. A fine illustration of this development is given by the catharsis of the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 film “Wall Street” and subsequently its 2010 sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”. Today, it’s the new normal that business executives have to explain how they reconcile people, planet and profit. Managing this triple bottom line is a fundamentally different paradigm than putting shareholders first, which used to be the unwritten law.
Are the models covered by your book constantly being tested and improved?
The theories and models in the book are selected on their respective evidence, relevance and guidance. They carry empirical proof, touch upon the global challenges of today and tomorrow and they offer substantial explanatory or predictive power. From most models we know that they are taught and practised all over the world. More specifically, the body of knowledge in the book is central in the business courses of the University of Applied Sciences, Leiden, where the book is conceived. The team of authors is indeed responsible for constantly testing and improving our knowledge of the selected models, and thereby enriching our courses, lecturers, students and alumni.
In the current challenging economic climate, is it even more important for managers to utilise whatever appropriate models that are available?
We know and appreciate that managers utilise a wide variety of models. We highly encourage innovative and creative thinking, including the testing of models outside our book. However, we warn for the usage of models that lack substantial evidence, relevance and guidance. Many models are distributed by consultants who neglect scientific rigor or by scientists that have little or no feeling for business practice. This book attempts to bridge these gaps.