Are Consultants Killing Creativity? Controlling Costs Could Be Stifling Innovation in Organizations

By Wagner, Cynthia G. | The Futurist, November-December 2004 | Go to article overview

Are Consultants Killing Creativity? Controlling Costs Could Be Stifling Innovation in Organizations


Wagner, Cynthia G., The Futurist


Overreliance on management consultants to keep costs down and efficiency high could be reducing creativity in organizations. Companies might become more innovative if they were less efficient, suggests Stuart Macdonald, a professor of information and organization at the University of Sheffield.

Examining the last 40 years of management experience at the British Broadcasting Company, Macdonald observes that the organization's increasing use of management consultants in order to stem excessive spending and inefficiency has coincided with growing criticism over the BBC's diminished creativity. He believes the reason for the diminished creativity may be that authority in the organization has passed from administrators to managers who feel that their own route to professional success is to enhance their control over employees.

"Control is fundamental to the manager," notes Macdonald. "There is no point making decisions if there is no assurance that the decisions will be carried out. But the control of the dictator is clearly inimical to the freedom of expression fundamental to creativity." In the modern organization, balance has to be found between efficiency and flexibility and between control and freedom, he argues.

Modern managers now tend toward more control, as it enhances their own professional status. "The consequence," says Macdonald, "is that the very professionalism that might have tolerated some freedom of action in employees, granted parole to their entrepreneurial spirit, is seen as a threat to the manager's own professionalism, and hence to his control."

To get the most creativity and innovation out of their employees, managers need to be able to trust them to act as the managers wish them to. This requires a sense of professionalism among the employees, but the two classes of "professionals" may be at cross-purposes: "Why should the manager want employees to be creative if the manager reaps no reward for their creativity?" Macdonald points out. "And why should employees be creative if they are not to be rewarded for their creativity?

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