Reflections on the Origin of the Management Consulting
Division of the Academy of Management
by William B. Wolf
As with most things in life, the Management Consultation Division of the Academy
of Management evolved rather than being planned in detail. Its origins were a
matter of sociometric relations and chance. As I recall the sequence of events
was something like this . . . When I was a professor at the University of Southern
California, I was deeply concerned about a holistic approach to management.
My academic obsession was in the development of a general theory of manage-
ment. I felt this was essential in order to provide a framework for understanding
the practice of management. I held to the opinion that anyone with a graduate
degree in business should be able to go into any formal organization and determine
its managerial prerequisites, diagnose its problems, make prescriptions and recom-
mendations, make a prognosis of the outcome, and be reasonably correct.
In essence, I felt anyone with a graduate degree in business administration should
be a qualified doctor to formal organizations.
Researching my obsession led me to the area of differential diagnosis in medicine.
I made numerous field studies using the medical model. I ended up with the
conclusion that the major difference between the medical model and the study of
formal organizations was that in medicine the basic concern was with only
one species -- homo sapiens. Whereas in the study of organizations there were
many species but no adequate taxonomy. As a result I concluded that the general
theory of management was a methodology for the diagnosis of each individual
organization being studied. My logic was that all formal organizations shared
common processes of management -- i.e. organizing, directing, controlling and
leading. However, the manner in which these processes are carried out depends
on unique aspects of the specific organization's environments. To know how a
specific organization should carry out the management processes, one needs
a normative model of its management processes. In short, each organization is
in some respects unique. To accommodate the unique features one has to have
a holistic sense of each organization. At the time, I called an organization's
uniqueness "organization's" and I labeled the process of developing a normative
model of an organization as the "construct approach."
I suspect my thinking was influenced by my early experience in a machine shop.
We had one old time machinist whose work was always precise. I was in awe of
him and asked how he managed to hold to such close tolerances. His answer was,
"It's easy, the first thing I do is true up on an edge. Once I get a perfect edge I
use it as a reference point for the other cuts.
My approach to management theory was to develop meaningful reference points
for dealing with any specific organization. In thinking this through, I fell back on
Rescher's and Helmer's article on the "Epistemology of the Inexact Sciences".
They were working on the art of forecasting. Originally, they sought a theory for
making predictions of the shape of things to come.1
They finally gave up on developing a theory of forecasting. They couldn't do it.
However, they recognized that in almost all fields of science there are experts
who have good track records in forecasting. Hence, Rescher and Helmer decided
to poll the experts. They skipped theory construction! Once experts had made
predictions they were given feedback on each others predictions and a second
round of forecasts were made -- this process was repeated as deemed necessary.
They called this the "Delphi Method" of forecasting.
I felt the way to approach development of organizational constructs was to go
to the experts. But to do so, I first had to develop a diagnostic framework for
developing reference points; hence I worked on the concept of Organization
Character and also explored how the experts dealt with different organizations.
Fortunately, I had some mature doctoral students. One, Larry Senn, did a doctoral
thesis dealing with Organization Character.2
Bob Wright was one of my doctoral students. He did a Delphi type study of
successful management consultants. That is, he explored how consultants
diagnosed organizations and adapted to the uniqueness of various environments.
What has this to do with the Management Consultation Division? Well, as fate
unfurled I became National President of the Academy of Management. In that
role I got the Board of Directors to approve a plan for establishing in the academy
a number of professional divisions.
One division which I personally suggested was Management Consulting.
This caused some controversy. Several of the Board Members objected to the
idea of having a Management Consulting Division. For example, Charles
Summers sent me a letter in which he stated, "The Division of Management
Consulting should be dropped. It does not fit in as a professional area of study."3
However, the Board of Directors arrived at a compromise. For the next year
Management Consulting was to be an Interest Group. At the end of the year,
the Board would review the situation to see if it should be dropped or given full
I should add that Charles Summer added to my list, a division on Organizational
Development (OD). I thought this overlapped with Consulting. However, in my
travels around the Regional Academy Meetings I got the impression that OD
was primarily the domain of psychologists and people associated with NTL
(National Training Laboratories).
Bob Wright, as Chairman of the Interest Group on Management Consulting,
went to work!! Bob organized an advisory committee and set up a workshop
for the next annual meeting of the Academy. He was also asked to have his
group think of a new title. One which indicated the group was not doing
consulting. Rather, it was running seminars, encouraging discussions, etc. on
the art of consulting. In other words, Bob's goal was to develop an organization,
under the umbrella of the Academy of Management, dedicated to helping
professors of management improve and extend their professional competency
Charles Summer was Program Chair for the next annual meeting of the
Academy (i.e. the 1971 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia). I immediately contacted
him to insure that Bob's committee was included. The study of Consulting was
included in the planning for the program! (Charles made it official with a letter
to Bob on February 25, 1971).
George Gore was invited to be on the Advisory Committee of the Consulting Group
. In his letter of acceptance George suggested the format for the program at
the next annual meeting of the Academy (letter to Bob Wright of April 24, 1971).
Furthermore, George offered to provide a list of the names and addresses of all
Academy members engaged in consulting.
It turned out that as of September 1971, there were 1,170 Academy members
who were active in consulting and as of 1971 we had 283 members in our group.
In 1971, while we were still an interest group, I had a graduate student at
Cornell University, Mike McManus, do a master's thesis on the Nature of the
Academic Consultant. McManus interviewed a sample of our division's members
and distilled a number of precepts and caveats for professors who were, or
aspired to be, management consultants. His study helped us get facts about
our profession and how we could serve it best.
In the history of the development of the Division of Management Consultation,
George Gore looms as a critical force. At his own expense he sent a questionnaire
to all the members of the Academy regarding their interests and their activities in
George's impact is really greater than just influencing the development of the
Consulting Division. I feel he was one of the key figures in the success of my
tenure as an officer of the Academy. His contribution started with the 1969
annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. George chaired the arrangement committee.
At the time, the Academy of Management had been dropped from the annual
meeting of the Allied Social Sciences. The Academy was meeting in isolation — that
is it was the only organization involved in our 1969 meeting. Moreover, we
were meeting in Cincinnati in August!
George managed the show. It was a professional job!! We had almost every
detail planned and properly executed. The meeting ran like a 1st class watch,
thus when I became president, I turned to George and appointed him Chairman
of the Membership Committee. In his typical way he took over and did a
1stclass job. He set up special sub-committees to attract top executives from
the business world and to develop a membership base in Europe. Moreover, he
put our records on a computer program so we had a system for following our
members and knowing their interests. During his tenure in this position our
Academy more than doubled in size.
For a period, our Interest Group Chairman, Bob Wright, was out of the country
and later he was out due to illness. In those times George took over and kept
things running. Moreover, in 1972, George started our Division's Newsletter,
The Consultants Communiqué. The first edition of 31 pages was published in 1972.
One thing George did in the first issue of the newsletter was point out that
the name "Division of Management Consulting" involved using the noun,
"Management" as an adjective and using the verb, "Consulting" as a noun.
He was responsible for "Division of Managerial Consultation" being our current name.
Volume I No. 1 of The Consultants Communiqué contained a report on the
symposium conducted by our division at the 1972 annual meeting of the Academy,
the subject was "The Academic Consultant in the Seventies." George moderated
the discussion. The participants were André Delbecq, George R. le Lodzia, William
M. Fox, Dennis F. Ray and Robert Wright.
After the Division of Management Consultation was officially launched, I lost
track of its development. I do know that Bob Wright set up a committee which
drafted a Code of Ethics for Academic Consultants. As I understand it, both
George Gore and Bob Wright were important contributors to this. Then too, in
1979, Bob and George edited "The Academic Consultant Connection" (Kendall/Hunt
Publishing Co. 1979). This volume was a significant contribution to professors
in our division. It presented selected contributions from papers appearing in the
Proceedings of the National's annual meeting and/or in theConsultants Communiqué.
In addition it had 20 articles which were papers presented at the Division's
programs but which had never been published. One of the benefits of this volume
is the fact that the articles are organized around topics instead of dates.
Furthermore, the book contains the "Position Statement on Professor/Consultant"
as approved in 1977 and it also has "The Standard of Professional Conduct for
Academic/Management Consultants." Both of these are attached here as
Appendix A and Appendix B.
In summary, the above describes the start up of the Division of Management
Consulting. In my mind, the development of the Division is a major contribution
to the profession of Management. Today, the Division is one of the largest and
most active in the Academy. Moreover, it directly relates theory and practice.
From my point of view, it stands at the forefront for advancing research and
exploring the new frontiers of management consulting.
William B. Wolf
May 11, 1997
1. I believe Rescher was a mathematician and Helmer was a philosopher.
At the time they were working for Rand Corporation.
2. Senn went on to develop his own consulting firm (Senn & Delaney).
It specialized in change management and one area on which it focused
was Organization Character. (Several years ago Senn & Delaney sold their
"Change Management" practice to Anderson Consulting.)
3. Letter from Charles E. Summer to the ad hoc Committee on Divisionalization
of the Academy. December 29, 1970.
4. I nominated Bob Wright to be the Chairman of the "Interest Group."
Bob was an ideal candidate. His thesis had given him contact with a
wide range of successful consultants, plus he had industrial experience in
management. His nomination was approved by the Board.